When the Lid Is Afraid of the Pot

Israel's awakening from the illusion of Egyptian influence over the Palestinians has been taking place for seven straight years, from the Camp David summit in 2000 to the anarchy on the Egypt-Gaza border under Hamas rule.

The year 2007 does not only include the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War; it also contains the 30th anniversary of Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. Israel's most glorious military achievement, the defeat of three states and the occupation of major segments of their territory, is set against an even greater diplomatic achievement, breaking through the wall of Arab hostility. In both cases, the enthusiasm gradually turned to disappointment and the promise held out by the short-term results never came to fruition.

The view that Egypt is a moderate, peace-seeking country is an optical illusion. Cairo, which purchased its ticket to Washington through Jerusalem, is once again not thrilled to be part of the camp affiliated with the Americans. The Egyptian people, who are not eager to get involved directly in a war, are instead encouraging war from the sidelines.

Israel's awakening from the illusion of Egyptian influence over the Palestinians has been taking place for seven straight years, from the Camp David summit in 2000 to the anarchy on the Egypt-Gaza border under Hamas rule. Even during its 19 years of military rule over the Gaza Strip, Egypt was more concerned about Palestine than the Palestinians. Contrary to the Hashemite Kingdom, which annexed the West Bank and undertook a process of "Jordanizing" the Palestinians, Egypt avoided adding the refugees from Jaffa and the residents of Khan Yunis to its own tens of millions of poor. In the prisoner exchange that followed the Six-Day War, the Israel Defense Forces released thousands of soldiers who served in the Palestinian brigades of the Egyptian army and sought to transfer them to the western bank of the Suez Canal. But Egypt refused to accept the released Palestinians and demanded that they be returned to the Gaza Strip.

The promising idea of an exchange of territory involving Sinai, the Negev, Gaza and the West Bank might have had a chance of succeeding in the Sadat era, or at the height of the Oslo process, but has since fizzled. Egypt will not contribute a grain of sand, a drop of sweat, or a drop of blood in order to further peace. In the best-case scenario, it will continue treading water in the current impasse. The more realistic scenario is that after Hosni Mubarak, the repressed hostility will become open and active.

Ironically, the reason for this is democracy - not the American model (since efforts to instill that in Cairo failed exactly as they did in Damascus, Riyadh and every other Arab capital), but the popular version found in political cultures where an authoritarian and rigid regime refuses to relinquish its exclusivity and privileges, but also will not challenge public opinion unnecessarily. That the regime, or parts of it, has come to terms with Israel is a diplomatic fact that the Egyptian public cannot erase. However, this public has great power to keep the relationship cool, limited to air-conditioned rooms where diplomats meet.

Opinion polls show that Egypt - the largest Arab state, with the most advanced and powerful military - is also the most hostile to Israel, the United States and the West. This is not a matter of hairsplitting interpretation or passing trends: The data are unequivocal, and as frightening as a storm of religious fanaticism and prejudice.

Last month, the American House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs received the results of an international survey conducted by the University of Maryland. The survey examined public opinion in four Muslim countries: Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan. On every questions, Egypt led - in opposing an American presence in the Middle East, in supporting attacks against it (more than 93 percent), and in accusing the U.S. of aggression against Islam in its entirety, as opposed to just the fight against Al-Qaida, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Even those who expressed reservations about Al-Qaida's activities, particularly its targeting of civilians, supported the audacity of global jihad in confronting America and raising the flag of protecting "Muslim honor." Many doubt the American version of what happened on 9/11 and attribute what they saw with their own eyes, and what was described in tapes by Osama Bin Laden and his aides, to Hollywood special effects. Israel, of course, is derided as a collaborator and a protectorate.

The pot boiling under the regime is threatening - if it boils over - to throw the lid off, and with it, also the peace with Israel. The resulting security tensions will not immediately escalate or lead to a new war, a sixth war, between the two countries. But there will be no deeper, broader peace than the one that currently reigns on our southwestern border.