If Israelis have been able to be friends with Germans, why not with Egyptians?
By Akiva Eldar, translated by Danny Wool, Al-Monitor Israel Pulse
July 08, 2013
Given the violent images being broadcast from Cairo and reports of violent clashes in the streets of Alexandria between ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s opponents and supporters, it is no wonder that so many Israelis, including this very writer, are wondering whether Egypt really is a “partner for peace.” As long as that thought keeps running through my head, I am reminded of my uncles and aunts who were sent by the people of the great poet Friedrich von Schiller, to the gas chambers to the sweet sounds of that anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner.
There are still men and women among us who remember how their Hungarian, Polish and Ukrainian neighbors, all part of the “European cultural milieu,” turned them over to the Nazis. There is nothing like the Holocaust in all of modern history, and yet for Israelis and Germans alike, it was not enough to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries 20 years after the war was over. Despite the trauma, despite the memories, these two enemies became friends. Israel’s finest musicians now play in the Berlin Philharmonic, Israeli students pack the lecture halls of German universities, Israeli researchers attend scientific conferences in Munich alongside colleagues whose grandparents belong to the SS generation, and German colleagues are welcomed to Jerusalem with open arms.
This is not the case when talking about relations between the people of Israel and the people of Egypt (though for some reason, when talking about Arabs, the more commonly used term is “the Arab street”). Although 35 years have passed since Israel’s then-prime minister Menachem Begin and Egypt’s then-president Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords, peace with Egypt is, at best, a formal agreement between two countries, or what we like to call a “cold peace.”
During deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s long term in office, Israel’s various governments made do with security cooperation, while complaining that Egypt was not fulfilling the normalization clauses of the peace agreement, and criticizing open manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Egyptian media. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, as far as pundits and decision-makers in the fields of policy and defense were concerned, Israel’s interest in the Arab Spring could be summed up in three words: Sinai border security. Relations with Egypt meant relations with the heads of the Egyptian army and intelligence. It does not matter to them whether the ruler in Cairo was a corrupt dictator or a “Muslim Brother” who hated Jews. The main thing was that there was someone to talk to on the Egyptian General Staff, and if not directly, then at least through the Americans.
While visiting Cairo’s Modern Art Museum in the spring of 2011, I had a chance to get a closer look at the image Egyptian civilians have of Israelis. The usher at the entrance noticed the Arab slogan adorning the front of my cap, which I had bought at a souvenir stand in Tahrir Square. It read: “Lift your head up high. You’re an Egyptian. Youth of the Revolution, January 25, 2011.” When I told him that I came from Israel, he raised an eyebrow and said in disbelief, “I thought you supported Hosni Mubarak.”
It was this Egyptian usher and his friends who deposed Mubarak, and it was them who deposed Morsi. These are the people Israelis must speak to. Israelis have to mend the relationship and build mutual trust. They have to explain to them that the thugs who harm Arabs and incite against them do not represent the “Israeli street.” They must tell them that the racist Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu and his friends from the beit midrash (study hall) of bigotry are not the spiritual leaders for most of the Israeli public. It would certainly be a good thing if that same public went out to the streets to protest the disgusting new phenomenon called the “Price Tag” and against the appointment of that revolting individual from Safed, who calls himself a “rabbi.”
During that same visit to Cairo I discovered that the overthrow of the Egyptian government offers Israelis new channels of communication with their neighbors to the south. Professors Yoram Meital and Yossi Yonah, both of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and I met for a lengthy discussion with three young members of the “Liberal Forum of Cairo,” one of many dozens of organizations that have sprung up since the January Revolution. One after the other, all three of them said that they are open to a dialogue with Israeli society about peace and cooperation.
That same week, members of the Israeli Peace Initiative group, which supports negotiations on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative, heard the exact same thing from Egypt’s Council on Foreign Relations, which is comprised of retired diplomats, security chiefs, and senior officials. They promised that if the Israeli government were to express a willingness to adopt the Arab initiative of March 2002, the effort to end the conflict would find a loyal partner in the new Egypt.
The decision by the Arab League Summit, which met in Qatar last March, to ratify the initiative indicates that the new regimes in the region regard the Arab Peace Initiative as essential to achieving a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East.
In addition to achieving a just and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab states, the Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel “normal relations” with all of its members. The fact that the Arab League followed up on this in May by sending a delegation to Washington to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and discuss ways to advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is further evidence that the possibility of establishing normal relations with the Arab states is still alive and kicking. This includes a new relationship with the Egyptian people. An Israeli government that prefers the alternative option of sending Kerry home empty-handed and perpetuating the occupation of the Palestinian people should remember that the concept of “solidarity” is not some Hebrew innovation. This time, the match lit in Ramallah could set the whole Middle East ablaze.
In the summer of 2011, the people of Israel proved that when government policies threaten their standard of living, they will pour out into the streets en masse to protest. Could that same public possibly stay home when government policies threaten their very lives?
Akiva Eldar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, German and Arabic.
Notes and links
April 6, 2011
In light of the continuing political stalemate over the past years, and especially in view of the current dramatic events that are taking place in the area, and their effect on the State of Israel, its security and its international status, we call upon the government of Israel to make a courageous decision and take the initiative, the purpose of which is to advance a regional peace agreement in the Middle East, to strengthen the security of Israel in the tumultuous region and its problematic international standing.
We call upon the government to present a framework for the conclusion of the Israel-Arab conflict, as a comprehensive response to the 2002 Arab peace initiative. Israel must decide on its future from a position of strength and not to be dragged along by events.
We present the public and its elected representatives with our proposal for an Israel Peace Initiative, which has been developed over the past years with the aid of Israeli experts, based on the known solutions to all the basic problems in the area (for example, the Clinton parameters, the proposals put forth Barak at Camp David, the Olmert and Livni understandings in the framework of the Annapolis process, the talks with Syria from the time of Rabin, Netanyahu, Barak till Olmert). We have a strong basis to believe that the initiative will be accepted favorably by the Arab capitals and the Palestinian leadership.
We hope that brave leaders will be found in Israel, in the area and in the international community who will translate the Arab and Israeli vision for peace into reality, instead of waiting for vain magic to take place.
Following are the main principles of our proposal:
Israel will accept the Arab initiative of 2002 as a basis for negotiations for peace agreements in the area, and will present her ideas on the points of dispute.
Israel will announce that her strategic aim is to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinian Authority, as well as permanent peace agreements with Syria and Lebanon that will put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of the following principles:
- A solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict through “two states for two peoples”, which shall form two nation states – one for the Jewish people and one for the Palestinian people (including the implementation of the Declaration of Independence from 1948 regarding the equality of Arab citizens in Israel).
- The establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the basis of the 1967 lines, and territory swaps on a 1:1basis, in limited scope.
- The Palestinian state will be demilitarized with control over its internal security, side by side with strict security measures on its borders.
- Jerusalem will be the capital of both peoples, whereas the Jewish neighborhoods, the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter will be under Israeli sovereignty and the temple mount shall remain under a special no-sovereignty regime (“G-d sovereignty”) with special arrangements. Israeli Jerusalem will be acknowledged as the capital of Israel.
- An agreed upon solution regarding the problem of the refugees on the basis of financial compensation and their return to Palestinian territory only (with symbolic and agreed upon exceptions).
- An agreement with Syria that is based on the gradual withdrawal to the 1967 borders (similar to the model in Sinai), a 1:1 exchange of territories and broad security measures on the border.
- A peace agreement with Lebanon based on the UN decision 1701 and on significant security measures on the border.
- A commitment by Syria, Lebanon and Palestine to prevent terror and to discontinue cooperation with hostile entities and states.
- The establishment of regional security arrangements between Israel, Arab states and the international community.
- The building of regional economic development in order to ensure prosperity and stability among all the people of the area.
- The advancement of normal relations between Israel and the Arab world and Islamic countries will take place alongside progress in the negotiations, coupled with mutual commitment towards peace education and the prevention of incitement.
The Advantages of the Initiative
- The uniqueness of the initiative is that it provides an answer to the Arab initiative, with a wide perspective of the future of the area and not only regarding the topics of the conflict but from a strategic political, security and economic perspective.
- Israel demonstrates that she is ready for far-reaching concessions only if the recompense will be the conclusion of the conflict and the end to all claims alongside significant security measures.
- The actual announcement of the Israeli initiative will open channels to both new and old Arab leaders, will break the circle of isolation and international de-legitimization and will prevent international pressure and forced solutions.
- Israel is sending an important message to the Arab public in general and to its youth in particular, that she is a true partner for peace, democracy and economic prosperity in the area.
- It is possible to translate the initiative to progress in each channel simultaneously and without pre-conditions.
- It is possible to use the initiative as a framework for a permanent agreement or an agreed-upon political horizon in the context of interim agreements.
- Click here to read the full Israeli Peace Initiative.
Jacob Perry Former GSS director (1995-1998). Chairman of the Board of Mizrahi Tefahot and Chairman of Magal. Expert on defense and terror.
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak 15th Chief of the General Staff, IDF (1995-1998). Former government minister (1999-2001).
Amram Mitzna Former Chairman of the Labor Party, Major General (IDF), Mayor of Haifa , Head of the Appointed Committee of Yeruham.
Danny Yatom Former director of the Mossad (1996-1998). Former Commanding General of the Central Command, Military Secretary to PM Rabin and PM Peres, and Chief of Staff and security advisor to PM Barak. Former MK.
Ami Ayalon Former Director of the GSS (1996-2000). Former government Minister (2007-2008). Founding member of “Blue-White Future”.
Yuval Rabin Businessman and one of the Initiative’s authors.
Danny Gillerman Former Ambassador to the UN. Head of the Markstone Fund.
Alik Ron Major General Israel Police (Ret).
Dov Tamari Brigadier General (res.) General Staff Reconnaissance Unit commander, first chief intelligence officer in the IDF.
Att. Moshe Shachal Attorney, former MK and minister.
Dr. Yehuda Ben-Meir Deputy Foreign Minister on behalf of Mafdal (1981-1983). Founder of Meimad. Dr. of Psychology, senior research fellow, Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
Dr. Alon Liel International relations researcher and Israeli diplomat who served as Director General of the Foreign Ministry (2000-2001). Ambassador to South Africa, and Chargé d’Affaires in Turkey.
Avi Primor Deputy Rector, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. Former Israeli Ambassador to Germany and EU, and Deputy Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Nathan Sharony President of the Council of Peace and Security. Major General (IDF). Former Director General of the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Trade.
Prof. Shimon Shamir Middle East scholar and diplomat. Israeli Ambassador to Egypt (1988-1990) and Israel’s first Ambassador to Jordan (1994-1996).
Idan Ofer Businessman, owner of Israel Corp., chairman of the board of Better Place.
Att. Dalia Rabin Chairperson of the Rabin Center. Former MK (1999-2003).
Colette Avital Former MK and a diplomat, Director of the Berl Katznelson Foundation.
Shlomo Gur Deputy Director of the Claims Committee, former Director General of the Ministry of Justice, deputy ambassador to the US.
Shaul Givoli Brigadier General (IDF), Major General (Israel Police). Director General of the Council of Peace and Security.
Uri Neeman Former head of the Mossad’s research wing (1989-1995). Member of the Council of Peace and Security.
Prof. Yoram Meital Chairman of the Chaim Hertzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. Scholar of political and national processes in the Middle East.
Att. Oded Dovrat President of the Ramat Gan College.
Prof. Eli Podeh Middle East scholar, expert in the history of the Arab world, Islam and Middle East Studies, Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Dr. Efrat Elron Organizational psychologist, expert on multi-national forces and Israeli interfaces with the international community.
Prof. Aliza Shenhar President of the Yizre’el Valley College. Former Israeli ambassador to the Russian Federation (1994-1997).
Dr. Matti Steinberg Middle East scholar, former advisor to GSS director. Lecturer at Princeton University.
Dr. Ephraim Lavie Middle East scholar, Colonel (Res.), former senior intelligence/research officer, Director of the Tami Steinmetz Center of Peace Studies, Tel Aviv University.
Prof. Tamar Herman Public opinion expert, expert on foreign policy and security, Open University and the Israel Democracy Institute.
Prof. Yossi Yonah Professor of Philosophy of Education, Department of Education, Ben Gurion University.
Prof. Moshe Maoz Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, expert on Syria, Truman Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Itamar Ya’ar Colonel (Res.). Management and national security advisor, former Deputy Director of the National Security Council.
Bruno Landsberg Founder and chairman of the Sano Enterprises Ltd.
Alon Schuster Head of Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.
Dr. Alla Shainskaya Senior scientist, Weizmann Institute of Science.
Merav Michaeli Journalist and media figure, a feminist activist.
Adina Bar Shalom Founder and President of the Haredi College of Jerusalem.
Prof. Eyal Zisser Middle East scholar, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Tel Aviv University.
Shaul Arieli Colonel (Res.), member of the Council for Peace and Security. Head of the Peace Administration in the Barak Administration.
Prof. Shifra Sagi Professor of Educational Psychology and head of the Conflict Resolution and Management Program, Ben Gurion University.
Israela Oron Brigadier General (Res.). Former Deputy Director of the National Security Council.
Avremi Adamov Businessman and entrepreneur.
Gilead Sher Colonel (Res.), attorney, former Head of the Prime Minister’s Bureau and Chief Negotiator with the Palestinians. Founding co-chairman of “Blue-White Future”.
Orny Petruschka Hi-tech entrepreneur and social activist. Founding member of “Blue-White Future”.
Avital Geva Educator, artist, social activist. Founder of the Ein Shemer Ecological Incubator.
Prof. Jimmy Weinblatt Professor of Economics, Ben Gurion University of the Negev. In 2010 appointed Rector of Sapir Academic College.
Danny Karavan International artist, recipient of the Israel Prize.
Mully Dor Chairman of the Executive Committee, Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED).
Dr. Eva Berger Dean of the School of Communications, Academic Track, College of Administration.
Akiva Eldar Political correspondent, member of the editorial board of Haaretz.
Prof. Eyal Benvenisti Professor, Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University. Expert in international law.
Att. Eti Livni Former MK (Shinui), Deputy Speaker of the Knesset 2006–2008).
Prof. Alex Mintz Dean of the School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.
Rabbi Dr. Daniel Hartman President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, Engaging Israel project director.
Dr. Mark Heller Principal Research Associate Institute for National Security Studies.
Att. Aviv Wasserman Founder and Director of the Lod Foundation.
Dr. Gershon Baskin Founder and co-director of IPCRI (Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information).
Yohanan Bayn Former ambassador to the UN between 1988-1990.
Prof. Dan Jacobson Professor of Organizational Behavior at Tel Aviv University, an expert in dealing with situations of individual unemployment, economic and political insecurity.
Avner Azulay Managing Director of The Rich Foundations in Israel.
Dr. Ilai Alon Middle East scholar, expert on Islam at Tel Aviv University Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.
Ophir Paz Pines Former Knesset member and Minister in Israeli governments from 2005 to 2010.
Avner Katz Painter, illustrator and a writer, recipient of the Israel Prize.
Micha Olman Sculptor, recipient of the Israel Prize.
Oren Magnezy Founder and Chairman of the Laurus Consulting Group, served as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Advisor.
Dr. Anat Kurtz Senior scholar at the INSS (Institute for National Security Studies), an expert on Islamist terrorism.
Prof. Gavriel Salomon Professor of Education at the University of Haifa, recipient of the Israel Prize in education.
Dr. Yoram Harpaz Editor in chief of “Educating Thinking”, expert in education.
Dr. Zvia Walden Doctor of Linguistics.
Prof. Rafi Walden Professor of Medicine, Vice – Director of the Sheba Hospital.
Baruch Ovadia Social Worker, Teacher, NGO leader and an activist in conflict-resolution dialog.
Yossi Hatsor Businessman and entrepreneur. Retired Colonel from the Israeli Air Force (IAF), Former Squadron Commander.
Naava Mashiah PA prominent businesswoman building bridges and partnerships between Israel and the MENA region. Founder and CEO of ME LINKS.
Gabi Seligsohn President and Chief Executive Officer of Nova Measuring Instruments.
Yoram Yahav CEO of the Yoayh Group, specializing in futuristic strategy which supports countries, corporations and leaders.
Alice Krieger Activist and a fundraising and development consultant.
Emanuel Shaked Brigadier General (res.). Management member of Council of Peace and Security.
Shmuel Gortler Investment banker and chairman of Goren capital group.
David (Miko) Tzarfati Chairman of the IEC’s employees’ union.
Uri Dori Owner of A.dori construction corporation.
Dany Atar Head of the Gilboa regional council.
Avraham Bigger A prominent executive and a businessman.
Prof. David Newman Ben-Gurion University. Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Avner Stepak Investment banker and Businessman.
Yossi Alfi A media and theater persona, writer, teacher and storyteller.
Prof. Carlo Strenger Chair of the Clinical Graduate Program, Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University.
Prof. Élie Barnavi historian and diplomat, former Israeli ambassador to France. Expert on European early modern history at Tel Aviv University (emeritus), Scientific Advisor to the Museum of Europe in Brussels and Scientific Director of the Forum de Paris.
Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal Branco Weiss Professor of Research in Child Development and Education at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University.
Att. Rachel Dolev Brigadier General (res.). Former senior member of the military prosecutor’s office and the chief censor.
Benny Kedar Colonel (res.), Former head of the development department, the Israeli air force’s technical alignment. Currently leading a technological project at the civil aviation authority.
Dan Halperin Former official at Ministry of Finance, political and economic commentator, former Economic Envoy in Washington, businessman, Chairman of the Israel Festival, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.
Vivian Silver Co-Executive Director , Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development – NISPED.
Doron Libstein Businessman and internet entrepreneur.
Dan Piltz Businessman.
Michael Rothenberg Hi tech professional, specializes in business strategy. Social activist and one of the Initiative’s authors.
Koby Huberman Hi tech professional, specializes in business strategy. Social activist and one of the Initiative’s authors.
Cairo Liberal Forum Facebook page