By Jonathan Hoffman
February 3, 2011
Yesterday was a dramatic day in our region. Millions of people poured into the streets of Egypt. President Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, announced that he will not run in the next Presidential elections, and will work to introduce governmental reforms in Egypt.
In Washington, London, Paris, and throughout the democratic world, leaders, analysts and researchers spoke about the opportunities that change in Egypt could bring. They spoke about the promise of a new day.
These hopes are understandable. All those who cherish human liberty, including the people of Israel, are inspired by genuine calls for reform and by the possibility that it will take place.
It is obvious that an Egypt that fully embraces the 21st century and that adopts these reforms would be a source of great hope for the entire world, the region and for us.
In Israel, we know the value of democratic institutions and the significance of liberty. We know the value of independent courts that protect the rights of individuals and the rule of law; we appreciate of the value of a free press, and of a parliamentary system with a coalition and an opposition.
It is clear that an Egypt that rests on these institutions, an Egypt that is anchored in democratic values, would never be a threat to peace. On the contrary, if we have learned anything from modern history, it is that the stronger the foundations of democracy, the stronger the foundations of peace. Peace among democracies is strong, and democracy strengthens the peace.
One possible scenario, which undoubtedly unites us all, is that these hopes for democracy and a gradual, stable peace process are realized in Egypt.
However, this is not the only possible scenario. Because far away from Washington, Paris, London - and not so far from Jerusalem - is another capital in which there are hopes.
In this capital, there are leaders who can also see the opportunities that change in Egypt could bring. They also support the millions who took to the streets. They too speak about the promise of a new day. But for the people in this capital, the promise of a new day is not in its dawn but in the darkness it can bring.
That capital is Tehran, and I assure you, that the leaders in Iran are not interested in the genuine desires of Egyptians for freedom, liberalization or reform, any more than they were interested in answering similar calls for freedom by the Iranian people, their own people, only 18 months ago.
I'll jog your memory. They too had demonstrations; multitudes filled the town squares. But, of course it progressed in a different way. I was going to say that it finished differently but I'm not sure it's over.
The Iranian regime is not interested in seeing an Egypt that protects the rights of individuals, women, and minorities. They are not interested in an enlightened Egypt that embraces the 21st century. They want an Egypt that returns to the Middle Ages.
They want Egypt to become another Gaza, run by radical forces that oppose everything that the democratic world stands for.
We have two separate worlds here, two opposites, two world views: that of the free, democratic world and that of the radical world. Which one of them will prevail in Egypt?
The answer to this question is crucial to the future of Egypt, of the region and to our own future here in Israel.
Our stand is clear. We support the forces that promote freedom, progress and peace. We oppose the forces that seek to enforce a dark despotism, terrorism and war.
Should the forces that wish to carefully reform and democratize Egypt prevail, I am convinced that such positive change would also buttress a wider Arab-Israeli peace. But we are not there yet.
First of all, this battle has yet to be decided. Second, it is possible that it will be a long while before one of the forces achieves victory, and we may have many years of instability. Third, recent history shows us many cases in the Middle-East when extreme Islamist elements abused the rules of the democratic game to gain power and impose anti-democratic regimes.
It happened in Iran; it happened in Lebanon; and it happened when the Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. Does Iran enjoy freedom? Is there a real democracy in Gaza? Does Hezbollah promote human rights?
We must ensure that this does not happen again. We must do everything in our power to ensure that peace triumphs.
I want to pass on something to you, Members of Knesset, something I spoke about yesterday. I want to clarify a point that maybe young Israelis don't understand, but most of us, probably all of us, understand very well.
For over 30 years we have enjoyed peace on two fronts. One is a peaceful border with Egypt, and the second – the peaceful border with Jordan.
In effect, our peaceful border with Jordan ceased to be a border of war about 40 years ago. First we had calm, and then we had peace. With Egypt it happened the other way around. But on both fronts we have enjoyed peace along the borders and not merely lack of war. We have not had to defend these borders. And there are people here who remember what that means for us.
I see Avi Dichter here, and Shaul Mofaz, Matan Vilnai and many others. We remember what it was like when there was no peace. How we fought in the Suez Canal, on the banks of the Canal, inside it, and in Jordan. We fought, all of us. That's over now. It has changed the world and it has changed the State of Israel. It changed our strategic situation. That is why preserving the existing peace is vital for us.
We expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace. Moreover, we expect the international community to expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace. This must be clear, along with the discussions about reform and democracy.
We must also humbly recognize the truth – that these immense revolutions, these dramatic changes, this earthquake – none of this is about us. It is about central questions which we will discuss some other time.
I don't think we need to discuss all the details of this turmoil now. But I will say one thing: we are in a turbulent situation. In such situations we must look around with our eyes wide open. We must identify things as they are, not as we'd like them to be. We must not try to force reality into a preconceived pattern. We must accept that a huge change is taking place, and while it is happening – keep a watchful eye.
The basis for our stability and our future, for preserving or extending the peace, especially during unsteady times, is by reinforcing the might of the State of Israel. That requires security and also for us to be honest with ourselves.
To be honest with ourselves and refrain from self-flagellation on account of the problems we are surrounded with and the changes that are taking place. It is easy to blame ourselves for these and also for the Palestinian issue, which I will discuss shortly.
Because when we blame ourselves, we feel that we are in control, that developments depend on us. Otherwise, there are those who feel helpless when faced with these changes.
If there is no peace, or peace shatters, because of us, we can do something about it to change the way things are. If it is up to the other party or parties we have less influence over the situation.
I don't mean that we blame ourselves. It's more about blaming our leadership. As it happens, I am the leader now, but we've had seven prime ministers. We have replaced seven Prime Ministers since Oslo, Camp David and Annapolis, and we continue to blame ourselves. So is there any wonder that the world blames us too?
I said that we are willing and we want to promote the peace process with the Palestinians. I have said that the first two components of this peace process are mutual recognition and security. If I may quote myself from upon this platform, I have said numerous times that we need real security arrangements. Not only because they sustain peace, but also because they ensure our security in the event that peace unravels -- and in the Middle-East no one can guarantee the survival of any regime.
If I'm not mistaken, I said that only last week or two weeks ago. I said it because a peace agreement, a piece of paper, does not guarantee that the peace will be upheld, not does it guarantee that a partner for peace will survive. Therefore, to protect the agreement and to protect ourselves if the peace were to disappear or be breached, or if one of the sides has a change in government, we need strong, solid security arrangements.
That was and is the central issue that I discussed with President Abbas in our short conversation. Short, not because we didn't want to talk – everybody knows that we did, the world knows that we wanted to – but because he did not want to.
We have taken great lengths to help the Palestinian economy, not as an alternative to the political peace that we want to negotiate with them, but as a contribution to stability and to help the Palestinian population understand that there is a lot to be gained from peace.
In the next few days, I plan to take additional steps to further encourage development and prosperity among the Palestinians.
I hope that President Abbas will regard the changes taking place in the region as an opportunity to sit down with us and discuss peace without preconditions, negotiations that take into account changes that will affect Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We want to have genuine, comprehensive discussions about the right way to establish a stable and durable peace in an unstable region, peace that can weather the storms of this turbulent region.
Israelis and Palestinians have many differences between them. But there is only one way to resolve those differences – a negotiated settlement, not through unilateral steps.
There are many sceptics out there. They say Israeli governments and their maximalist positions on concessions do not coincide with the minimalist positions of the Palestinians. It is possible, they say, that the gap between Israel and the Palestinians may be too wide to bridge. They might be right.
But if we do not try, we will surely not succeed. And we cannot try until we sit down, and we cannot sit down if they do not want to.
I hope President Abbas will join me in a sincere effort to explore the possibility of a practical peace with practical security arrangements in the reality in which we find ourselves -- for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians and our common future.
In this reality, Israel must fortify its might. We must maintain our security. We must strive for a stable peace with determination, caution, responsibility, and above all, with watchful eyes that recognize reality.