Egypt-Israel relations will outlive Mubarak

By Ben Lynfield, July 22, 2010
Mr Mubarak in a rare public appearance following his surgery in March

Mr Mubarak in a rare public appearance following his surgery in March

Rumours that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is dying have caused concern in Israel over the future of the Israeli-Egyptian relationship.

Over the past three decades, Mr Mubarak has gained admirers in Israel for sticking to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty through wars and intifadas. But the "cold peace" does not depend on him personally and is still likely to persist in a post-Mubarak era, analysts say.

"In the Egyptian regime, there is a broad consensus on relations between Egypt and Israel," said Gamal Abdul Gawad, director of the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

"Relations have survived changes of presidents before. It is part of the Egyptian national interest to maintain the peaceful relations with Israel."

However, any new leader would be unlikely to intensify relations with Israel as long as the Palestinian issue remains deadlocked.

Mubarak’s son says he is committed to peace

"It would be very costly for an Egyptian leader to improve relations when there is a lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations."

Concern over the 82-year-old leader's health has intensified since he underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder in March. A meeting with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu went ahead on Sunday after two postponements, fuelling fresh rumours about Mr Mubarak's condition. Some Western reports claim he is suffering from terminal cancer and has less than a year left to live.

During his tenure, Mubarak kept up formal relations with Israel and made clear there would be no more wars. But there were no close cultural or business ties either. Normalisation became a taboo word. Strategic ties improved somewhat recently because the two countries have common enemies in Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah.

Eli Shaked, who served as Israel's ambassador to Egypt from 2003 to 2005, describes Mr Mubarak as "a very stable person, not a person of revolutions or a reformist. He's a leader of the status quo. He went on with the policies of his predecessor."

In Mr Shaked's view, a successor would probably keep playing a "double game", respecting the peace treaty while keeping a distance from Israel.

"They believe that if relations with Israel are too warm, it will harm relations with other Arab states," he said.

Mr Mubarak's son, Jamal, 46, is considered a possible successor, as is intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. While it is unlikely, the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power cannot be ruled out, said Mr Shaked.

"There could be some instability in Egypt," he said.

In an interview last year published in Middle East Quarterly, Jamal Mubarak made clear that Egypt under his rule would stay committed to peace.

"Egypt chose its side - the side of peace - about 30 years ago and has no intention of changing," he said.

On Sunday, Israeli minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer cautioned against burying Mr Mubarak prematurely.

He said: "I spoke to him very recently. Without being a doctor, I can be sure by the sound of his voice that he is in excellent health and will remain in the political arena for a long time."

Last updated: 3:49pm, July 22 2010