Commentary Magazine


Change in Egypt Doesn’t Make an Unlikely Peace Plan Any More Likely

While most of the world is riveted by the ongoing drama of the revolt in Egypt, there’s no distracting those who are obsessed by the chimera of an Israeli-Palestinian peace from their favorite fantasies. This is the case with Bernard Avishai, who has been pleading for years for the United States to “save” Israel from itself. By this he means that Washington must overturn the verdict of Israeli democracy and impose a peace deal on the Jewish state that he thinks the Palestinians will accept even though the latter have repeatedly shown that they have no interest in such a thing.

Avishai’s latest version of this peace fantasy will be on display in next Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, but the editors of the Gray Lady think it is so important that they have already made it available on their website.

While Avishai leads with a couple of paragraphs about what is going on in Egypt, his main point is to complain that the tumult in Tunis and Cairo is distracting everyone from concentrating on the chance for peace that he claims was made evident by the revelation contained in Al Jazeera’s so-called Palestine Papers and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs. Avishai claims that the unrest in Cairo means “Obama’s hand in Israel has been strengthened.” Despite the fact that the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt had nothing to do with Israel, it is his assertion that a new peace initiative will “transform American status in the region” as well as help Israel.

But the bad news for those who take the trouble to read this 4,500-word essay in hopes of finding the solution to an otherwise insoluble puzzle is that there is nothing new here. It is merely a rehash of much of the recent reporting about the negotiations between the Olmert government and the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and 2008, which was, in itself, nothing new since we already knew the outlines of those talks long before Al Jazeera outed PA leader Abbas as a “traitor” to his people for even discussing “concessions” to the Jews that he never made good on.

Avishai takes the unprecedented concessions that Olmert made on Jerusalem, borders, and refugees as proof that peace is possible, though he considers them as merely the starting points for further retreats imposed by Obama that would “bridge” the gap between those positions and further demands that Abbas made. The assumption being that if only the Israelis go a little further, then the long-sought peace will soon be signed.

However, as even the Obama administration has come to understand, Abbas never had any intention of making a deal. If he had, he would have accepted Olmert’s concessions and taken the Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem. But instead, he walked away from Olmert’s offer. His reasons were obvious. Any such agreement, no matter where it placed Israel’s borders, would have required him to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state and end the Palestinian dream of its eradication. And that is something that would require a bigger transformation of the political culture of the Palestinians than the one happening in Egypt.

The relative strength of Hamas, which continues to rule Gaza, and the weakness of Abbas, are not, as Avishai claims, mere details to be overcome by American pressure on Israel. Though, as Avishai claims, perhaps rightly, a transformation of Egypt will further isolate Israel, the fall of Mubarak also helps Hamas and weakens Abbas, making it even less likely than before that the PA will feel strong enough to risk the fallout that an agreement with Israel will entail.

No matter what happens in Egypt, the idea that it will make peace with the Palestinians more likely is absurd. Recent events also prove again that the idea that the conflict with Israel is at the heart of all of the Muslim world’s woes is a myth. There may be some in the administration and at the New York Times, who still believe that hammering Israel will bring peace. But it is likely that after the last two years, even Obama has learned his lesson about the Palestinians.