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What Israel Is Afraid of After the Egyptian Uprising

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By: Peter Beinart

We’re almost two weeks into the revolution in Egypt and the American media keeps asking the question that my extended family asks during all world events: Is it good for Israel? Ask a Jewish question, get a Jewish answer, by which I mean, another question: What’s good for Israel?

Obviously, a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel, period. But that is unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood is not al Qaeda: It abandoned violence decades ago, and declared that it would pursue its Islamist vision through the democratic process, which has earned it scorn among Bin Laden types. Nor is the Brotherhood akin to the regime in Iran: When Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to appropriate the Egyptian protests last week, the Brotherhood shot him down, declaring that it “regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution” and insisting that “The Egyptian people’s revolution includes Muslims, Christians and [is] from all sects and political” tendencies. In the words of George Washington University’s Nathan Brown, an expert on Brotherhood movements across the Middle East, “These parties definitely reject the Iranian model…Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”

Could this all be an elaborate ruse? Might the Brotherhood act differently if it gained absolute power? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which that happens. For one thing, the best estimates, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Cook, are that the Brotherhood would win perhaps 20 percent of the vote in a free election, which means it would have to govern in coalition. What’s more, the Egyptian officer corps, which avowedly opposes an Islamic state, will likely wield power behind the scenes in any future government. And while the Brotherhood takes an ambiguous position on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel–it opposes it but says it will abide by the will of the Egyptian people-the Egyptian army has little interest in returning to war footing with a vastly stronger Israel. Already, Mohammed ElBaradei, the closest thing the Egyptian protest movement has to a leader, has called the peace treaty with Israel “rock solid.”

But Egypt doesn’t have to abrogate the peace treaty to cause the Israeli government problems. Ever since 2006, when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip. A more accountable Egyptian government might no longer do that, partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters. It’s easy to imagine a newly democratic government of Egypt adopting a policy akin to the one adopted by the newly democratic government of Turkey. The Turkish government hasn’t severed ties with Israel, but it does harshly criticize Israel’s policies, especially in Gaza, partly because Turkey’s ruling party has Islamist tendencies, but mostly because that is what the Turkish people want.

More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence.

Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad govern in the West Bank without the democratic legitimacy they would likely need to sell a peace treaty to the Palestinian people.

All of which is to say: a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue. The organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum. That doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t vile in many ways, but it does mean that Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy. If a more democratic Egyptian government makes that policy harder to sustain, it may be doing Israel a favor.

The Middle East’s tectonic plates are shifting. For a long time, countries like Turkey and Egypt were ruled by men more interested in pleasing the United States than their own people, and as a result, they shielded Israel from their people’s anger. Now more of that anger will find its way into the corridors of power. The Israeli and American Jewish right will see this as further evidence that all the world hates Jews, and that Israel has no choice but to turn further in on itself. But that would be a terrible mistake. More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence. The Turkish government, after all, has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel even as it excoriates Israel’s policies in Gaza. ElBaradei this week reaffirmed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel even as he negotiates the formation of a government that could well challenge Israel’s policy in Gaza.

Instead of trying to prop up a dying autocratic order, what Israel desperately needs is to begin competing for Middle Eastern public opinion, something American power and Arab tyranny have kept it from having to do. And really competing means reassessing policies like the Gaza blockade, which create deep-and understandable-rage in Cairo and Istanbul without making Israel safer. It is ironic that Israel, the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy, seems so uncomfortable in a democratizing Middle East. But at root, that discomfort stems from Israel’s own profoundly anti-democratic policies in the West Bank and Gaza. In an increasingly democratic, increasingly post-American Middle East, the costs of those policies will only continue to rise. Israel must somehow find the will to change them, while it can still do so on its own terms, not only because of what is happening in Tahrir Square, but because the next Tahrir Square could be in Ramallah or East Jerusalem. After all, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar recently noted, Palestinian kids use Facebook too.

Decision Time

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This week in Islamabad, the Government of Pakistan and the international community came together for the first meeting of the Pakistan Development Forum in two years. Just over three months since Pakistan’s devastating monsoon floods, it was a chance for the Government of Pakistan and the international community to take stock of the challenges facing Pakistan. And to set the direction for both Pakistan’s government and the international community in helping Pakistan overcome those challenges and reach its full economic potential.

Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell took part in the Forum in Islamabad. It was his third visit to Pakistan since Britain’s new coalition government took office six months ago, and his fourth visit this year. Britain has been speedy and generous in its support for Pakistan. The UK has been at the forefront of the flood response, committing a total of £134 million to provide emergency shelter, food packages and safe water and to help start the reconstruction process with support for farmers and for getting children back to school. The British public has made its support for Pakistan clear, donating a further £64m (Rs 8.5bn) to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal.

The Forum highlighted the massive scale of the challenge that Pakistan faces after this summer’s devastating monsoon floods. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank presented their damage needs assessment. Their conclusions were sobering. They estimated that this summer’s floods had caused a total of $10bn worth of damage across Pakistan. A minimum of $6.8bn is needed for repair, recovery and reconstruction across all sectors. Most affected are Pakistan’s agriculture and housing sectors. Agriculture and housing losses are estimated at $5bn and $1bn respectively.

Pakistan’s challenge was great enough before this summer’s floods. Pakistan’s population is expected to increase by 85 million by 2030. Pakistan’s working age population is increasing by nearly 10,000 people every day. That is 4 million people every year. For Pakistan to create enough jobs for these people, the economy needs to grow at 8% per annum. Over the past five years, growth has averaged just 4%.

The UK stands ready to increase its support to help Pakistan secure the vibrant, properous and strong future its people deserve. But, as Andrew Mitchell told the Pakistan Development Forum this week, an exceptional package of reforms by the Government of Pakistan is essential to securing this future. Without reforms to increase tax revenue and control public spending, the risks posed by large and persistent deficits – financed through ever greater levels of borrowing – are considerable and debilitating. Inflation is likely to keep rising, and investor confidence – which has fallen 25% this year – will continue to be shaky. All of which would destroy rather than create jobs.

The Government of Pakistan is making some tough decisions and beginning to make progress towards reform. The Reformed General Sales Tax Bill tabled in the National Assembly last week is part of the right approach. Pakistan’s politicians need now to move to agreement and implementation. To build public confidence, it needs to be accompanied by continued measures to tackle corruption and improve the effectiveness of public spending. In order to stay on a positive path to long-term development Pakistan needs to take some tough choices to reform the economy to ensure sustainable economic growth which will reduce poverty and inequality and allow Pakistan to realise its potential.

Finally, at this time of Eid-ul-Azha let me wish you and your families Eid Mubarak.

Indian govt evidence not legally tenable: FM Qureshi

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Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has contradicted India’s claim that there was enough evidence to convict Hafiz Saeed.


‘The Pakistani judiciary is independent, their judgement must be respected’.

“The Pakistan Supreme Court had little choice in the matter as the Indian government had failed to produce evidence that was legally tenable,” he said in an interview with Indian news channel Times Now. “To pin someone down not only do you require evidence, you require legally tenable evidence,” he said.

Qureshi said that like the judiciary of India, the Pakistani judiciary is independent and their judgement must be respected.

“The Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram is expected on June 26 for the SAARC Home Ministers’ conference. I intend to meet with him and discuss this issue with him,” Qureshi said.

“I am expecting a meeting with the Minister of External Affairs SM Krishna on July 15 when we resume our dialogue. They are welcome to raise their concerns and we will sit and discuss them on the negotiating table.”

Qureshi added that the two prime ministers have given the responsibility of bridging the trust deficit to the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan.

“Yes, there is a trust deficit, we have to bridge it. We have to find a way of bridging this trust deficit. We also have to find a way of building confidence and that is exactly what I intend to do in the days to come.”

Qureshi stressed that the policy of the Government of Pakistan is very clear. “We condemn terrorism and will do our utmost to dismantle terrorist networks and not allow our soil to be used against anyone,” he said. “We are victims like anybody else. What you saw in Lahore was a very tragic incident. We are facing terrorists and fighting them. This fight will reach its logical conclusion and we will defeat them.”