Egyptian turmoil: The Israeli position

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Address delivered by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
February 4, 2011, at the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem

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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 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 Teheran, 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…

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 worldviews: 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…

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.

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… 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. 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.

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…

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. 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.

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.

I hope President Abbas will join me in a sincere effort to explore the options for a realistic peace with realistic security arrangements needed 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.

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