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This article was published 9/5/2011 (3111 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
TEL AVIV — Israel is celebrating its 63rd year of independence today, enjoying political stability and economic prosperity, but still undecided about its peace with the Palestinians.
Despite its strong army, Israel nevertheless does not feel secure enough to launch a historic "war for peace" with its immediate Palestinian neighbours. There are regional considerations that could explain Israeli reluctance. The "Arab Spring" that began in Tunis and Cairo does not appear to have stabilized, nor does the phenomenon appear to have a clear direction. There are now signs of dissent within the Iranian ruling class. The revolts in Libya and Syria are not decided. Pro-Western forces in Lebanon appear to be gradually regaining strength vis-a-vis Hezbollah. The monarchies in Jordan and Saudi Arabia appear to be successfully resisting the revolutionary winds.
Three months after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt does not have a coherent foreign and regional policy. The leading candidate to succeed Mubarak, Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa and the new foreign minister, Nabil el-Arabi, both belong to the Nasserist stream in Egypt's Arab and foreign policy, which means continued resistance to "western diktats."
Both have pledged to keep the peace treaty with Israel. But both hid their intention to regain Egypt's leadership role in the Arab world.
As part of this effort, Egypt facilitated a rapprochement between the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas rival, Khaled Mash'al. To facilitate Israel's acceptance of Hamas, Egypt secretly undertook to seal a deal for the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in return for the release of about 1,000 Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails.
Egypt has also announced its intention to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, thus undermining Israel's blockade. These are only early signs of Egypt's intentions in advance of the parliamentary and presidential elections later this year.
These early signs, however, were sufficient to make Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nervous.
He warned that Abbas must choose between Israel and Hamas and changed Abbas' status from "not a partner for peace" to the "only partner."
The U.S. and the European Union were more cautious in their reaction. They agreed Hamas could become a "peace partner" if it accepts the Quartet's three conditions — accept all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; end violence; and, contrary to the Hamas Charter, recognize Israel's right to exist.
This position is strengthened by U.S. Congress Resolution 32-111, which states no American funds could be allocated to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas if Hamas does not accept publicly the Quartet's conditions.
Needless to say, developments in Egyptian and Palestinian policies are only a part of a wider problem that affects Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and the Persian Gulf countries.
U.S. President Barack Obama was to deliver a speech last week outlining his new Middle East policies in advance of his meeting with Netanyahu at the White House on May 20.
But Obama, like Israel, was surprised by the successful Egyptian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and decided to delay his speech until the American and Israeli positions are clearly defined.
Israeli officials are of the opinion that the delay was also motivated by Obama's desire to exploit the momentum his resolve to liquidate Osama bin Laden created and use it to advance his two-year-old Middle East views.
Sources familiar with the new Israeli thinking say Israel and the West remain determined to detach Syria from the Iranian camp, thus further undermining Hezbollah's dominance in Lebanon.
In advance of his trip to Washington, Netanyahu last week paid short visits to London and Paris, where he met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Earlier he travelled to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
These trips were part of Netanyahu's effort to prevent European support for a Palestinian bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 ceasefire lines.
Israel, meanwhile, desires to be part of the Western decision-making effort concerning a new Middle East, which is in the midst of a historic transformation.
Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free
Press Middle East correspondent.