This article by Ed Berns was published as an op-ed in The New Haven Register on February 22, 2011. It is posted here with the permission of the author.
There is a cartoon making the rounds about the democratization of Egypt. It poses the question: If Egypt breaks the peace
agreement with Israel, does Israel get back Sinai.?
This raises an interesting point: Israel has given much in its quest for peace with its neighbors, the Sinai Peninsula included, and it is entitled to the benefit of its bargain.
Under Hosni Mubarak's rule, Israel enjoyed peace with Egypt. An autocratic, Mubarak-led Egypt might have been better for Israel than the new Egypt will be. Realistically, Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors reflect a balance between those who tolerate the Jewish state and those who believe its existence remains the ultimate Arab humiliation. The great unknown is where a revamped Egypt will fall on that scale.
The Sinai is emblematic of the risks Israel has proven it is prepared to take for lasting peace. Captured from Egypt during the 1967 Six Day War, the 26,000-square-mile peninsula was returned to Egypt as part of the peace treaty with Israel.
The exchange was an enormous gamble that is taken for granted today. By giving up land that represented a huge defensive buffer against the strongest of the Arab armies, Israel also displaced its citizens and returned oil fields that would have provided it energy independence.
The Sinai Peninsula isn't the only land Israel has exchanged for peace. There is also Gaza.
Gaza also was captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Within two weeks of cessation of hostilities, Israel offered to exchange all the land it captured for peace with its Arab neighbors. The Arab response was the notorious "three nos" of the Khartoum Resolution: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.
Having conquered Gaza, Israel was stuck with it. Golda Meir, Israel's prime minister then, expressed national frustration by asking: "How can we return the occupied territories? There is nobody to return them to."
In 2005, pursuant to the Oslo Accords, Israel pulled out of Gaza, uprooting more than 8,500 of its citizens. Even the Jewish cemeteries were removed.
Following internecine fighting, the Palestinian Authority was overthrown by the popularly elected Hamas, an avowed enemy of Israel and designated as terrorist by the United States.
What did Israel get for its transfer of Gaza? From 2005 through 2008, more than 8,600 rockets were fired indiscriminately into civilian areas of Israel from Gaza. Despite countless warnings and with no alternative, Israel reluctantly sent its army into Gaza to stem the attacks. Ultimately, there was a drastic reduction of the attacks.
Yet, in an impressive feat of reverse engineering that has proven as frustrating to refute as trying to nail Jell-O, Israel's defense of its citizens has been intentionally mischaracterized by anti-Israel factions as evidence of Israeli oppression of Gaza .
Last year, Robert L. Bernstein - founder of Human Rights Watch, which is frequently critical of Israel - gave a lecture at the University of Nebraska that went far to set the record straight. He took to task Human Rights Watch and similar organizations for their treatment of Israel compared to other countries in the Middle East. "If you talk about freedom of speech, the rights of women, an open education and freedom of religion, there is only one state in the Middle East concerned with those issues: Israel," he said.
Israel represents the role model for which millions of democracy-seeking citizens of Arab nations, most recently Egypt, dream.
As demonstrated by the advent of rule by mullahs in Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, change in the Middle East seldom bodes well for Israel. If history is a guide, Egypt's transition to a democracy is far from a sure thing.
Still, as Sallai Meridor, Israel's former ambassador to the United States recently commented in The Washington Post, if a real democracy, committed to the values of freedom and peace, were to emerge, Israelis would overwhelmingly support it.
And, Egypt could keep Sinai.
Edward J. Berns is chairman of the Israel Affairs Committee of Temple Beth Sholom in Hamden. He may be reached by email at email@example.com.