JERUSALEM—As Egypt works to define its future, a new geo-political reality in the Middle East is unfolding, and no one is watching more closely than the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Mubarak's Egypt played a central role in the region. He was a key actor in mediating negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), and between the Fateh and the Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions.
While it is still too early to tell how the regime change in Egypt will play out in the long run, one thing that is certain is that it has left Egypt a weaker player in the region. This has both Israel and the Palestinians concerned, each for their own set of reasons.
Israel: Safe Border
Israel considered Mubarak's regime as the stable force holding the status quo together, holding back a wave of popular hatred toward Israel.
From day one of the demonstrations, the Israeli government kept its distance and refrained from commenting publicly on the events, not wishing to add fuel to the fire.
One of Israel's greatest fears, of course, is the prospect that a new regime could terminate the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that has stood since 1979.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the Egyptian army’s Friday statement that it will continue to honor that agreement.
“During this period, all Egyptian governments have upheld and advanced [the peace agreement] and we believe that it is the cornerstone of peace and stability, not only between the two countries, but in the entire Middle East as well," said Netanyahu at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
While Egypt’s new leadership has said it will continue to respect all of Egypt’s international agreements, professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel, points out that there is no doubt the regime has been weakened.
A weak Egypt is a serious concern to Israel, says Inbar, noting that cells of al-Qaeda are already in the Sinai Desert, and now it will be even harder for Egypt to control that territory. Weapon smuggling to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip might also increase, he added.
Palestinian Authority: Loosing Power
For the PA, its concerns are more existential resulting in a complete flip-flop in its stance toward events in Egypt. During the protests, its reaction was intense anxiety about any spillover effect, but by Saturday it was supporting the regime change.
The PA was quick to crush any solidarity demonstrations within its territory when the demonstrations first began. Palestinian leadership is much more concerned about the prospect of chaos in the West Bank, than it is about its relations with Israel, said Bassam Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group at press conference in Jerusalem during the demonstrations.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas does not enjoy the support of the majority of Palestinians, says Eid, given that Palestinian security forces are torturing and suppressing many of its own people. However, no one raises a voice against this, he says, since most people are happy there is international aid flowing in, and they can live relatively peaceful lives. Because of this, Eid does not believe that demonstrations would spread to the West Bank. If Abbas were to commit the offense of signing a peace agreement with Israel, however, that could change the equation, says Eid.
Once Mubarak stepped down, the PA suddenly changed its tune and welcomed the news.
“The Palestinian People and leadership support the Egyptian people and their collective decision to achieve change and democracy,” read a statement by Yaser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, according to official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.
Going one step further, it also prompted the PA to set a date for its own elections after more than a year of acting without a mandate since its last term expired.
“The Palestinian leadership also affirms that it is preparing for presidential and legislative elections at a date no later than next September,” read the statement.
“In this context, we call upon all parties to set aside their reservations and disagreements. Let us work together to hold elections and uphold the will of the Palestinian people,” the statement continued, espousing a hope for continued unity.