JERUSALEM, December 4, 2011 (AFP)
JERUSALEM, December 4, 2011 (AFP)
Israeli officials expressed concern on Sunday over the future of ties with Cairo after Islamists claimed an overwhelming victory in the initial stage of Egypt’s first post-revolution elections.
“We are worried, I hope that democracy will prevail in Egypt and that the country won’t become an extremist Islamist state because that would put the whole region in danger,” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel public radio.
The results of the first part of the Egyptian elections, made official on Sunday, showed Islamists sweeping 65 percent of the vote.
The figures put the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the lead, as expected, but also showed the Salafist hardline Islamists netting a surprise 25 percent of the vote.
The reaction in the Israeli press was clear: “It’s even worse than expected,” one security agency official told the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.
“What was once a danger has become a threat,” the newspaper itself commented.
An Israeli government official told AFP that the emerging election results vindicated the Jewish state’s cautious approach to the Arab Spring of revolts against autocratic rulers.
The success of Islamist candidates, many with unabashedly anti-Israeli platforms, showed it was naive to hold Israel responsible for its isolation, as US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta suggested on Friday, he argued.
Panetta said the Jewish state needed to do more to “mend fences” with former allies like Turkey and called on Israel to “just get to the damn table” when it came to peace talks with the Palestinians.
But the Israeli official’s reaction said “those who attribute our isolation to the absence of negotiations with the Palestinians lack insight.””Even if there were negotiations with the Palestinians, that would not at all affect the hostility and the hate the Islamists and other Salafists feel for us,” he said.
Despite the concerns, Israeli officials have been at pains to say that their landmark 1979 peace deal with Egypt should not be considered at risk.
Yitzhak Levanon, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Cairo, said Sunday that he could not foresee “in coming months” any scrapping of the deal which made Egypt the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the treaty remains in the interest of Egypt as well as of its neighbours.
“We hope that any government to be formed in Egypt will recognise the importance of keeping the peace treaty with Israel, as a value of its own and as a foundation to the financial and security stability of the region,” he said on Sunday.
But Israeli officials say they do not expect to see Washington sanction Egypt by freezing aid to Cairo if the next government is formed by Islamist parties.
“The Egyptian people want change. If the Americans stop giving their aid, the Egyptians will find other sources, for example by raising the price of passage for ships through the Suez Canal,” Levanon said.
On Saturday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the Egyptian results were “very worrying,” but added it was “premature to say how these changes will affect the region.”
“I hope that any government that will be formed in Egypt will have no other choice but to respect its international commitments including the peace treaty with Israel,” he told Channel 10 television.
The results of the first phase of Egypt’s vote were, however, warmly welcomed by the Hamas movement, a Palestinian Islamist group born of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
“It is a very good result… It will mean more and more support for Palestinian issues,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP on Saturday. “The relationship of the next regime in Egypt with the Palestinians will be very good.”