Israel's Netanyahu welcomes Egyptian military's pledge to honor peace accord

The Egyptian military is the largest in the Arab world, controlling an estimated one third of the Egyptian economy, but is highly respected by the people. (Feb. 12)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 12, 2011; 8:13 PM

JERUSALEM - After holding urgent discussions with his security advisers on the impact of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu late Saturday welcomed a pledge by Egypt's new military rulers to continue to honor Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

Earlier Saturday, a spokesman for Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country after Mubarak stepped down Friday, emphasized the military's "commitment to all Egypt's international treaties."

The future of Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt has been at the core of Israeli concerns throughout the unrest that led to Mubarak's ouster. Israeli officials have also expressed deep fears that the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, which rejects the peace deal with Israel, could be a powerful player in any post-Mubarak government.

Unlike President Obama and other world leaders who saluted Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrators on their victory, Netanyahu steered clear of congratulations and focused his first remarks after Mubarak's departure on Israel's security concerns.

In a statement released by his office, Netanyahu welcomed the Egyptian military's pledge and added: "The long-standing peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has greatly contributed to both countries and is the cornerstone for peace and stability in the entire Middle East."

On Sunday, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to discuss the situation in Egypt. Mullen, who is in Israel ostensibly to bid farewell to his outgoing Israeli counterpart, will also confer with other top Israeli defense officials before traveling to Jordan and Egypt to explore the regional security implications of Mubarak's departure.

As Israel continued to cautiously watch events in Egypt unfold, the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee - the top Palestinian political decision-making body, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - announced its intention to hold presidential and legislative elections by September. Both votes have been on hold for months amid a split between Abbas's Fatah party, which controls the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and its Islamist rival, Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The move follows an announcement last week that the Palestinians would hold long-delayed local elections in July, moves akin to others taken throughout the Arab world to placate populations in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings.

But the likelihood of any Palestinian elections being held this year was in doubt as Hamas immediately said it would not participate. A split between Fatah and Hamas has endured since Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization, seized sole control of Gaza in 2007.

Egypt, before Mubarak's ouster, was a key player in attempts to mediate a rapprochement between the rivals. But the talks broke down over disagreements on power-sharing and in the past year have shown little sign of being revived.

"We don't agree with this decision," Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said after the PLO executive committee announcement. Hamas would take part only after reconciliation, he said, and only if Abbas's police stop arresting Hamas activists in the West Bank.

Taysir Khaled, a member of the PLO's executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said the decision to hold Palestinian legislative council and presidential elections before September "is not connected in a direct way to what happened in Egypt.''

"But," he added, "you have to understand we are affected by how things are around us. We do respect the wishes and the demands of the Egyptian people."

Abbas's Palestinian Authority clamped down on solidarity rallies in the West Bank during the 18-day Egyptian uprising. But Friday night, as news of Mubarak's resignation was broadcast, hundreds of Palestinians blew their horns and cheered: "The system is gone. Mubarak is gone." On Saturday, hundreds again cheered Egypt's pro-democracy activists at a march through Ramallah's main square.

In the Gaza Strip, thousands rallied to celebrate Mubarak's resignation. On Friday evening, Hamas police distributed candies in the center of Gaza City as a Hamas spokesman congratulated the Egyptian people.

Also Saturday, longtime Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat submitted his resignation to the PLO's executive committee.

Erekat's resignation as the Palestinians' top interlocutor with Israel follows the release last month by the al-Jazeera television network of memos and minutes from meetings that revealed apparent concessions Palestinian negotiators were willing to make to Israel in 2008. The discussions were kept confidential out of concern that media leaks of details from the talks would undermine the peace process.

Special correspondents Islam Abdelkarim in Gaza City and Sufian Taha in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company