OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Despite being at odds on so many issues, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas almost see eye to eye on favoring former premier Ahmed Shafiq to become Egypt’s new president.
"Some think the Brotherhood will become more pragmatic once in power, but this is doubtful,” Efraim Inbar, head of Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told Reuters on Tuesday, June 5.
“We prefer the 'ancient regime', which Shafiq represents.”
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Shafiq, the last premier in the regime of deposed president Hosni Mubarak, is vying in a runoff vote later this month with Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Mursi to become Egypt’s new president.
Shafiq’s victory in the first round of the vote has angered many Egyptians, who see him as a remnant of the Mubarak’s regime.
However, the former military man is seen by many Egyptians as having the army's backing to help restore order after almost 16 months of turmoil.
For Israel, a Shafiq victory would provide a modicum of reassurance after months of anxiety triggered by Mubarak’s ouster in a popular revolt last year.
For Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank, success for the bluff, secular Shafiq would bolster them in their interminable struggle with Hamas, an Islamist group born from the Muslim Brotherhood and which controls the Gaza Strip.
From Israel's perspective, one of Mubarak's great advantages was that he helped maintain a tough blockade on Gaza.
Israel has slapped a crippling blockade on Gaza, home to 1.6 million Palestinians, since Hamas was voted to power in 2006.
But for Hamas, the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate would loosen the economic shackles of a siege Israel says is meant to stop the flow of arms to Gaza.
Hamas also believes that with the Brotherhood fully in control in Cairo, its position in its internal struggle for supremacy against the Western-backed Abbas would be greatly strengthened.
"To a great extent Islamists in Palestine see their future tied to the victory of Mursi, which would complete the circle and leave the Islamists in full control of the entire Egyptian political system," said Talal Okal, a Palestinian political analyst based in the Gaza Strip.
The Muslim Brotherhood has most seats in Egypt’s both houses of parliament.
However, both Israelis and Palestinians know that there will be no simple return to the status quo that Mubarak offered, depriving them from the sturdy cover at home and abroad.
"The Muslim Brotherhood has become a strong part of the Egyptian political formula and no one can ignore them, not even a president of a different color," Okal told Reuters.
Under Mubarak, Egypt supplied Israel with 40 percent of its gas needs. This deal has now gone up in smoke.
The Mubarak’s regime also helped maintain a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, enabling the Jewish state to scale back dramatically its military budget and helping it contain its troubled relations with the Palestinians.
During election campaigning, Egyptian presidential candidates have promised to revisit the peace accord with Israel.
Although Israeli officials rule out any wholesale review of the treaty, there might be some wriggle room on the military annex which at present allows Egypt to maintain just 230 tanks and one infantry division in the Sinai Peninsula.
Israel has repeatedly complained that the desert Peninsula has become increasingly lawless since Mubarak’s departure.
Analysts believe that a more robust security presence in Sinai would be in everyone's interest.
"If Egypt asks to reopen the military agreement then the Israelis should agree to changes, so long as they are reasonable," said Oded Eran, a former diplomat and senior researcher at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies."This would give the agreement a new lease of life under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood."
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