February 2, 2011 / 1:45 PM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 1-ANALYSIS-Palestinians expect a boost from new Egypt

* Palestinians see stronger backing in dealing with Israel

* Expect risk to Camp David treaty may focus Israeli minds

* See no risk of Islamic radicalism or war

* More positive peace bid by Israel, U.S. may be outcome

(Adds Palestinian police disperse anti-Mubarak rally)

By Mohammed Assadi and Nidal al-Mughrabi

RAMALLAH/GAZA, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Palestinians are likely to benefit from a change of regime in Egypt, irrespective of whether they are in the camp of those seeking peace with Israel or those who advocate conflict, analysts say.

They believe that a more independent and assertive Egypt, reflecting popular opinion rather than U.S. policy, will create pressure on Israel and Washington to make the compromises necessary for a long-overdue Middle East peace treaty.

Whether they live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinian leaders want a treaty with Israel giving them an independent state, or in the blockaded Gaza Strip, whose leaders reject the Zionist state, Israel is the dominant factor overshadowing Palestinian lives.

West Bank and Gaza leaders have avoided speculating on the probable outcome in Egypt’s power struggle or its implications for Palestinians and the wider Arab world. But a few officials and political thinkers are ready to make predictions.

“The new situation in Egypt could lead to a change in world powers that upsets Israel and forces it to compromise. Egypt will get stronger,” said senior peace negotiator Nabil Shaath.

A stronger Egypt “will definitely help our bargaining power” so that when the peace process gets back on track again, perhaps in a year “it comes with a more realistic American position, therefore a more positive Israeli position,” he added.

WEST BANK

Mubarak has been Israel’s best friend in the Arab world for 30 years, far friendlier than the masses in his country who are soon likely to elect a successor more in tune with their views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mubarak has also been the ally of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, playing a key role in supporting U.S.-led peace negotiations with Israel over the years.

Shaath said he now saw “a golden opportunity” for the Palestinian Authority to get much firmer backing from Egypt and other Arab countries for future negotiations.

Israel may face the logic of agreeing to a Palestinian state “so they can keep their treaty with Egypt”, said George Giacaman of Beir Zeit University.

The 1979 Camp David peace treaty removed Egypt from the long list of Israel’s Arab enemies and allowed it to relax along the Sinai border. Analysts say this may now come into question. “In the second Intifada (Palestinian uprising 2000-2005), there were demands in the parliaments of Egypt and Jordan to revoke their peace agreements with Israel,” said Giacaman said.

“Imagine after the change of regime that the same demands resurface? I am not saying they will annul the agreement with Israel. But I expect that there will be tremendous pressure to have a settlement here with Israel.”

The United States and Israel would be so anxious not to “lose” the new Egypt that they would be forced finally to resolve the Palestinian question, Giacaman said.

GAZA

Mubarak has not been a friend of Hamas, the armed Islamist movement ruling the Gaza Strip, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt in a joint operation since 2007.

Egypt has, however, played a major role in trying to reconcile Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah movement, to reunite the badly divided Palestinian national cause.

Gaza political commentator Talal Okal also foresees pressure mounting on Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians in the form of a potential threat to the Camp David treaty.

“There are calls to amend the Camp David agreement and Israel is worried about that,” he said.

Iranian-backed Hamas is supported in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood, which endorses Palestinian armed resistance against Israel and which may play a significant role in the coalition that is expected ultimately to replace Mubarak.

The prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood dominating a new Egyptian government is Israel’s chief concern, since it seems unlikely that they would ever embrace the Camp David accords.

Okal said Hamas was waiting to see how the Brotherhood’s prospects play out in the coming transition from Mubarak, who says he will stand down at the next election in September.

“I think they will have a role but within a coalition of other parties, and they will not rule alone,” Okal said.

In the West Bank, Shaath had a similar view. He said he was in contact with the anti-Mubarak demonstrators in Cairo’s main square and was sure that “this is a pure revolution ... that has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood and America”.

“People are worried there will be chaos. Some are worried that the Muslim Brotherhood will take charge (but) the Muslim Brotherhood is out of the picture,” Shaath said.

Palestinian police dispersed dozens of anti-Mubarak demonstrators in Ramallah late on Wednesday, who demanded the Egyptian leader to quit, witnesses said. Two people were hurt.

Egypt has the world’s 10th strongest military force. Under Camp David it is separated from Israeli forces by a 150-mile demilitarised desert, the Sinai Peninsula.

Israel may feel reasonably sure that the Egyptian army would refuse any bid by a new government in Cairo to move forces back into the Sinai, but it must consider also generations to come. Bowing to the inevitability of change in Egypt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday staked out his position: diplomacy, not a major military realignment on its southwestern border, will be Israel’s first line of defence.

“Israel believes that the global community must demand that any Egyptian government preserve the peace treaty,” the Israeli leader said. (Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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