Prospects for Peace in the Middle East?

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister (2002-2004) and deputy prime minister (2004-2005) of Jordan, and author of The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation, discussed the possibilities for peace in the Middle East and Jordan and Saudi Arabia's roles in the process.

The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have raised many questions for the Arab world. One big one on the table is how all these changes will affect prospects for peace in the Middle East?

Political reform may be be just as important as peace. Marwan Muasher argued, with so much attention on Israel, many Arab governments have ignored their own domestic issues. The importance of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed in 1979 in the U.S., has been frequently cited since the protests began. With the stability of Egypt's government now in question, will Egypt reverse its position on Israel? Muasher doesn't think so.

I don't think there is any sentiment in Egypt that calls for abrogating the peace treaty...there is certainly a widespread sentiment against Israeli policies and a widespread sentiment against a war on peace in Israel, but that is very different from abrogating a peace treaty with Israel that, in my opinion, most Egyptians still would like to keep.

In fact, Muasher went on to say, this isn't really about Israel.

This is about governments in the Arab world. Israel has many times used one excuse or the other not to sign the peace treaty with Arab states, at times invoking either Iraq or it's invoking what's happening in Egypt. The time has come, in my view, for a regional peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world.

Muasher called this an opportunity for the region and said that Saudi Arabia is in a good position to make it happen. Even though a framework for this peace plan already exists and was presented back in 2002, it hasn't  beeen implemented. Mausher said he's called on President Obama to back a regional peace plan (as has Thomas Friedman of The New York Times and Steve Clemons of the American Strategy Program), but Muasher said Israel and the Arab countries can't do it alone.

The fact today is that the two parties on their own are not able to bridge the gap to bring them to a successful conclusion, a conclusion that everybody knows what the parameters of a settlement is, and so when President Obama puts a package on the table, this is not imposing a peace agreement on the two parties, this is using what initiatives have been there in the first place to help the two parties conclude an agreement.

In the New York Times on Tuesday and in the Washington Post on Wednesday, Muasher also called on Saudi Arabia to consider a regional peace plan again. In his book, he argues that Arab political reform has not succeeded because Arab moderates have not addressed the issue of governance in the same way they've addressed the peace process. Since they have been unsuccessful at both, they've lost credibility with their own publics. Egypt is one glaring example, he said.

It's interesting to see today that the demonstrators in Egypt or Tunisia, for that fact, are not talking about Israel, are not talking about America, are not talking about regional issues. They are talking about their own domestic affairs and that, in my view, is healthy.

He went on to say that the peace process and political reform must be considered in tandem. He said that may not happen right away, but it's inevitable.

I do see the need for a credible reform process, a gradual but serious reform process needing to be started in all Arab countries. I don't see a domino effect happening today, but I do see that this reform issue is something that Arab governments can no longer ignore in their policies.