It is impossible not to be tantalized by how much leverage Morsi could wield in the peace process, if he ever chose to engage Israel. Precisely because he represents the Muslim Brotherhood, the vanguard of Arab Islam, and precisely because he was democratically elected, if Morsi threw his weight behind an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, it would be so much more valuable to Israel than the cold peace that Sadat delivered and Hosni Mubarak maintained. Sadat offered Israelis peace with the Egyptian state. Morsi could offer Israel peace with the Egyptian people and, through them, with the Muslim world beyond.
Ironically, though, all of this would depend on Morsi not becoming a dictator like Mubarak, but on him remaining a legitimately elected president, truly representing the Egyptian people. That is now in doubt given Morsi’s very troubling power grab last week and the violent response from the Egyptian street. President Obama has to be careful not to sell out Egyptian democracy for quiet between Israel and Egypt and Hamas. We tried that under Mubarak. It didn’t end well.
No doubt Morsi’s price for engaging with Israel would be the Arab Peace Initiative — full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, save for mutually agreed-upon land swaps, and some return of refugees, in return for full normalized relations. If Morsi advanced such a proposal in direct talks with Israelis, he could single-handedly revive the Israeli peace camp.
Do I expect that? No more than I expect to win the lottery.