Friday, January 27, 2012

Arab revolutions and its impact on Israel

In January 2012 Tunisia and Egypt marked the first year since the beginning of the civil uprising. Libya is still longing for return to the normal life after civil war. Syrian regime is waging war against its own people, and the outcome is still unclear. Despite the fact that all these developments are still underway, one thing is obvious: Middle East is becoming a different place from what it was. And what is even more important: it becomes different place from how we used to think about it.
In Israel we were and still are quite concerned with these developments. After all, it's our neighborhood. So, where do we stand today regarding the impact of the Arab spring on us in Israel?

I remember that in the first months after the events in Tahrir square, some experts were talking about the silence of Israeli officials in the face of the democratic revolutions taking place throughout the Middle East. Some of them even accused Israel of being insensitive to the democratic aspirations of the Arab people and of preferring the pseudo-stability of autocratic regimes. Many diplomats, especially in Europe, were saying to us that Israel better adapt to the new reality, solve quickly the conflict with the Palestinians and embrace the democratic aspirations of its neighbors.

Well, actually we did it. President Peres, PM Netanyahu and other officials welcomed the spirit of openness and democracy that characterized the first months of these movements. However, our declarations were not heard, and instead the media highlighted the fears of the Israelis and presented Israel as lagging behind the developments.

And where do we stand now? After the impressive victories of the Islamic parties in Tunisia, then in Egypt, many people started to raise their concerns. It's not that the Arab countries cannot become democracies. Today it’s obvious that this process could take much more time, may be decades, and that the elections are only the beginning of the process, not the final stage.

After the violent takeover of the Israeli embassy in Cairo and the calls "Death to the Jews!" greeting the arrival of Hamas leader to Tunisia, we definitely are reminded that in the new Middle East the old hatred of Israel and the Jews did not disappear. Old habits are the most difficult to get rid of. Arabs were educated and brainwashed for 60 years that there is only one source for all their problems: it's Israel. The same regimes that were ready to have "cold peace" with Israel, allowed internally the anti-Semitic propaganda against Israel in order to release the social and economic pressure.

And at this point we can realize the major breakthrough in this vicious circle of the Middle-eastern politics: Arab revolutions symbolize the first departure from the totalitarian logic of the scapegoat. It's this realization of the Arab people that the source of their plight is not external, but internal. It's the autocratic regimes, their corruption and complete lack of sound social and economic policy that are to be blamed, and not a small country of 7 million people that struggles for its survival.

The second positive change was that the forces that try to utilize the Israel-Palestinian conflict for their domination today are coerced to deal with the real problems of the Middle East. Hezbollah has retreated into the shelters; Syrian regime is struggling with unprecedented protest from within and isolation in the Arab league from outside. And Iran is afraid to loose its last Arab ally. Hamas who was smart to dissociate itself from Assad's regime, is looking for new sponsors, between Egypt and Qatar, and in a meantime, prefers to keep quite.

Of course, the situation is far from ideal. The instability in Egypt and Libya has created zones that are not fully controlled by the authorities, which led to the smuggling of weapons and the terrorist acts from Sinai Peninsula. The collapse of Syrian regime could result in transfer of unconventional weapons and missiles to Hezbollah. And Iran, despite the sanctions and the threat to loose an ally, is coming closer to the nuclear ability. All these considerations lead us to the same conclusion we made a year ago: we need patience and prudence. To make dramatic steps during the regional turmoil, before we could see the light in the end of tunnel, is irresponsible.

The chances to make miscalculation during this period are higher. Wrong decisions based on bad estimation could lead to another crisis in this vulnerable situation. An example for this kind of miscalculation is the decision of the PA to not negotiate with Israel, in the hope that in the future they can get better bargaining position. Why? Arab countries are going to deal with their social and economic condition and political stabilization which they consider their first priority.

However, the unilateral strategy of PA is seduced its leaders to make multilateral diplomacy instead of bringing the independence to their people. Well, maybe they feel they can allow this little privilege, since the socio-economic conditions of Palestinians are much better than that of their brothers in the neighboring countries. After all, the only place where people did not have any incentive to go to streets and protest is the West Bank. 

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