The Israeli public has not yet grasped the profound significance of retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan's recent statement about Israel's security problems. It revealed a fundamental split between the upper echelons of the professional defense establishment and the more ideologically driven government politicians over both foreign policy and the assessment of real threats to Israel's very existence.
Dagan blamed the government for its failure to adopt a political initiative in light of the Palestinians' diplomatic offensive. He called on Israel to renew negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and to respond positively to the Arab League's initiative for a comprehensive peace with the Arab states. Most importantly, he warned against an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, calling it "military adventurism" on the part of the Benjamin Netanyahu-Ehud Barak duo.
Superficially his statement seemed to be a repetition of the 1999 "democratic putsch," when retired Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak founded a new party -- the Center Party -- which attracted votes that removed Prime Minister Netanyahu from power and indirectly helped the Labor Party return to lead the government coalition. At the time almost 100 senior officers in reserve duty, many of whom had just concluded their service, assisted the opposition parties in toppling the Likud government. Lipkin-Shahak had even stated that Netanyahu constituted a national security threat.
Since September 11, 2001, the word "madrassa" has become one of a few select terms of Islamic origin that have entered the mainstream American political lexicon. Prosaically referring to an institution of Islamic religious education, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell first employed it to locate the "breeding grounds" of radical Islam. It has since been applied incorrectly by right-wing critics to President Barack Obama's childhood education in Indonesia, continuing its misinformed, pejorative use. In short, the expression "madrassa" has become synonymous with terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. More acutely, it has come to characterize education and institutions of higher learning across the Middle East and the Islamic world, from North Africa to Southeast Asia.
But what can be said about secular education across this stretch of the globe? I recently spent a week touring several universities in the West Bank within the Occupied Territories under the governance of the Palestinian Authority, where each town, it seems, has its own university. These small cities, which individually have no more than 200,000 residents, include Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, where the Palestinian government is seated. When traffic is scarce and Israeli checkpoints are manageable, each city and its university are less than an hour's drive from one another. Think of this small, dense area, then, as the Cambridge, Massachusetts of the Levant or, with its small, rolling mountains, the Pioneer Valley of Palestine, with its own version of a five-college consortium paralleling Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts.
Palestinian recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people has become a central Israeli demand that is being portrayed as an existential concomitant of Israel's perceived security needs. Despite Israeli claims to the contrary, this is indeed a relatively recent demand, one that was not raised in previous rounds of negotiations either with the Palestinians nor with any other Arab party before 2008.
Be that as it may, it has not only been adopted by the current Israeli government but has secured growing support abroad from both Western governments and pro-Israeli and Jewish circles in the Diaspora, and was formally endorsed by President Barack Obama as a prerequisite for peace on May 19.
Meanwhile, the official PA/PLO position is that how Israel defines itself is not a Palestinian concern, and that the Palestinians cannot accede to this demand on two basic grounds: First, because it prejudices the political and civic rights of Israel's Arab citizens comprising 20 percent of the population whose second-class status would be consolidated by dint of recognition of the "Jewishness " of the state; and second, because acknowledgement of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people would compromise the Palestinian refugees' right of return as there would be no moral or political grounds for them to return to a universally recognized Jewish state.
Historical dates often emerge by sheer coincidence. In 2009, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad formulated an operational goal for his tenure: by 2011 he wanted to build institutions that would justify the proclamation of a Palestinian state. This would not just have symbolic value, as PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat's statement in 1988, but would carry practical implications. Fayyad's efforts have commanded international admiration. The West Bank is indeed run in a way that meets many criteria for successful statehood. As opposed to the past, funds are used responsibly and accounting standards are transparent. The security forces -- originally trained by U.S. Lieutenant General Keith Dayton -- are remarkably effective. Both the Palestinian population and the Israel Defense Forces rely on them more than ever. Hence, September 2011 began to crystallize as a realistic date for the founding of a Palestinian state.
Fayyad's 2011 deadline for the declaration of Palestinian statehood had acquired enormous importance, even though Fayyad never connected it to the bid for U.N. recognition. It has provided Palestinians with a political horizon and a strong motivation to try the route of peaceful resistance and reliance on the international community's support for the new state. The idea of turning to the U.N. for recognition of Palestine seems not to have been a long-term strategy; it emerged as an option faute de mieux, in the absence of negotiations, and without reasonable hope that Netanyahu has the will or the mandate for a meaningful Israeli compromise.
What conclusions are to be drawn about the state of Middle East peacemaking from the extraordinary spectacle of the adversarial encounter between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their several major adversarial addresses in the second half of May?
The spectacle did not bring an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement any closer. Indeed, Netanyahu's address to the U.S. Congress, no less than Congress's reaction to that speech, effectively buried the Middle East peace process for good. For what America's solons were jumping up and down to applaud so wildly as they pandered pathetically to the Israel lobby was Netanyahu's rejection of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, thus endorsing his determination to maintain permanently Israel's colonial project in the West Bank.
If Netanyahu succeeds in his objective, these members of Congress will be able to take credit for an Israeli apartheid regime that former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert predicted would be the inescapable consequence of policies the congressmen cheered and promised to continue to support as generously as they have in the past.
To most observers witnessing events in Syria, the goal is clear-cut: end the killing, support democracy, and change the Assad regime -- hoping it will be removed or reformed to an unrecognizable degree. State actors looking at the same reality will often bring a different set of considerations into play, especially if they happen to be neighboring Syria. Israel has had a complicated relationship with the popular upheaval in its northern neighbor -- and, indeed, with the Baathist Damascus regime in general over the years.
As of Sunday, that complexity entered a new dimension. Of course the popular uprising in Syria is not about Israel, nor will it be particularly determined by Israel's response. Nevertheless, Israel's leaders, like those elsewhere in the region, will have to position themselves in relation to this changing environment, and this will, in part, impact Syria's options.
On Sunday, June 5, marking Naksa Day (the Arab "setback" in the 1967 war), protesters -- mostly Palestinian refugees and their descendents -- marched to the Israel/Syria disengagement line representing the border between Syria and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. According to reports up to 22 unarmed Syrian-Palestinian protesters were killed when Israeli forces apparently resorted to live fire (Israeli laid mines may also have been detonated and may have caused causalities, the exact unraveling of events remains sketchy). In most respects, this Sunday's events were a repeat performance of the outcome of May 15's Nakba Day commemorations (which Palestinians mark as the anniversary of their catastrophe in 1948).
"Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December/But the days grow short when you reach September/ When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame/ One hasn't got time for the waiting game." -- Maxwell Anderson, September Song, 1938
In his speech on the Middle East Thursday, President Obama greeted the arrival of spring in the Arab world with enthusiasm. His prescriptions for achieving Arab-Israeli peace, however, leave the Palestinians once again stalled between seasons.[I] Although the President characterized the transformations sweeping the region as a "story of self-determination" and lauded the courage of Arab citizens who had "taken their future into their own hands," he took a dim view of efforts to pursue international recognition of Palestinian statehood this fall. According to Obama, "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state." Instead of taking their future into their own hands, Obama suggested, Palestinians should continue down the path of negotiation with the Netanyahu government, however futile talks might seem.
What Obama seems unwilling to acknowledge is that the protest movements across the region and the drive for Palestinian statehood have more in common than just the anxiety they are producing in Israel. They are also premised on a similar impulse. No less than the Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Libyans, Syrians, and Yemenis who have revolted against autocratic regimes, what the 4 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are seeking is the freedom to govern themselves. For them, independence means more than a seat at the Unuted Nations General Aassembly (UNGA). It means being able to decide where in their country they will live, work, and worship. It means knowing that their government is able to keep them safe. And it means having a say in how their country's resources are used and distributed.
One of the great bluffs in the foreign policy community in the previous decade was that Israel would have no choice but to attack Iran's nuclear facilities unless Washington stepped up and took military action first. With predictable frequency since the mid-1990s, reports emerged claiming that Israel was months, if not weeks, away from bombing Iran. And every time a new dire warning was issued, a new rationale was presented to convince the world that the latest Israeli warning was more serious than the previous one. The Israeli threats, however, were bluffs all along. Israel did not have the capacity to take out Iran's nuclear facilities. But the huffing and puffing ensured that the American military option remained on the table; that Washington would not deviate from the Israeli red line of rejecting uranium enrichment on Iranian soil; and that the Iranian nuclear program was kept at the top of the international community's agenda.
Israel's Independence Day is a good time to revel in what such a small country has achieved in such a short time and under such trying circumstances. But it is also a time to resolve to do more. On the former point, Israel's achievements are indeed amazing. With a population of 7 million citizens, Israel is no less than a technological, academic, medical, cultural, artistic, and scientific superpower. And this is not just on a per capita basis, but in absolute terms. It is bursting with ingenuity and creativity.
But for me, these creative developments are secondary to what stands as one of the pre-eminent achievements of modern-day Israel: the revival of the Hebrew language. This sleeping beauty, which for hundreds of years was used for religious worship only, was breathed to life by the Jewish Haskalah (revival) movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, and then thoroughly resuscitated and made over by the Zionist movement, led by the father of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben Yehuda. Unlike the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tales, modern Hebrew didn't simply live happily ever after within the walls of a palace. It took on the very hard work of serving a fast-growing country, a society, and a culture; it grew at an amazing pace into a thriving, creative, and delightful language.
A unity agreement signed this week in Cairo between Palestinian political factions marks the first time in 4 years that a Palestinian government will be unified across the West Bank and Gaza (hitherto the territories were split between governments led by Fatah in the former and Hamas in the latter).
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who was deeply involved in the internal negotiations leading up to the deal, and who leads the independent Palestinian National Initiative, a signatory to the agreement, spoke with the Middle East Channel from Cairo about the implications of the deal.
A long time campaigner for Palestinian rights and an advocate of non-violent resistance, Barghouti ran in the Palestinian presidential election of 2005, finishing second to Mahmoud Abbas; he subsequently won a seat on the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, and served as Minister of Information in the short-lived Palestinian unity government in 2007.
Middle East Channel: Why did this deal happen now? It has been worked on for years -- what is it about the current moment that has been conducive to this agreement?
Mustafa Barghouti: There are several factors. One major factor in my opinion is the degree to which Palestinians on all sides have grown frustrated by internal division -- and this was in part an impact of the Arab revolutions in Palestine. There was the beginning of demonstrations in late January and the beginning of February demanding the end of division, and people were wise and mature enough to realize that what we need is not a third division against both but rather pressure to end existing division. This public pressure was extremely important. Fatah and Hamas realized that they both stood to lose popular support.
No sooner had reports surfaced of an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement between Fateh and Hamas than congressional calls for cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority began. A statement by House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen described PA president Mahmoud Abbas's decision to end the four-year rift with Hamas as a sign that his leadership was "not a partner for peace" and accused him of "standing with those who want only death and destruction for Israel."
Such sentiment is not surprising given Hamas's designation in the United States as a terrorist organization and the general antipathy on Capitol Hill to most things Palestinian. While Palestinian reconciliation would pose some serious political, diplomatic, and legal challenges for U.S. policymakers, the Obama administration should think twice before heeding such calls. American opposition to Palestinian unity, particularly at a time when the peace process and the entire region are in a state of flux, would be both futile and counterproductive. Details remain sketchy, but the deal seems to center around the formation of an interim government comprised of independents and technocrats not affiliated with either faction -- but approved by both. New parliamentary and presidential elections would then be held after one year.
Though it is not yet clear how -- or even if -- it will be implemented, the agreement is a major breakthrough for the Palestinians, whose four-year split has paralyzed domestic politics, hindered peace efforts, and demoralized ordinary Palestinians. Notwithstanding the humiliation inflicted by Israel's occupation, the self-inflicted nature of the Palestinian division was a source of intense collective shame. At a time when the United States is calling on Arab governments to be more responsive to the demands of their people, U.S. opposition to national unity, which has been a central demand of the Palestinian people for many years, would send all of the wrong messages to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.
Europe and America have shared a settled conviction over the last decades: It is that Israel, out of its own necessity, must seek to conserve a Jewish majority within Israel. And that with time, and a growing Palestinian population, Israel will at some point have to acquiesce to a Palestinian state in order to maintain that Jewish majority: that is, only by giving Palestinians their own state and thereby shedding a part of the Palestinians it controls, can Israel's Jewish majority be preserved.
This simple proposition has given us the security-first doctrine: Meeting Israel's self-definition of its own security needs -- it is presumed -- stands as the unique and sufficient principle, allowing Israel to transition with confidence to the two-state solution.
But Israel has not done this -- despite many opportunities over the last 19 years -- and does not seem any more disposed to "give" a Palestinian state now. Seldom is it asked why, if the logic is indeed so compelling, have two states not emerged?
On March 24, the Israeli government arrested Bassem Tamimi, a 44-year-old resident of the small Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, which is just west of Ramallah. Tamimi was arrested for leading a group of his neighbors in protest marches on a settlement that had "expropriated" the village's spring -- the symbolic center of Nabi Saleh's life.
Tamimi was brought before the Ofer military court and charged with "incitement, organizing unpermitted marches, disobeying the duty to report to questioning" and "obstruction of justice" -- for giving young Palestinians advice on how to act under Israeli police interrogation. He was remanded to an Israeli military prison to await a hearing and a trial. The detention of Tamimi is not a formality: under Israeli military decree 101 he is being charged with attempting "verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order." As in Syria, this is an "emergency decree" disguised as protecting public security. It carries a sentence of 10 years.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were shocked the week before last when an Italian activist and journalist, Vittorio Arrigoni, was kidnapped and then murdered by a self-proclaimed Salafi jihadi group. Arrigoni, a bighearted man who I met several times during a recent two-month stay in Gaza, was well known around the Strip as a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. "I come from a partisan family," he once told an interviewer. His grandparents had fought and died while fighting fascism in Italy. "For this reason," he said, "probably, in my DNA, there are particles that push me to struggle."
In a YouTube video Arrigoni's captors demanded that Gaza's Hamas government release Salafi prisoners from its jails within 30 hours or they would execute their hostage. With police closing in, the captors apparently decided not to wait for their own deadline and killed him the same day. Last Tuesday, Hamas-affiliated police and security forces surrounded three suspects in a house in the Nuseirat refugee camp. Nuseirat is where the Salafi group Tawhid wa Al-Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad) is based. As documented in a video, Hamas authorities brought Hisham Sa'idini, the leader of Tawhid wa Al-Jihad, whose release the kidnappers demanded, from prison in an attempt to negotiate their surrender. Police also summoned the mother of one of the suspects, a Jordanian citizen, to aid in the negotiating process. According to Hamas officials, the standoff ended in a shootout in which the Jordanian threw a grenade at his two accomplices then shot himself.
What is the definition of an American ally? On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America's values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people's beliefs. Tactically, an ally stands with the United States through multiple conflicts and promotes its global vision. From its location at one strategic crossroads, an ally enhances American intelligence and defense capabilities, and provides ports and training for U.S. forces. Its army is formidable and unequivocally loyal to its democratic government. An ally helps secure America's borders and assists in saving American lives on and off the battlefield. And an ally stimulates the U.S. economy through trade, technological innovation, and job creation.
Few countries fit this description, but Israel is certainly one of them. As U.S. President Barack Obama told a White House gathering, "The United States has no better friend in the world than Israel," a statement reflecting the positions of Democrats and Republicans alike. The importance of the U.S.-Israel alliance has been upheld by successive American administrations and consistently endorsed by lawmakers and military leaders. It should be unimpeachable. But for some it is not.
Richard Goldstone has changed his mind about the Gaza war. Should we? Goldstone is the South African judge who served as head of a panel appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to look into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Israel's 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza. The report reached the damning conclusion that "disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy" on Israel's part. On this score, Goldstone has recanted. Writing in the Washington Post on April 1, he now says that Israel's own investigations "indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy."
Human rights groups and others who embraced the Goldstone report were unfazed. Writing in theHuffington Post, Media Matters' M. J. Rosenberg dismissed the change of heart as an "edit." In theGuardian, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, argued that his organization had never accepted the claim of intentional targeting, and pointed out -- as others have -- that Goldstone did not retract many serious allegations against Israel, including "the indiscriminate use of heavy artillery and white phosphorous in densely populated areas."
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
Last year millions of parents and children around the world lined up at movie theaters to see Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland. For most, it was a fun escape from reality. In the city of Jenin, the play, Alice in Wonderland, featuring kids at Juliano Mer-Khamis' Freedom Theater, symbolized something different. In this town marred by conflict and blinded by zealotry, Alice in Wonderland is actually "dangerous." That's how Juliano described it weeks before he was senselessly and brutally murdered. For those grieving in this part of the world, his murder is, in my mind, on par with the shock and grief we felt in Central Park after the loss of John Lennon. To kill a person like Juliano is like killing peace itself. This murder is yet another cold reminder of how this prolonged conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has deformed people's sense of up and down, good and bad, right and wrong. They literally can't recognize their friends from their enemies.
Born to a Jewish mother and a Palestinian Communist father, Juliano was, as his daughter Milay eloquently said at his funeral, "100 percent Arab and 100 percent Jewish." There were no boundaries, no labels or compartmentalization. Although the visuals of Juliano's life in Jenin often included demeaning checkpoints and ugly interrogations, Juliano saw beyond them. He accepted the yolk of his life. And he wore it, in order to work within it. He could have easily run away -- his talent and his fame afforded him that opportunity. He chose to stay and raise his voice for peace. If that is not an act of bravery, I don't know what is.
Miral : Jose HARO © 2010 Pathé Production--ER Productions-- Eagle Pictures--India Take One Productions
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cairo's Tahrir Square during her first visit to post-revolutionary Egypt last month, I watched the news unfold from several miles away in the damp, sparse offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary leaders.
"Why doesn't she meet with us?" asked one Brotherhood member.
"We know why," said another.
And then they both fell silent.
This week, in response to the highly publicized murder of a Jewish family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, a group of 27 U.S. senators signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to press Palestinian leaders to end "incitement directed against Jews and Israel within the Palestinian media, mosques, and schools." According to the letter, the grisly killings in Itamar (for which no suspects, Palestinian or otherwise, have been identified), "is a sobering reminder that words matter, and that Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel can lead to violence and terror."
As evidence for the allegation of pervasive anti-Jewish incitement in Palestinian society, the letter cites a recent, official ceremony honoring Delal Mughrabi, a perpetrator of the 1978 coastal road massacre in Israel, as well as a payment of financial compensation made by the Palestinian Authority to the family of a deceased terror suspect.
Such actions are deserving of condemnation. But if it is indeed the case that "words matter" -and if the elimination of violent and dehumanizing rhetoric is, as the letter says, "critical to establishing the conditions [for] a secure and lasting peace"-then what can explain the senators' silence on the veritable carnival of hate and racist incitement against Arabs and Palestinians that has lately engulfed Israeli society?
The Palestinian leadership seems to have given up on negotiations with the Netanyahu government and is obviously moving towards seeking recognition for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, possibly in September this year. Most pundits believe that they will muster a substantial majority in the UN General Assembly.
Israel's foreign ministry has now informed the members of the Security Council as well as a number of European countries that it will react to this Palestinian move with a series of unilateral steps. There are indications that these might include the annexation of some major settlement blocs in the West Bank.
What on earth is this move supposed to achieve? Is it intended to frighten the Palestinians, the UN, or the EU? Does the foreign minister expect the international community to meekly accept Israel's annexation and immediately to stop the process of recognizing the Palestinian state?
In September 2007, U.S. soldiers raided a desert encampment outside the town of Sinjar in northwest Iraq, looking for insurgents. Amid the tents, they made a remarkable discovery: a trove of personnel files -- more than 700 in all -- detailing the origins of the foreign fighters al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had brought into the country to fight against coalition forces.
The Sinjar records -- which we analyzed extensively in a series of reports for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center -- revealed that at least 111 Libyans entered Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. That was about 18 percent of AQI's incoming fighters during that period, a contribution second only to Saudi Arabia's (41 percent) and the highest number of fighters per capita than any other country noted in the records.
For the U.S. government and media, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been treated as a stepchild of sorts to the revolutionary events sweeping the Middle East. This was clarified to me recently by a prominent American journalist who confided he was unable to report on Israel/Palestine because "they're just too far from the news right now."
Gaza certainly continues to be ignored. Yet on the evening of March 14--one day earlier than planned--2,000 Palestinian youth and numerous civil society organizations gathered in a square in the middle of Gaza City calling on Hamas and Fatah to end their divisions and restore democracy in Palestine. Yesterday, March 15, thousands of people protested on the streets of Gaza, including young Hamas supporters, small groups loyal to Fatah and other small Palestinian factions, as well as Facebook activists. In Ramallah, some 8,000 demonstrators, the majority of whom were university students and young people, marched through Al Manara Square demanding national unity. Gazans are seeing their protests move to cities in the West Bank, creating a coordinated and strengthened movement.
Hiding in the cemetery where her parents are buried, Hakma al-Turi, an Israeli citizen, has watched bulldozers demolish her village -- al-Araqib -- more than 20 times. The Israel Land Administration first demolished the 45 structures on this patch of land in the Negev desert eight months ago. When the 300 Israeli Bedouin who lived here defiantly rebuilt tarp-covered shacks, the Israel Land Administration demolished them again and again, the last time on March 7.
But the Land Administration inspectors and the police officers escorting them have so far been reluctant to enter the cemetery adjacent to the village, where the extended al-Turi family has been burying family members since 1907. So Hakma, a mother of nine, devised a plan to protect her most fragile possessions: she put her family photographs, children's medicines, and a small refrigerator full of milk in an improvised wheeled cart. When the bulldozers came, her husband would tie it to their car and drag it from their house and into the cemetery.
Iran is the largest nation-state supporter of armed resistance to Israel's occupation, a country whose current leadership justifies seemingly provocative actions in the Middle East as countermeasures to Israeli-American expansionism. As popular revolutions designed at securing freedom and throwing off the domination of authoritarian rulers, many of which are U.S. clients, Iran has expressed an official foreign policy that purports to stand with a self-determined Middle East, directed by the will of its people.
So why is the largest national patron of the Palestinian struggle and self-proclaimed ally of Arab world liberation jailing American solidarity activists who shine a light on the systematic Israeli abuse of Palestinians?
Israelis, like most Jews, worry for a living. The dark side of Jewish history and the security challenges of their national life compel them to. And these days there's plenty to worry about. Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and turbulent changes in the Arab world unleashed by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia are shifting the power balance against Israel. Indeed, its position in the neighborhood -- in part as a consequence of its own policies -- is growing increasingly precarious.
But Israel, and particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is also worried about something else: How will their close ally in Washington, particularly President Barack Obama, react to this tumultuous Arab Spring. Will he race to coddle and court the new Arab democrats, doing so at Israel's expense? Is a big American peace initiative coming, one designed to pre-empt further radicalization in the region that will require big concessions from Israel?
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, Israel closed its principal trade terminal with the 1.8 million people of the Gaza Strip. Karni's closing hardly merited the attention of an international or indeed a Middle East audience captivated by the popular revolts now convulsing the Arab world. But thanks to this Arab awakening, Israel's long-planned action poses an important test to the newfound power of Arab and particularly Egyptian public opinion to chart a new course in relations with the Palestinians, Hamas, and Israel.
For more than two decades after its conquest of the Gaza Strip and West Bank in June 1967, Israel did all in its power to erase trade and physical barriers between it and the Palestinian territories it was occupying. The territories offered Israel a captive market (literally) and a source of cheap labor. In 1982, then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon even removed the two bored soldiers whose sleepy presence marked the old and seemingly redundant border with Gaza.
Daniel Ayalon is Israel's deputy minister of foreign affairs.
The recent unrest in parts of the Arab world has not only exposed the appalling lack of development in these countries, but also a number of fundamental deficiencies in the international system. The United Nations, which began its life with a plurality of democratic nations, now allows for an automatic majority of nondemocratic nations. The international system dictates that Arab and Islamic nations, and their knee-jerk defenders, have a majority in almost all of its bodies. This is amply demonstrated by the disproportionate amount of time spent condemning Israel.
If there were ever an example of the inmates running the asylum, it is the U.N. Human Rights Council. This body has whitewashed the human rights record of some of the world's most repressive regimes, while also providing them with a forum to ruminate on and condemn the actions of a free and open nation, Israel.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
Israel's Demophobia by Dov Waxman. In a coming era of Arab democratization, Israel must make peace with the peoples of the Middle East--not just their autocratic rulers.
'Tahirization' and the state of Israeli democracy by Ahmad Tibi. As Israel remains hostile to the Egyptian-inspired movement for democracy in the Arab world externally, it remains oblivious to its own internal democratic deficit.
'Mazal tov, Egypt!' by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere. The revolution in Egypt demonstrated that internal pressures cannot be bottled up indefinitely under the banner of stability--something that Israel should be thankful for in the long term.
The spectacular downfall of President Hosni Mubarak has cast a spotlight on a great many facts about the Middle East: the contempt and hatred that the masses harbor toward the dictators of the region; the wanton brutality of police forces and regime-sponsored thugs; the deliberate manipulation of fears-foreign and domestic-about the Islamist threat; the popular yearning for democracy and dignity; and the energy and inventiveness of the region's youth.
Also starkly apparent is the dire predicament that Israel is in, largely as a result of its own doing. This predicament is not, as many in Israel and the American pro-Israel lobby fear, a growing encirclement of the country by the forces of radical Islam led by Iran. Rather, the predicament is simply that the only ‘friends' that Israel has in the region are autocrats whose support-overt and covert-for Israeli policies is deeply unpopular. As such, Israel is basically an opponent of democracy in the region, except of course when it can undermine its enemies, as in the case of the current regime in Iran.
The ongoing political upheaval that began in Tunisia and successfully spread to Egypt and elsewhere in the region reflects a growing desire among the peoples of the Middle East to live in free and democratic societies. After decades of suffering under non-democratic rule, they have finally begun to emerge from state-administered repression imposed by governments backed by the United States.
The rest of the Arab peoples also hope to achieve freedom and break from the confines of totalitarian states. Some Arab states are, in fact, even more problematic than Egypt and Tunisia. Their citizens deserve freedom and democratic reform, too.
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.