'Israelis face uncertainty in aftermath of Arab revolution'

Journalist panel with Herb Keinon, Khaled Abu Toameh from 'Jerusalem Post' speaks to Jewish parliamentarians about ME, peace process.

June 29, 2011 21:37
4 minute read.
Jerusalem Post's Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh

Herb and Khaled 311. (photo credit: Karolyn Coorsh)

Speaking to lawmakers from around the world on Wednesday, leading Israeli journalists related an uncertainty and regional unease about the region among Israelis in the ongoing aftermath of the Arab Spring. 

The panel discussion in the Ambassador’s Hall of the King David Hotel included veteran Jerusalem Post correspondents Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh, and Udi Segal from Channel 2.  Organized by the World Jewish Congress, the panel was the final consultation session at the International Consultation of Jewish Parliamentarians conference, in which Jewish parliamentarians from all over the world convened for three days of seminars at the hotel and Knesset.

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Though the journalists’ speeches touched on various aspects of the Arab uprising that began in early 2011, the three panelists expressed doubt about a solution to peace in the region in the foreseeable future. 

Speaking first, Udi Segal said there were several roadblocks to peace, including the ongoing lack of mutual trust between Palestinians and Israelis.  He said that while most Palestinians say "yes" to a two-state solution, they choose terrorist organizations like Hamas as their government. He also said that Israelis and Palestinians have differing opinions of how each other will govern in the long-term.

“This is I think the main gap between peace and peace process,” Segal said. He also suggested the region faced a serious gap in Israel-US relations.

“[US] President Barack Obama is being perceived by most Israelis as the romantic naïve,” he said.

Segal labeled Obama’s drive to act now as dangerous, as most Israelis prefer to wait and see what happens.

“Will we see peace,” he questioned. “The answer is maybe, but not for today.”

Keinon said the fact that no one saw a “cataclysmic event” like the uprising in parts of the Arab world coming was “humbling” and problematic for everyone here and has added to skepticism within the Israeli mindset.

“Nobody saw this coming, not the US Intelligence, not the European Intelligence, not the Israeli intelligence and not the Egyptian intelligence,” he said. “What’s more disconcerting from the Israeli point of view, is no one really knows where and how it’s going to end,” he said. “And that uncertainty plays heavily in the Israeli psyche.”

The uncertainty of the Arab Spring, the future of Egypt and the peace treaty and unpredictable futures in Syria and Jordan, have combined with feelings of vulnerability and insecurity in Israelis lingering from the Second Intifada to create “a real problem,” Keinon said. 

All the unexpected changes are making Israelis wary and skeptical of any possible outcomes and of moving forward, Keinon told the parliamentarians. “Though in some of your countries this may come across as foot-dragging, here there is a lot more resonance to it.”

Keinon said Israelis also question whether or not they can count on Obama.

Abu Toameh, a long-time Palestinian affairs correspondent, said Arabs don’t call it the Arab Spring, preferring to refer to it as the Facebook Revolution.

“The revolution has failed to produce young, charismatic leadership, new faces,” he said of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Abu Toameh added that the Facebook revolution has failed to produce moderation, painting a more concerning picture of what was happening in Cairo during the uprising in which former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was ousted from office. He said it was not covered by international media at the time.

He said international media largely ignored the many protesters crying out anti-Semitic slurs and calling for the downfall of Israel. A prevailing anti-Israel sentiment in Egyptian media is “actually radicalizing the people and driving them into the open arms of fundamentalists," he added.

Because the revolution failed to produce any leaders, Islamists who were waiting in the shadows are now “beginning to organize themselves,” Abu Tomaeh said.  

Abu Tomaeh added that Palestinians now “fully support these attempts to overthrow the Arab regimes not because they want reform and democracy but because they believe that there should be a new government that will reunite Arab people, reunite Muslims ahead of the next confrontation with Israel.”

The panelists' comments prompted US congressman Gary Ackerman to ask about any plan rather than speaking only with skepticism and outlining the problems. But Keinon said the reality was that Israel is not in a place of conflict resolution yet, but in conflict management for the time being.

After the session, Ackerman said that he did not feel he had received a well-rounded critique of the situation from the journalists. “With all the diversity around we found three guys with the same point of view,” he told the Post.  “I thought we’d have at least one journalist that would be analyzing from a more critical point of view, not of the president of the United States, but of the political figures here.”

Ackerman questioned: “Is it more important for Israel to show loyalty because of past efforts to people who were supportive of the peace process such as Mubarak, or at this time, at a time of transition, is it more important to show solidarity with people who are professing their desire for peace and freedom?”

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