From an Israeli perspective, one of the most striking elements of the evolving
revolution in Egypt, Tunisia and other parts of the Arab world is the degree to
which all of this is not about us.
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For the tens of thousands of
protesters who took to Egypt’s streets over the weekend, defying the curfew and
calling for the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the
Palestinians were simply not on the agenda.
And the same was the case
during the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia earlier this month, and in the
demonstrations intermittently taking place in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria and
Morocco. No cries of death to Israel, no signs to “lift the siege” of Gaza, no
chants against housing projects in Ariel.
And to all those who would
answer this by asking what kind of egotistical people would think that
everything is about them, that they are the center of all regional developments,
just consider what everyone from US President Barack Obama, to US Chairman of
Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, to EU foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton and to French President Nicolas Sarkozy have been saying for
years: that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is the main source of foment and
ferment in the Middle East.
Remove that source of antagonism, this
argument ran, move Israel out of the West Bank, stop building a new apartment
complex in Gilo, and stability would be much easier to bring to the
Really? Truly? Let’s imagine that two years ago Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had accepted with open arms Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state on nearly 95 percent of the land,
with a land swap for the rest, half of Jerusalem and an international consortium
in control of the “Holy Basin,” would Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia not have set
himself on fire, would rivers of people not be marching now in Egypt against
Mubarak’s autocratic regime?
It’s clear that the tidal wave of popular anger
against the Arab world’s “moderate” regimes would be washing over those regimes
regardless of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Why? Because Middle
East instability is not about us – it is about them. It is about Arab
unemployment, and Arab poverty, and Arab despair of a better future.
of the axioms repeated ad nauseum over the years by pundits around the world is
that Arab despair breeds the radicalism that breeds the terrorism, and that the
source of that despair is the Palestinian issue. Take that issue away and there
will be far less despair, and thus far less
True, there is hopelessness in the Arab world
– but the source is not the Arab masses concern about the Palestinians; the
source is the Arab masses concern about their own lives, their own unemployment
and their own lack of freedoms. Fix that and you get stability; ignore
that, and you get revolution.
But everyone – led by the US under Obama
and the EU – ignored that, fixating instead on the building of another house in
Ramat Shlomo, another apartment unit in Efrat. How many times have international
leaders bewailed the humanitarian situation in east Jerusalem and in Gaza? How
many statements have been issued expressing righteous indignation and concern?
And, by comparison, how much attention did these same leaders pay to the
humanitarian situation in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, Jordan and Algeria –
in the “moderate” Arab states. And which situation, really, threatens the
stability of the region?
The Middle East is now at a crossroads. There is
a democratic moment fast approaching, but one looks at it with fear and
trembling. The events in Tunisia and now in Egypt may indeed represent the Arab
world’s first popular revolutions, but they are by far not the world’s first
The fear and trembling is that what happened in France in
1789, in Russia in 1917 and in Iran in 1979 will repeat itself in Egypt and the
Arab world in 2011. After the old was thumped out by the new in those countries,
there was a brief moment when democratic forces arose – be it the National
Constituent Assembly and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
in France, Alexander Kerensky in Russia, or Shapour Bakhtiar in Iran – only to
be swept away by the radicals: Robespierre in Paris, the Bolsheviks in Moscow,
Ayatollah Khomeini in Teheran.
In Egypt, too, democratic forces are on
the march, but the radical extremists are lurking in the shadows, ready to
None of this, of course, gets Israel off the hook. The conflict
with the Palestinians is real, it’s acute and huge efforts must be found to try
and justly manage if not solve it. But this conflict also must be put in its
proper perspective; it must not be magnified far beyond its true
When WikiLeaks began publishing US diplomatic cables in
November, the world got a good glance at the degree to which the Arab leaders
themselves did not see Israel – but rather Iran – as their main threat and the
primary source of regional instability.
Now on the streets of Cairo,
Tunis and Saana, the world is getting a good glance at what the people see as
the main threat – their own governments.
Neither the people, nor the
leaders, are holding Israel and the Palestinians up as the main problem. Is the
West listening? Is Obama?