This would be an extremely good time for Binyamin Netanyahu to stop expending
his energies on pandering to members of his coalition, and their frenzy of
democracy-restricting legislation, and engage the Palestinians in meaningful
There are good strategic and tactical reasons for this,
important for both Israel and the Palestinians. This is not the opinion of the
prime minister and others in government who point to how the Arab Spring has
gone wrong and the problems this raises. The situation, however, also brings
The Arab world is at war with itself, with the prospects
of instability in both Syria and Egypt on the cards for the foreseeable future.
In Syria it is now clearly civil war, with whole elements of the military
defecting with their weapons and knowledge of the country’s sensitive
installations to the anti- Assad rebels.
Bashar Assad and those around
him have no exit strategy, and enough loyal troops to fight on; those who want
to topple the regime know that even if they wave a white flag the retribution
they would face for revolting will be terrible indeed. Everything indicates a
long and bloody battle ahead.
The situation in Syria has put Hezbollah on
Their link to Iran has been disrupted and the Assad
regime, the organization’s principle backer in Lebanon, has disappeared. In the
wake of the findings of the UN Hariri assassination investigation that placed
Hezbollah in the center of the plot, the organization has been even further on
the retreat and its ability to radically alter Middle East realities has been
In Egypt, the army stays loyal to the leadership,
but massive tensions remain between the hopes of Tahrir Square and the ability
of the leadership to deliver at any level.
The country’s stock market has
lost half its value; tourism, the biggest income earner, has all but halted; the
gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan, another major income earner, has been
sabotaged five times; hundreds of thousands of degree-holding students have no
jobs and no prospects for one, given that the main employer, the state, is
already overburdened with a bloated bureaucracy.
Not only can’t those in
power deliver on any of the economic demands being made, but critically they
cannot deliver on the open democracy the demonstrators are demanding. The
coupling of the two high expectations and the inability to deliver, seems to
portend a long period of internal instability in Egypt, and one during which one
can assume that dealing with Israel will become an extremely prickly matter. If
there was some advance on the Israel-Palestinian track, this could be
With Hezbollah on the defensive and Syria in turmoil, Hamas
has to be worried.
True, the lack of central control in Sinai, and the
huge weapons caches found in Libya, have helped the Islamist group to smuggle
even more arms into Gaza, but these weapons are not going to be its
Hamas, as we read, is also under increasing pressure from
Gaza’s population to make life more livable, to give people a bit of hope on the
horizon. They also have their own opposition who are not impervious to what is
going on the Arab world around them, or to the demands of the young, the vast
majority of Gaza’s population.
Hamas has repeatedly offered Israel a
10-year hudna, or cease-fire. We should take it. If during that period the
cease-fire is broken, there will be a war. If the peace is kept, who knows what
10 years of cooperation in one form or another will bring. And, in tandem,
because of the turmoil around us, Israel should with dexterity begin to
seriously engage the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank in negotiations
toward the two-state solution that both parties are committed to.
PA’s leadership has demonstrated responsibility, made great inroads in civil
society and fiscal transparency.
They have been important in thwarting
terrorist attacks on Israel. Their economy is growing and the PA saw over a
million tourists last year. They have renounced violence and agreed to border
changes based on the principle of land swaps, and in one way or another, are
about to receive world recognition.
These are people the government of
Israel can sit down with and talk reasonably. If Hamas is taken off the agenda
and that conundrum unraveled, the chances for conciliation become much higher.
How the PA and Hamas want to deal with each other becomes a Palestinian problem
and not one for Israel to resolve.
With the Arab world in turmoil, a
positive change in the Israeli-Palestinian vector takes on a new significance, a
new dimension, something positive against a backdrop of bloodshed and
confrontation, despite those who say this is not the time to make
It is also a time when Israel’s most vociferous opponents
are weakened and when the West Bank Palestinian leadership, perhaps for the last
time, is seriously prepared for the implementation of a two-state solution. This
is a time when the US and its allies are preoccupied in Afghanistan, and when
Israel and these countries share common interests in terms of international
terror and confronting a nuclear Iran.
This would be a very good time for
Israel to take itself off the problems list, and move to take advantage of the
propitious strategic realities that have converged.
These now justify a
new look at the advantages of reengaging the Palestinians in a way that makes
sense for all sides, and offers an island of stability in a region of stormy
seas.The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for
Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book
Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was published by Public Affairs, New York, in the