Hamas rally 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
The explosion of popular protests last December against the ruling order in the
Arab world was one of those moments in world history that caused observers to
watch with bated breath. As the protests spread from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen
and beyond, those of us old enough to remember the 1989 Velvet Revolution could
not help but wonder where it all would lead, whether dictators like Hosni
Mubarak would use their militaries to quash the protests and what true democracy
in the Arab world would mean for the West in general, and for Israel in
A year later, the dust has yet to settle. As Robert Satloff
explained on page 13, much has remained the same in the region despite the
tectonic shifts underway. Further, as Dore Gold explains above, the
dangers to Israel are significant and real.
Alongside the dangers,
however, the Arab uprisings also present Israel with challenges and
opportunities. It would be hard to overstate the potential consequences for
Israel of a strategic alliance between an Islamist government in Cairo and the
Hamas regime in Gaza, but at the same time it would be hard to overstate the
opportunity posed by the notion that the Assad family could be permanently
removed from the scene in Syria.
There, as in Egypt, a Muslim
Brotherhood- led government would pose its own dangers, but the radical Sunni
movement is unlikely to serve as a conduit between Iran and Lebanon as the
current regime in Damascus has. A break in the Tehran- Hezbollah supply chain
would arguably be the most important security development Israel – and the one
million Israelis who live in range of Hezbollah rockets – could hope
IF THERE is one thing the Arab uprisings have shown Israel and the
West it is this: The foreign policy model that provides arms to dictators in
exchange for political and economic friendship is unsustainable. Israel
was content for American arms to be provided to dictators like Hosni Mubarak and
King Hussein and more than prepared to countenance their repressive regimes,
just as long as they supported political peace with Israel. The Oslo Accords,
too, were based on this notion, but Yasser Arafat proved to be a harder nut than
Mubarak: He took the money, but refused to deliver the goods.
of this policy was a clear message to the Arab masses. Our security is more
important than theirs. As a result, nowhere, including among the Palestinians,
is hatred of Israel more vibrant or potent than Egypt, with the possible
exception of Lebanon (before the talkbacks come pouring in, I should state for
the record that there are certainly other contributing factors to this
phenomenon, most importantly state- and mosque-run anti-Israel and anti-Semitic
In the short term, Israel has no choice but to ride out the
consequences of this misguided policy and to try to reclaim the moral high
ground. The likelihood of traditional military conflict is next to zero, but the
likelihood of another round of fighting with Hamas, Hezbollah or both is
In the longer term, however, the Arab uprisings present
Israel with an opportunity to reclaim the moral high ground by supporting
democracy and human rights in any and all situations, even when they are likely
to be detrimental to Israel in the short-to-medium term. Egypt is unlikely to
take on the IDF in a conventional war, but the new government in Cairo could
certainly bow to popular pressure there and annul central parts of the peace
treaty with Egypt, like the clauses that call for natural gas sales to
In such a case, the correct thing for Israel to do would be to
honor the will of the Arab peoples, redouble our efforts to defend our borders
and civilians and to secure other sources of natural gas. Our central message
must be sharp and consistent: We are here to stay, and we can thrive without
your active cooperation, but we would love to cooperate with you and to have
true, lasting, honest peace.
ULTIMATELY, THEN, the Arab Spring could
serve as an opportunity for Israel to re-think important aspects of its public
diplomacy and political programs. In this respect, Israel’s relationship with
one (albeit non-Arab) Muslim country could serve as a model to guide Israeli
leaders as they redefine our relations with countries closer to home. That
country is Indonesia.
Whereas Israel has historically driven toward peace
treaties with enemy states like Egypt and Jordan, Islamic countries further
afield have been left to the back burner. There are good reasons for this
approach: There has never been any chance of a military conflict with Indonesia,
so there has never been a sense of urgency to make “peace” with the world’s
largest Muslim nation.
But as the events in Egypt over the past year have
shown clearly, there is a yawning gap between “non-belligerence” and peace.
Three decades after Camp David, most Egyptians continue to boycott Israeli
artists and shun ties with Israeli professionals, and the Egyptian press
continues to be a prime source for violent, repulsive anti-Semitism in the world
today. A contact in Alexandria told me recently that it would be very unwise to
visit Egypt with a Jewish name like Friedman, and that walking the streets there
with a kippa today is simply unthinkable.
In contrast, there is no peace
deal with Indonesia. Israel does not even have formal diplomatic ties with
Jakarta. All we’ve got with Indonesia is trade – $300 million in bilateral trade
in 2010 – and rich, expanding cultural ties. Indonesian journalists, doctors and
graduate students visit Israel freely (in this case, “freely” means that Israel
welcomes them in, and they do not face repercussions upon returning home), and
Israelis do the same thing in the opposite direction.
Perhaps the Arab
uprisings are an opportunity for Israel to pursue a new type of foreign policy,
one that concentrates less on formal political ties and more on people-to-people
relationships. Ultimately, that is what will secure our place in the
region, and the peace of the region as a whole.
The writer is opinion
The Jerusalem Post.