Stuck in the Middle (East)
When protesters stormed into the Israel Embassy in Cairo last Friday, it became increasingly obvious to the Israeli government that the few allies they have left in the Middle East are dwindling. Egypt has had good relations with Israel since they signed The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty on March 26, 1979. The treaty was a diplomatic band-aid after the Yom Kippur War. Egypt was the first Arab nation to extend a hand to Tel Aviv, which led to them being booted out of the Arab League. The late President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin were both given the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in establishing the treaty, but Sadat was later assassinated as a result. For all the oppression Hosni Mubarak has bestowed upon his own people, he had at least maintained the peaceful relations between his country and Israel. And now he’s out the picture.
Israelis are not only worried about post-Mubarak Egypt, but the “Arab Spring” in general. There are concerns, both in Israel and in the U.S., that anti-Israeli Islamic fundamentalists will swoop in to perch themselves on newly vacant thrones. I had read a comment on a forum about how Al Qaeda, or less extreme entities like the Muslim Brotherhood, wouldn’t dare hijack the Arab revolution and so far he’s been correct, but you cannot deny that there are racist elements within some of the Middle Eastern countries. Those who are viciously anti-Israeli may be in the minority, but as we all know it only takes a minority with a great strategy to “capture hearts and minds” to put their own agenda into effect.
Take Hitler’s Nazi Party, for example. Though there were anti-Semitic feelings in Germany at the time—mostly due to the pressures of job competition in a bad economy—no one ever thought of electing a leader who believed in systematically eradicating “the problem” (Jews) in order to elevate the nation back to its glory days. But that’s what happened—though it wasn’t much of an election but more of a gradual takeover through strong-arming and political assassinations.
I wouldn’t say that this sort of thing will repeat itself (fingers crossed), and disregarding the fact that Iran’s president fantasizes about wiping Israel off the map, which may or may not mean warfare, but if the protesters throughout the Spring have one thing in common, it’s that they’re inspired by a new sense of fierce nationality. Revolutions create an overwhelming sense of unity, because you suffered through the dictatorship together and, in the end, pushed the dictator out together. Storm the palace, wave the flag, hugs and kisses all around. The war-cry is, “For the people, by the people.” And what if the majority of the people suddenly want to cut ties with Israel, or even take on a more aggressive approach towards them?
Turkey, another Tel Aviv ally, has also recently began voicing discontent over its relations with Israel, downshifting diplomatic and economic ties with the country. This all stemmed from Israel’s refusal to apologize for raiding a flotilla last year, in which eight Turks were killed. The UN said that, though excessive in force, the armed raid was legal. Turkey doesn’t care about the legality, but just wants Israel to apologize. Replace the words ‘Turkey’ and ‘Israel’ with ‘Mister’ and ‘Missus’, and it’ll sound like a marriage rapidly falling apart.
Oh, and who can forget about the Palestinian issue? The Palestinian Authority is looking to get a vote from the U.N.’s General Assembly on the possibility of statehood, specifically comprising the areas of Gaza Strip, West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. If passed, and it looks like it might, this will not officially give Palestinians their own country, but it will legitimize their fight for independence and maybe pressure Israel in withdrawing from occupied territories. China and France stated they would support the proposal. This will certainly be a milestone for the Palestinians if granted. After intifadas; suicide bombings; bloody counter-attacks by Israel; and a long track-record of broken promises, we’ve come to this point in the current chapter of the Palestinian-Israeli saga.
Last, but not least, but may also be the last of Israel’s Arab allies: Jordan. King Abdullah had recently highlighted the fact that Israel is deep in the mud and that as Jordan and the Palestinians are on the rise, so are Israel’s problems.
How can Israel mend ties and take themselves out from a vulnerable spot? Prime Minister Netanyahu can try to alleviate the problem by being more open to options presented to him by the international community. I like that he’s malleable enough to at least consider a two-state solution, but he had set so many conditions in his proposal that it makes a book contract look like a piece of flash fiction. I get that he wants the Arab states, and especially the Palestinians, to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, but Israel has to see them as equals in the peace process negotiations. What happens when you instruct two architects with two different styles to design a house, but only give one of them the majority of the power in making decisions? Probably something Gaudi-esque, but with less pizzazz and eccentric charm.
Another thing that Israel can do is start fresh with the new government in Cairo and, in this case, Egypt has to show that it truly wants to maintain its peaceful relationship with its neighbor across the Sinai Peninsula, by securing the said peninsula and making sure extremists can’t operate there. The embassy break-in was a response to the inadvertent killing of three Egyptian security officers after a firefight between Israeli forces and the terrorists who initiated the whole thing by killing eight Israelis in an attack. Weapons trafficking and the smuggling of terrorists in the Sinai have also increased since Mubarak was ousted. It is Cairo’s responsiblity to keep this happening since the Sinai Peninsula is their territory. If not, they’ll expect a swift response from Israel militarily every time a terrorist attack was traced back to Egypt, which will only strain their relations even more.
In this long, winding road to harmonious relations between Israel and the Arab states, it’s safe to say that the Arab Spring is sowing landmines along the way, even if unintentionally, despite the good things that the wave of revolutions stand for.