Thursday, February 24, 2011

Israel's Hard Choices

Rather impressive piece by NYT's Steven Erlanger on how Israeli leaders and analysts are fretting over the decline of so-called "Arab moderates"; impressive in that instead of resorting to the usual WINEP crowd for sources, Erlanger brings in comments from Rami Khouri, Gilles Kepel, Marwan Muasher, and Olivier Roy, who tend to be more knowledgeable and more sympathetic to Arab concerns.

Bottom line is that no one can be sure about how the weakening of autocrats and empowering of more populist elements - both Islamist and secularist - will re-shape Israel's security in the region.  Some Egyptian leaders have pledged to uphold the peace treaty that emerged from the 1979 Camp David Accords; others say that the treaty needs to be reconsidered.  But there's good reason to believe that Israel will face more pressure from its neighbors to reach an acceptable settlement with the Palestinians.  According to Erlanger, the prevailing sentiment in Israel is to hunker down and make no "concessions" in terms of territory, as Israel may not be able to count on the kind of "stability" that characterized its relations with Mubarak and his ilk.

I can't imagine that such a hunker-down approach is going to cut it very long on the re-charged Arab street, where people are very aware that Mubarak et al. were long content to play ball with the US and Israel and meanwhile acquiesce in the starvation of fellow Arabs in Gaza and the humiliation of them in the West Bank.  And Arab Palestinians sense that the tables have been turned on Israel, that Israelis are nervous, and that this might be a good time to re-assert their demands for the kind of self-determination for which fellow Arabs in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya have been fighting and dying.  As Tony Karon notes (in an initial post to Time's new blog, "Global Spin"), Hamas and Fatah have chosen this very time to re-engage in talks to form a unity government.  Odds are, it will come to nothing, as have previous attempts; but
 "[Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad's outreach to Hamas signals acknowledgment of the failure of the peace process as we've known it until now, and a casting around for alternatives. . . .

with their leaders now essentially admitting what most already knew -- that the U.S.-led peace process is going nowhere -- and a wave of largely non-violent mass action sweeping the region as citizens of the Arab world demand their rights, the era of the photo-opportunity peace process is at an end. And the Palestinian public may demand a greater say than their leaders have thus far allowed in what comes next.
Israel can wait for the pressure to build; or, it just might find it wiser to find a release valve for that pressure: by getting serious, finally, about compromise, and about justice for its dispossession of so many thousands of Palestinians over the past 60+ years.

Hunkering down, curling up into a sea-urchin-like little ball to ride out the current tide, may leave Israel washed up on a very lonely shore.

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