Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Arab Revolutions and the West Bank

In Haaretz today, Ari Shavit expounds passionately on a point that ought to be obvious: With the new "Arab Awakening," it's only a matter of time before West Bank Palestinians rise up against Israeli occupation.

The great Arab revolt has yet to reach the occupied territories for three reasons: the trauma of Hamas' rise in the Gaza Strip, the economic prosperity fostered by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and the expectation that a Palestinian state will be established in September.

But the tide can't be held off forever. Sooner or later, the Arab revolt will reach the territories. When the expectation of a Palestinian state blows up in September, economic prosperity will not stave off a political tsunami.

It's impossible to know whether the scenario will be that of Tunisia, Egypt or the first intifada. But in any event, the quiet we have enjoyed is now being shattered. A torrent of rebellion will strike Israel.

Say farewell to everything you thought until January 2011. The Middle East has been transformed, root and branch. This is a new, fluid, revolutionary reality. There is no longer any foundation for a solid peace like that with Egypt. There are no longer any strong forces for peace like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf emirates. There are no longer any potential peace partners like Assad and Mahmoud Abbas.

On the other hand, there is also no longer any option of deploying force against the rebellious masses. The occupation is even more dangerous than it was. The settlements are even more delusional than they were. The status quo has become a firetrap, and all the familiar ways of escaping it have been blocked.

U.S. President Barack Obama bears a share of the responsibility for this new situation. When he decided to play an active role in ousting Egypt's president, he didn't realize that as a result of this move, he would be forced within a month to fire Tomahawk missiles at Libya. He didn't understand that he was undermining the old Middle Eastern order without creating a new one. He didn't understand that he was dooming Israeli-Syrian peace and Israeli-Palestinian peace and endangering Israeli-Egyptian peace.

It could be that Obama acted correctly. Perhaps he will be remembered in the end as the great liberator of the Arab peoples. Nonetheless, the U.S. president must acknowledge the consequences of his actions. He must realize that this new historical situation requires a new diplomatic paradigm. What was right in 2010 is no longer correct in 2011.

This means that Obama must reject the false dichotomy of total impasse or total peace. He must reject the dichotomy of historic reconciliation or corrupting occupation. Instead, he must propose a new type of diplomatic path based on a partial Israeli withdrawal and the strengthening of Fayyad. In order to stop the Cairo revolution from setting Jerusalem on fire, Obama must urgently forge a third way.

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