Arabs after the Spring: No stability, no peace

Arabs after the Spring: No stability, no peace

President Obama’s May 19, 2011 speech is best remembered for his statement that the “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” However, much of the speech was in praise of the Arab Spring.

The president said “strategies of repression and diversion won’t work anymore.” He cautioned “it will be years before this story reaches its end. Along the way, there will be good days and bad days. In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual.”

Two months after this speech, it does not seem that the prospects for the Arab Spring are good.

Last Sunday, The New York Times ran three articles related to the Arab Spring. The headline of one article was “March Against Egypt’s Military Collapses Into Violence”; another was “Doubts Grow in Egypt About Trial for Hosni Mubarak.”

Meanwhile, the cover story of The New York Times Magazine was “Yemen on the Brink of Hell,” with the cover artwork reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch.

London’s Guardian website has a neat interactive display showing how the Arab Spring is playing out in 17 countries. The last entry is for July 11. Listed among the countries are Israel and Palestine. That these are considered part of the Arab Spring and that Palestine is considered a country gives you an insight into the Guardian mentality.

Lebanon is among the countries listed, although there is no “action” under its heading, despite Hizbullah’s entry into the Lebanese government and the disturbances it fomented along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Israel is also listed without any action, so why is it even there? There is no mention of the Fatah-Hamas unity accord.

Interestingly, the most current entry for Palestine is May 19: “Barack Obama promises a ‘new chapter’ in US diplomacy, outlining an Israel-Palestine deal based on pre-1967 boundaries and endorsing” the Arab Spring.

Joel Brinkley of the Tribune Media Services noted the relative complacence among Palestinians, writing that “the world has not heard even a whimper from the Palestinians themselves.… Now, as the rest of the Arab world stands up to their dictators, here in the West Bank all is quiet.”

Brinkley notes, “For the first time, Palestinians are making demands of their own leaders instead of blaming all of their woes on Israel.” He believes this is because the Palestinians have something to protect: a nascent economy.

In Egypt, despite predictions that the Egyptian military would go quietly into the night and a popular civilian government would be elected, the Times reports this is not the case.

“The first major protest aimed squarely at Egypt’s transitional military rulers ended Saturday night in violent clashes with neighborhood youths, who are opposed to the continued demonstrations that threaten stability,” it reported.

The Arab Spring has brought instability to the government of Jordan. The Assad government in Syria has brutally repressed demonstrators and has sponsored unrest on the Golan border.

In addition to the instability and uncertainty among Israel’s neighbors, there is the looming drama over declaring Palestine a state at the UN in September. Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post suggested a new source of Arab Spring volatility: the upcoming observance of Ramadan, which occurs in less than two weeks.

All indicators seem to point toward unrest for the foreseeable future. Even in Lebanon and the Territories, governments are undergoing radical changes with the addition of recognized terrorist groups.

The Saudis’ Middle East peace plan promises Arab diplomatic recognition for Israel if Israel retreated to the pre-1967 borders. Given the current instability of the governments that would supposedly enter into this “land for peace” agreement, including Saudi Arabia, could any government guarantee that the recognition of Israel would not be disclaimed by a successor government?

In Newsweek, Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Moroccan novelist and poet, looks at what happens when dictators like Kaddafi and Assad shoot back. In the Arab world, he writes, there is no unity or common philosophy, and hypocrisy is rampant. “Israel is watching this upheaval and hardening its colonial policies, refusing integration with the Palestinians and shelving Barack Obama’s propositions,” he adds. “Israel mistrusts these revolts; it wants to preserve its monopoly on democracy in the region.”

A Newsweek/Daily Beast survey of Egyptians shows only 3 percent of those surveyed had a positive impression of Israel and 70 percent want to amend or cancel the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

It is often said that Israel needs a true partner for peace. Given the current instability of its neighbors, can there be true partners until the Arab Spring has run its course and stasis has been achieved?

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