Israel's opportunity to appeal to the Arab public
Precisely because Arab foreign policy has been shunted to the back burner, and because Arab public opinion might dictate the political concepts of Arab regimes, Israel must "speak" directly to the Arab public, and not make do with a relationship with governmental elites.
Even before the Egyptian government has been completely overhauled and way before we know who the next president will be and when he will take office, one fact is already clear: Egypt's temporary prime minister, Issam Sharaf, and the temporary foreign minister, Nabil al-Arabi, do not like Israel. We can now relax. If, for a moment, we feared the Egyptian revolution might threaten to improve bilateral relations and present an opportunity to expand the peace, it turns out salvation is here: The temporary Egyptian government is already showing the country's new face. Maybe we should even start preparing for war.
The map of threats is always the picture Israel prefers to hang on its wall. In fact, it's the only map we know how to read. But might the latest changes also conceal some opportunities?
Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and most of the Gulf states are now busy formulating new agreements between their rulers and their people. Arab public opinion has proven itself a force to be reckoned with, one that can remove tyrants and shake up regimes. Economics, and not foreign policy, jobs and not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, democracy and the war against corruption, have become the Arab agenda. A new common denominator has emerged, and it has nothing to do with the consensus among Arab leaders that if only the Arab-Israeli conflict were resolved, their people would flourish, so in the meantime, emergency regimes must prevail,
The United States has also suddenly obtained new status. It grants and denies legitimacy to regimes. In one moment, and perhaps just for a moment, it has stopped being the great enemy trying to impose its culture on the region. It has taken a stand with the rebels in Egypt and in Libya and is pressuring the Yemeni president to change his ways.
Not a single American flag was burned in the protests and in only a few cases were Israeli flags burned. It seems that Washington, ahead of all the rest, has realized that a great opportunity has fallen into its lap by virtue of the very fact that it no longer needs to aggressively market its political and diplomatic doctrine. The Arab people, from within, have taken down from the shelf the political doctrine they deserve. They may not be able to apply it entirely. After all, structural changes in the economy, the creation of parliaments and the formulation of constitutions are not accomplished through magic tricks. But within all this lies an extraordinary opportunity to incline the hearts of the Arab public toward Israel.
Precisely because Arab foreign policy has, for the time being, been shunted to the back burner, and because Arab public opinion might dictate, more than ever before, the political concepts of Arab regimes, Israel must "speak" directly to the Arab public, and not make do with a relationship with governmental elites. That's because it's not the future of the natural gas agreement with Egypt or military cooperation with Jordan that are at stake here, and not even the peace treaties with those two countries, but rather, a much broader concept - like the one expressed in the Arab initiative embraced in 2004 by Arab leaders, which pledged a girdle of Arab protection for Israel in exchange for withdrawal, and the relationship with Turkey and the Islamic countries.
These require the support of public opinion and not just a leader who winks at Israel or slaps it in the face. This is where the real opportunity lies. If we take advantage of it, it will liberate Israel from the need to fear for the political or physical lives of Arab leaders, and from the concern over a certain prime minister in Egypt or some anonymous justice minister in Jordan. It will guarantee that the concept known "the end of the conflict" will have significance that goes beyond the tactical to a deeper level of awareness.
The road map that leads to that place is clear, the partners exist and are known, and the mediator is ready to be summoned at any moment. The problem lies with the groom, Israel's prime minister, who is about to call off the wedding because he can't decide what wedding hall to rent or what date to set. Should he put off his "king's speech" until May, June or September? Should he deliver it at Bar-Ilan University, the Knesset, or in Congress? Now is the time for Israel to join the Arab public, to present it with the map of its final borders, and to set a timetable, before we all become an illegal outpost.