The world is looking on at the events in the Arab world with fascination. Commentators are not mindlessly optimistic or pretend to know with certainty that Egypt and Tunisia will become flawlessly functioning democracies tomorrow. But international media and a fair percentage of specialists on the Arab world see promising signs. Most commentators are, in any case, excited about what, beyond any doubt, is a truly historic development.
Few commentators disagree on the possibility of a domino effect; the question is “who is next?” One of the most frequent answers is: the Palestinians. The events at Tahrir square in Cairo are certainly inspiring, and it is quite likely that many Palestinians wonder whether they should use this example of what peaceful, nonviolent protest can do.
In the recent past they have shown, maybe for the first time in their tragic, complex history, political wisdom and foresight. Instead of using violence, they have been busy with state-building; instead of squandering resources, they have built schools and a viable security force. They are reaping the rewards: many countries are moving ever closer to recognizing a Palestinian state along the 1947 lines, and recognition by the United Nations General Assembly is looking ever more likely.
My hope, both for Israel and the Palestinians is, that they will continue in this vein; that they will reign in those who will try to disrupt a very positive process through violence and give Israel reason to retaliate. This is, I believe, a realistic hope: the Palestinians seem to have broken the pattern that former foreign minister Abba Eban termed “never missing and opportunity to miss an opportunity”.
And what about us? Israel is hailed throughout the world for its entrepreneurial daring. But none of this is felt in Israel’s political echelon, which proceeds with its utterly predictable, monotonous chatter. It really doesn’t matter what happens in Egypt. Benjamin Netanyahu continues to sing his tired song of “things will be bad; Israel needs to prepare for the worst; the world must be aware of imminent danger to Israel.”
We are stuck with our boringly predictable fear-mongers in government for the time being. For them, the possibility that the Arab world is moving towards democratization is an existential threat, because it will deprive them of their gloomy worldview.
Netanyahu feels the noose tightening around his neck. Weary of international pressure, he promises a daring new initiative - at the same time trying to include another far-right party in his government. So far, it seems that he is about to propose immediate recognition of a Palestinian state with intermediary borders – a step that neither the Palestinians nor the international community accept as enough.
He realizes that the world doesn’t buy his line, repeated with humdrum tiredness that the Palestinians are not ready for compromise. Al Jazeera leaks have shown the exact opposite: the Palestinians are very close to a position that respects Israel’s most important existential concerns. Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim seem to be the last major stumbling blocks, but nobody in his right mind can still say that Israel will not be a viable country on the basis of the Ehud Olmert-Mahmoud Abbas talks.
If Netanyahu had any of the Churchill daring that he likes to fantasize he has, he would see that a future UN recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders would be an historical victory for Israel. Doesn’t he realize that UN recognition of a Palestinian state would mean that, for the first time in its history, Israel would have an internationally agreed-upon border? That the last step in the process that began on November 29, 1967 with the UN resolution that endorsed partition would finally be taken? That this is the final nail in the coffin of the delegitimation of Israel’s existence?
But this is beyond him. Mind you, Netanyahu is far from being the worst in Israel’s choir of repetitive Cassandras. In an open letter to their chief, his own Likud ministers have now produced their own version of Sarah Palin’s “Drill, Baby, drill” slogan: “Build, Bibi, Build!” Surrounded by young people devoid of any forward-looking vision, his dreary fear-mongering is reinforced by their numbing lack of enthusiasm for anything but anti-democratic legislation and settlement building.
For the time being, unfortunately, it looks that Israel will be dragged into a peace accord kicking, screaming and under protest against the international community instead of initiating positive moves. But we mustn’t forget that many countries had dark days. It took the U.S. until the 1960s to abolish racial segregation, and now it has a black President; and it had its sinister days of Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist paranoia that ended up fading away. In Israel, we have our own versions of McCarthyism and racist bigotry. And like McCarthy, they too will fade into the dustbin of history.