February 4, 2011
In the Midst of the Egyptian Upheaval: The Elephants in the Room
By Dan Gordon
As the Middle East is engulfed in a series of often violent pro-democracy demonstrations and counter-demonstrations that have shattered the myth of stability in that region, there are a number of other myths which have been shattered as well -- about which no one has said a word. These myths are the elephants in the room, and try as hard as some would to turn a blind eye to them, they are now more self-evident than ever. Borrowing from the Letterman Show, here is my own Top Five List, together with a few conclusions.
- Israel is an apartheid state - Muslim Arabs are demonstrating all across the Middle East to rid themselves of autocratic dictatorships and replace them with true representative democracies. From Algeria to Tunisia, from Egypt to Jordan, from Yemen to the Sudan, and seemingly all points in between, the cause is the same. People want to live in freedom. They want to have their human rights respected. They want democracy. There is seemingly only one place where Muslim Arabs have not taken to the streets against such regimes and in support of such ideals. That place is Israel (even though 20% of Israel's population is Arab). The lack of demonstrations stems from a simple fact: Israeli Arabs already live in a democracy. The rights they enjoy there make them the envy of the Middle East. They live in a nation of laws with one of the most vibrant democracies in the world, complete with a notoriously loud and free press, an independent judiciary, fair and free elections, and a military which is subordinate to the democratically elected civilian government. Simply put, what hundreds of millions of Muslim Arabs are clamoring for throughout the Middle East is what Israeli Arabs already have.
- Israel's policies toward the Palestinians are the root cause of unrest and instability in the region - The crowds demonstrating in Tunisia and Tahrir Square, in Amman, in the Sudan, and in Yemen, and indeed those protests scheduled to take place in both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-run Gaza, have nothing to do with Israel. These demonstrations are aimed at the corruption of those governments, including those Palestinian entities which rule over the Palestinians themselves.
- In the Middle East, Israel has become Goliath, threatening an impoverished and downtrodden Palestinian David - One of the edifying effects of this crisis has been the number of maps of the Middle East which have been shown on the nightly news programs. In those maps, one sees a veritable Islamic sea stretching from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Hundreds upon hundreds of millions of Muslims in scores of countries, and in their midst there is one tiny dot, so small that its name will not even fit within its borders on the map. That is is why you see "Israel" posted in the Mediterranean alongside the tiny sliver of land which is the Jewish State. The very elements the West fears most as the possible replacement governments for the dictatorships on the brink of collapse, are those that would ally themselves with the most radical elements in the Palestinian camp. Who is David? Who is Goliath? Who's kidding whom?
- The West has a number of strategic allies and partners in the Middle East and can't sacrifice their strategic interests with those partners because of an intransigent Israel - Looking at those same maps, it must now be abundantly clear that the West has only one reliable ally in the Middle East: Israel.
- Egypt and Jordan made peace with Israel and have gotten nothing to show for it - This is perhaps one of the most tragic myths. Though both of those governments have signed treaties with Israel that ended active hostilities, neither of those governments has taken the steps necessary to educate its people for peaceful coexistence with Israel. Indeed, the Egyptian government has fomented some of the most virulent anti-Semitism imaginable, and literally hundreds of projects between Israel and its neighbors which could have provided tens of thousands of jobs and a new era of prosperity have been shelved in order to cultivate the image of an Israeli boogeyman in order to deflect the shortcomings of those very governments. The tragic truth is that the key to prosperity for both Egypt and Jordan is a warm peace with Israel, full of cooperative regional ventures that could provide the life and livelihood for their citizens which are now being clamored for in the streets of Cairo and Amman.
So what are the conclusions one is to draw from the past month's events?
- A peace agreement without educating the population toward peace and coexistence is only a piece of paper.
- In a region without true democracy, there is no true stability. For Israel to survive in the neighborhood in which it lives, there have to be concrete security arrangements that can stand the test of time -- because the peace treaty you sign with one regime today may be ground to dust by the one that takes its place tomorrow.
- Consider all the arms that the United States has given to Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Saudi Arabia. If the demonstrations now boiling over throughout the Middle East topple those governments, or if those governments ally themselves with expansionist Islamist aims, all those weapons can be turned not only against Israel, but against the U.S. -- and her vital interests, as well. For that reason, Israel must maintain a qualitative edge in weaponry. That is not only a vital Israeli interest, but it is also a vital American interest.
- Don't blame Israel if she thinks that she can't depend upon anyone but herself. That is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the unseemly speed with which the United States has shown herself capable of throwing an erstwhile ally under the bus to accommodate "the Arab street."
- The policy of appeasement, accommodation, and engagement has utterly and completely failed. The U.S. has sought to engage with Iran while tolerating dictatorships with which the U.S. thought she could do business. That policy has sent a message of weakness on the one hand and venality on the other. The U.S. must stand up for her own values with everyone. Of no less importance, however, is the fact that the U.S. can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to policies and incitements that would start with the destruction of Israel but end with the destruction of the West. Those policies, to paraphrase Churchill, have been the equivalent of the vain hopes of being the last in the room to be eaten by the tiger.