Saturday, March 19

Arab Youth Sweeping Changes

The Arab youth of the Middle East proves that they want change. Even their elders who have lived all their lives under autocratic regimes are joining the bandwagon for change.

Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and to a lesser extent, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and even Syria are showing signs of unrest like the tsunami in Japan, its effect will result in change from which there is no return.

The relatively peaceful changes that took place in Tunisia and Egypt are not happening in the rest of the Arab world. The demonstrations in Yemen and Bahrain are becoming increasingly violent. The latter has even called in Saudi troops to put down the demonstrations which are becoming more sectarian. Here the population is mostly Shiite while the monarchy is Sunni. It may not be surprising if Iran becomes involved by backing the Shiite rebels and further complicating the situation in Bahrain.

The most violent rebellion is in Libya. After initial successes by the rebel forces, Kaddafi’s troops are regaining the upper hand and are poised to enter and take over the rebel held second largest town in Libya, Benghazi.

The UN has passed a resolution with the backing of the Arab League, Britain, France, Lebanon, and the US for an immediate cease-fire. This measure was taken to halt the slaughter of innocent people in Libya by the Kaddafi forces. If Kaddafi does not comply, the military option will be applied.

NATO forces are preparing for this eventuality. President Obama and PM David Cameron of Britain have made it clear to Kaddafi that he must cease slaughtering his people or else he will bear the consequences. The next couple of days will be crucial.

In the dramatic scenarios occurring in the Arab world there will be no turning back. The desire for democracy and human rights are strong.  The youth who grew up under the various autocratic and corrupt dictatorships are determined as ever to fight for democracy. Their elders are even supporting them.

As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, all these dramatic changes in the Arab world have not affected this conflict at this stage. There have been no widespread anti-Israel sentiments expressed by the rebels. The anti-Israel mantra that has been a symbol of despotic Arab regimes is not a united calling cry for change.

It is quite possible with the use of Face book and Twitter, the Arab youth are making contact with their counterparts in the democratic free world, including Israel. They are aware of the freedom that others have and what has been denied them. None of the uprisings is religious in nature. The despotic rulers have adopted an anti-Israel stance since Israel was established and have brainwashed their citizens for generations. This is not working anymore.

The uprisings in the Arab world will affect Israel and the Palestinians eventually. Hamas in Gaza rules with an iron fist against all opposition and is trying to introduce sharia (Muslim Law). This is going against the spirit of the Arab uprisings. There is even talk of creating an understanding between Hamas and the Fatah led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Israelis are viewing the volatile situation in the Arab world with mixed feelings. The gut feeling here in Israel is cautious support for the changes towards democracy in the Arab world. It is still too early to predict how these dramatic changes will move towards stable democratic rule and how it will affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The old mantra - the enemy of my enemy is my friend - could be applicable here. The Kaddafis of the Middle East could result in the rebels becoming better disposed towards Israel. Time will tell whether this is wishful thinking or not.

Now with the UN resolution to prevent a massacre of the Libyan people, and NATO military forces getting ready to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, it is a matter of time before the Kaddafi regime falls. It is not the purpose of the UN resolution to overthrow Kaddafi but that possibility cannot be ruled out.

The Arab world is changing and is presenting Israel with new opportunities which are not without risks.

The problem is also Iran which could take advantage of the instability in Bahrain and try to support the majority Shiite population there against Sunni rule. They are notorious competitors for moving into the vacuum caused by the uprising in Bahrain. This could be a threat to the Saudi regime as well which to date has remained relatively calm.

How should Israel act? They should start with goodwill gestures towards the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank by freezing settlements. Unfortunately the Netanyahu government seems to have its priority in keeping the right wing coalition together by backing the illegal settler enterprise and engaging in double talk. Continuous building in Palestinian lands and paying lip service to a two state solution seems to be contradictory.

Luck is on Israel's side for the time being. There is so much upheaval in the Arab World and the terrible damage to Japan’s infrastructure as well as the heavy loss of lives from the massive earthquake and tsunami, including the radiation danger from its nuclear power reactors. This could be an opportunity for Israel to support the changes going on in the Arab world. After all if the Arab countries do become democratic it could end the old mantras of official hate for Israel which has been a unifying factor in the despotic leaderships of the Arab world.
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