Navigation

In the past year or so we have witnessed what appeared to be a popular uprising in various Arab states in North Africa and the Middle East including Algeria, Yemen, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Syria. Most protests were induced and in fact engineered through different web-based social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The motives slightly varied, but all protestors were ultimately voicing their dissatisfaction with the social, economic and political status quo as manifested in the existence of numerous corrupt and despotic regimes that were perceived as taking advantage of the ordinary people in order to bolster their personal wealth.

Dr. Ilai Saltzman, August 2011

 

In the past year or so we have witnessed what appeared to be a popular uprising in various Arab states in North Africa and the Middle East including Algeria, Yemen, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Syria. Most protests were induced and in fact engineered through different web-based social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The motives slightly varied, but all protestors were ultimately voicing their dissatisfaction with the social, economic and political status quo as manifested in the existence of numerous corrupt and despotic regimes that were perceived as taking advantage of the ordinary people in order to bolster their personal wealth.

 

The following analysis distinguishes between opportunities the State of Israel may look favorably at, and opportunities that Mitvim, as an Israeli think-tank, can utilize. Sometimes these opportunities overlap and even complement each other but it is plausible that some will not. This may be a result of the different reading of the situation by different political parties within Israeli political and diplomatic policymaking circles.

 

Opportunities for the State of Israel

 

Democratization: During the period of his first government (1996-1999), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that a durable peace agreement with the Palestinians and the Arab World is conditional on their transition to democracy. Reiterating the basic propositions of the Democratic Peace Theory, namely that democratic regimes do not fight each other, Netanyahu argued that it would be reckless to strike a bargain with "the enemy" until such conditions have materialized. Now that the Arab World, at least in part, is fostering a certain democratic discourse, the Israeli government is fearful of the rise of fundamental elements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

 

While it is true that democratic institutions and norms are extremely difficult to engineer and it takes time to develop a liberal institutional and ideational framework, the State of Israel should find a way to facilitate these developments rather than relentlessly doubt their likelihood. Worst case scenario, the democratization project will fail and Israel may be in a position to say "told you so!" but if the entire scheme will succeed then Israel will have much to gain. Warm peace and high levels of cooperation and interdependence are the outcomes of a decision on behalf of entire societies rather than just a few leaders. It must be a bottom-up rather a top-down approach if you wish for something in addition to a formal treaty or agreement. Israel should be on the pro-democratization offensive instead of taking the traditional role of the paranoid regional party-pooper. It is possible to proceed with some doubts but with optimism nonetheless.

 

"It's the Economy Stupid!(?)": it may be politically incorrect to make this case, but as Baron Rothschild once remarked: "when there is blood in the streets, buy properties." Of course, I would not suggest to implement this dictum in a Machiavellian fashion, but rather to argue that the same awakening Arab economies are desperate for international investments and technological modernization for the benefit of the entire society rather than for the survivability of the regime. Israeli companies directly, or through third-parties, may use this economic window of opportunity to introduce innovative techniques and means that will contribute to the rejuvenation of Arab economies and industrial capacity.

 

Indeed, it may take a while until Israeli products may find their way to Algerian markets, for example, but the same goods managed to find their ways to Iraq in the post-Saddam era and even to markets in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. Thus, the process of creating the demands for Israeli goods (perhaps under a third-party guise) should be treated as intentionally protracted and prolonged in order to avoid an aggressive backlash, but one that can bear meaningful political and diplomatic fruit in the long-term.

 

American Eyes on the Bigger Picture: whereas the previous administration was overwhelmingly inclined towards Israel, the current administration under Barack Obama seemed less committed to the old follies of George W. Bush. This was illustrated in President Obama's Cairo speech in which he called for rapprochement between the United States and the Arab and Muslim world. With the Arab Spring in the happening, the Obama Administration turned a cold shoulder to Hosni Mubarak, supported the European military intervention in Libya and even participated in some combat missions under NATO command. The Obama Administration better understands the need to engage the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflict. As such, pushing the main parties more forcefully to engage in negotiations will be probably one of the ways to ventilate some of the pressure that was accumulated throughout the last years. This does not mean that a comprehensive peace agreement is in arms reach but rather that the motivation of the Americans may be a bit higher and more focused nowadays and will be more so after the 2012 presidential elections in the United States.

 

From the Palestinian side, it would also appear that despite the documented actions taken by President Mahmud Abbas in order to attain international recognition of a Palestinian State, there is an attempt not to burn all the bridges with Washington and even Jerusalem. Again, the Arab Spring raised social and economic issues that are considered by most Palestinians as more pressing than the actual definition of the future configuration of the Palestinian state. In other words, the Palestinian leadership is torn between the need to present meaningful achievements while avoiding irreversible outcomes, especially amidst the growing influence of Hamas following the release of Gilad Shalit in return for 450 Palestinian prisoners. This is why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was toying for a long time with the September options, either approaching the UN Security Council or just asking for a declaratory General Assembly resolution, and is currently seeking some rapprochement with Hamas.

 

The Americans will probably be more willing to intervene and even put a proposal on the table, a move that Jerusalem deeply fears. Despite the fact that Washington proclaimed that it does not support any unilateral steps (UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, etc.), it would seem that they are more committed to the resolution of the Palestinian question than ever before. Antagonizing the Arabs is something the Americans will try to avoid as much as possible. And even if they will veto any resolution in the Security Council, it will be done in coordination with Abbas rather than as a surprise.

 

Opportunities for the Mitvim Institute

 

Opening the Arab Think-Tank Discourse: there is an expectation that once people are free to speak they will be more willing to listen. A new generation of Arab citizens, not necessarily the same that went to the streets in Egypt or Libya were socialized during the Information Age. They are connected to the world more than their parents and grandparents and they feel the need to interact with large portions of the international community in ways and passion never seen before. These people want to influence government policies at all levels and topics: security, politics, economy, environment, technology etc. they will be more receptive to interact with a new Israeli think-tank that exhibits clear peace-oriented tendencies. At least in low-key encounters, so I believe, they will be more receptive to dialogue and exchange of ideas.

 

"The Gathering Storm" in Reverse? The Israeli discourse that views the Arab Spring as an opportunity rather than colossal danger is fairly limited. As always, most right-wing parties look at these processes as the incarnation of "Nasserism" as best and key central-left parties express a less conclusive approach, but it is definitely not as open-minded as we wish for it to be. Mitvim can be the leading Israeli entity that holds the flag of "opportunities in change"; it can position itself as a liberal think-tank with connections to academia and policy circles but without the institutional affiliation to any given party. Thus, it is a perfect point of departure for the launching of this initiative.

 

Mitvim can present the public and the political system a new outlook; one that looks more favorably on these developments, but without being too naïve. Make the case for a responsible engagement of the Arab World, for the support of the democratization in these societies even if there is a chance for less beneficial outcomes for Israel. In a way, we need to make a case against the good old self-fulfilling negative prophecies of Israeli diplomacy and this is timely and essential.

 

Replace the "Securitization" Motif in Think-Tank Analysis: interestingly enough, recent events raise another important point regarding the role of Mitvim as part of the Israeli think-tank discourse. Up until now, national security in general and military potency, in particular, were largely measured in material capabilities (military, economic, industrial etc.). The Israeli protest movement of the summer of 2011 has shown that Israel desperately needs a more inclusive and holistic approach for national security issues. We are no longer bound to military-industrial-economic Thatcherism. Indeed, Israelis now seem more receptive to the societal elements in their daily lives and so we need to export this recognition to a new discourse about regional foreign policies. Making the case solely by counting missiles or gunboats is obsolete; an integrative analysis of regional and global processes has become the more appropriate approach. Therefore, any analysis that Mitvim puts forward should include economic, social, political, cultural and even ideological factors in order to present a more holistic representation of the region and its undercurrents.

 

 

icon-pdf

 

 

site by brandor