Glen Segell

The Arab Spring and Palestinian status quo

Largely ignored in Israel, the Arab Spring is progressing in ways that should be of concern to Israel. The three North African Mediterranean states of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were the main focus for democratization and dialogue three years ago, while Syria and Yemen were hopeful candidates. All five are now providing lessons about the drawbacks and snares of mixing Islam, street protests, social media, militarized political systems, revolutionary movements, minimal American attention, maximum Russian interest and extreme poverty with no hope for the immediate adoption of westernized values, ways and systems and the path to stability. Israel should observe that any Palestinian state may well go down the same path as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Egypt shows the danger that Israel faces from a failing state on its Southern Border. Can Gaza, and Judea / Samaria become a successful or a failed Palestinian state? Since the ouster of President Mubarak three years ago, Egyptians have voted in three referendum to approve a new constitution. They have also voted for a President who has since been deposed by the military, and a Parliament which no longer meets. The Egyptian military is struggling to control the Sinai peninsula. Sanctions remain in force by the United States because of the military coup to oust Morsi. There is no indication that Egypt will democratize; indeed the opposite since General Al-Sisi announced his presidential intentions. Increasing poverty due to lack of leadership were the main cause for the Arab Spring movement and unless properly addressed they will cause further uprisings.

Egypt’s neighbor Tunisia is only once step better, despite the approval by the constituent assembly of a new constitution. The consolation for Israel is that it is one step further away and not an immediate neighbor. Yet the lessons of paper agreements must be clear for Israeli leaders when dealing with the Palestinians. All is well in the paper agreements in Tunisia yet numerous political leaders have been assassinated over the last three years. The country is dancing at the edge of a cliff. The future of the country depends on a fragile even match between Islamist and secular factions. Should one gain the upper hand then all hell will break loose in a power struggle. The economy remains precarious.

Israeli leaders must consider the issues in both Tunisia and Egypt noting and considering that any agreement that is based on the 1967 borders would also include Gaza. Gaza controlled by Hamas is not in a dialogue with Israel. Any agreement with Abu Mazan would only be a partial resolution. Any agreement based on all the 1967 borders needs to mull over the match between Islamist Hamas and other factions; over written constitutions and their viable implementation, over economic disparities between Gaza and Judea / Samaria, over a militarized dictatorial Gaza verse a civil elected parliament in Judea / Samaria, not to mention the threat to the lives of any Palestinian leader who signs an agreement with Israel.

Into the equation must be thrown the lessons from Yemen. The Federal Republic of Yemen is well on the way to creation. The mantra is the Yugoslav one “if you can’t live together in one country, then create six but still wage war and even genocide to control the Federal capital, the economy and foreign affairs.” It is intended that the federal capital will remain the city of Sana’a, though every state will have its principal regional city as its capital city. In order to ensure fairness among the states it has been agreed that parliamentary leadership rotate.

The events in Yemen may well be the Palestinian outcome with not one but two Palestinian States’; one in Gaza and one in Judea / Samaria. With this comes the ultimate dilemma for Israel, Hamas and Abu Mazan. Can they control the movement of the Palestinian population? Not just the desire of those living outside of Gaza, Judea / Samaria to “just visit as a tourist” but also the desire for those living in Gaza, Judea and Samaria to establish businesses and trade between the two Palestinian States. Prime Minister Netanyahu may well call for “Three states for Two Nations” since the current dialogue has little hope of resolving this.

Last but not least are the lessons from Libya and Syria. The former is a weak, unstable, and a failed state in anarchy. Its current position arises out of intervention by a nuclear UN security council permanent member with veto power, the United States. After toppling its leader, Qaddafi, the United States has left it in the gutter. The later is a strong, unstable, and a failing state in a civil-war whose leadership is sponsored by a nuclear UN security council permanent member with veto power, Russia. In supporting its leader, Assad, Russia has forced it into the gutter. For Israel the question is who will sponsor post-independent Palestinian aspirations: The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Iran, not to mention some of the other less desirable candidates.

My conclusion having observed the Arab Spring for three years is: If the Arab Spring is anything to go by as indications of changes in the region then perhaps the Palestinian status quo is not so bad after all.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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