Uri Avnery
Arab News (Opinion)
March 6, 2011 - 1:00am

Of all the memorable phrases uttered by Barack Obama in the last two years, the one that stuck in my mind more than any other appeared in his historic speech in Cairo in the early days of his term.

He warned the nations not to place themselves "on the wrong side of history." It seems that the Arab nations took heed of this advice more than he might have anticipated and have jumped from the wrong to the right side of history. Our government, however, is moving in the opposite direction. It is determined, so it seems, to get as far away from the right side as possible. This week, a fascinating telephone conversation took place. On the one end was Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Netanyahu called to rebuke Merkel for Germany's vote in favor of the Security Council resolution condemning the settlements — the resolution blocked by the scandalous US veto. He expressed his annoyance about Germany daring to vote against the "Jewish state."

He was shocked by the answer. Merkel told him that he had broken all his promises, that no one of the world's leaders believes a single word of his any more. She demanded that he make peace with the Palestinians. This conversation is a symptom of an ongoing process — the slow but steady deterioration in Israel's international standing. Yes, Israel's standing in the world is indeed sinking continuously, but not because of a worldwide plot uniting "anti-Semites" and "self-hating Jews." We are sinking, because we are on the wrong side of history.

Israel has maintained for decades a regime of occupation. It continues to control and humiliate another people. Ideologically and practically, it lives in the mental world of the 19th century, while the rest of the world is starting to live in the 21st.

The recent economic crisis has shown that the collapse of one country's economy can spread like wildfire to the entire world. The Internet has established a worldwide community, in which ideas spread easily from country to country, as we can see now in the Arab world. International institutions, which once aroused only derision, are slowly acquiring real jurisdiction. The International Court has grown teeth. International law, which in the past was mainly an abstract idea, is slowly evolving into a real world law. Important and strong countries like Germany and France are voluntarily giving up large chunks of their sovereignty in favor of the European Union. Regional and worldwide cooperation between nations is becoming a political necessity.

Concepts like democracy, liberty, justice and human rights are not only moral values — in today's world they have become essential needs, a basis for a new world order.

All these processes are advancing at a maddeningly slow, almost geological pace. Whatever Obama's deeds — or lack of them — his intuition about the direction can be trusted.

That is the "right side of history." But our country is closing its eyes to this. It scorns international public opinion, the United Nations and international law.

The Arab nations have suddenly awoken from a centuries-long slumber, and are now fighting to catch up with the other nations. It is difficult to know where these uprisings, which are engulfing the region from Morocco to Oman and from Syria to Yemen, will go.

2011 may be for the Arab world what 1848 was for Europe. Then, when the French people stood up, the waves of revolution spread over much of the face of the continent. In France, the uprising swept away a corrupt regime, but paved the way for the rise of Napoleon III, the first of Europe's modern dictators. In Germany, then fragmented into dozens of kingdoms and principalities, the rulers were frightened and so promised democratic reforms.

The revolutions of 1848 left behind a legacy of disappointment and despair. The Arab revolutions, too, may end in failure and disappointment. They may give birth to new dictatorships. Here and there anachronistic religious regimes may spring up. Each Arab country is different from the others, and in each the developments will be subject to local conditions. But what happened yesterday in Tunisia and Egypt, what is happening today in Libya and Yemen, what happens tomorrow in some others will shape the face of the Arab nations for a long time to come. Israel is dominated by the settlers, who resemble in spirit the Crusaders of the 12th century. Fundamentalist religious parties, not much different from their Iranian counterparts, play a major role in our state. The political and economic elite is steeped in corruption. Our democracy, in which we took so much pride, is in mortal danger.

Some people argue that all this is happening because "Netanyahu has no policy." Nonsense. He has a clear policy: To maintain Israel as a garrison state, to enlarge the settlements, to prevent the foundation of a real Palestinian state, and to go on without peace, in a state of eternal conflict. Just now it was been leaked that Netanyahu is going to give a historic speech — another one — very soon. Not in the Knesset, whose importance is approaching nil, but in the really important forum: AIPAC, the Jewish lobby in Washington.There he will unfold his Peace Plan, whose details have also been leaked. A wonderful plan, with only one minor defect: It has nothing to do with peace.

It proposes setting up a Palestinian state with "provisional borders". (With us, nothing is more permanent than the "provisional"). It will consist of about half the West Bank. (The other half, including East Jerusalem, will presumably be covered with settlements.) There will be a timetable for the discussion of the core issues — borders, Jerusalem, refugees etc. (In Oslo, a timetable of five years was fixed. It expired in 1999, by which time negotiation had not even started.) Negotiations will not start at all until the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people and accept its "security requirements". (Meaning: Never.)

If the Palestinians accept such a plan, they need (in the words of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in another context) "to have their heads examined." But of course Netanyahu is not addressing the Palestinians at all. His plan is a primitive attempt at marketing. (After all, in the past he was a marketing agent for furniture). The aim is to stop the international campaign of "delegitimatsia". Ehud Barak, too, had something to say this week. In a long TV interview, almost entirely consisting of political gibberish, he made one important remark: The Arab uprisings provide Israel with new opportunities. What opportunities? You guessed it: To get increased quantities of American arms. Arms and America über alles.

And indeed, the one factor that makes this policy still possible is the unequalled relationship between Israel and the US. But the Arab Awakening will, in the medium- and long-term, change the Israeli-Arab balance of power — psychologically, politically, economically, and in the end also militarily. At the same time, the world balance of power is also changing. New powers are rising. This will not be a one-time, dramatic occurrence, but a slow and steady process. That is how history is moving. Anyone who places himself on the wrong side of it will pay the price.


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