George S. Hishmeh
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
April 1, 2011 - 12:00am

The wind of change that has been blowing in the Arab world, which saw the celebrated downfall of two autocratic Arab regimes, in Tunisia and Egypt, is still blowing hard in other Arab countries, especially Libya where the days of its ruler, Muammar Qadhafi, are believed numbered.

And this is not all. More Arab regimes may still find themselves to be in precarious, if not more serious, situations, as is the case now in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, where the leaders are fighting a life-and-death battle. The solution is not in staging once again another military coup, as first happened in Syria 62 years ago this week, since the military uprisings in several Arab states have not fared well. Likewise, the monarchies did not do much better, considering their unbelievable oil wealth that has covered up some of their failings.

Equally agonising has been the failure, if not refusal, of leading Western governments to help correct this tragic Arab course. But then, it can be argued, as it is at present, most of the Western nations have benefitted from this lackadaisical situation in various Arab capitals. One striking case has been oil-rich Libya where its besieged tyrant has been in office for more than 40 years and his country has hardly advanced an iota while, by and large, maintaining mutually beneficial relationship with Western powers.

The surprising aspect of these Arab uprisings is that virtually no one, in the Middle East or the West, had anticipated these historic upheavals, like those in Europe a generation ago. Although the continuously brewing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, now in its 63rd year, has had a low profile in the past few weeks, it remains the key issue that will erupt periodically, threatening peace in the entire region. This will be the case regardless of the extent of the progressive steps that may be adopted by all the regional powers in the near future.

And here Israel (and its Western supporters) will have to tread softly and realistically as its Western allies can no longer depend on their lackeys in the Arab world, as was the case with the deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

While international attention was focused on the turbulence in the Arab world, Israel experienced two significant events which most likely will affect its image, if not its future. First was the visit to Israel by leaders of a new Washington-based American-Jewish advocacy organisation called J Street, which describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace”. The purpose was to defend its controversial position on Israel in the halls of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, which contrasts sharply with that of AIPAC, the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, noted for its effective lobbying on behalf of Israel.

The left-leaning J Street, which had its recent annual conference in Washington and which was attended by many pro-Palestinians, opposes Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It was also critical of President Barak Obama’s recent veto against the anti-settlement resolution before the UN Security Council. The majority of American Jews had favoured these positions.

However, the chairman of J Street, David Gilo, told the meeting, according to The New York Times, that “the contract that had long existed between Israel and Jews abroad - one of unconditional support - was expiring and a new one was being drafted”.

The chairman of a Likud Party parliamentary committee, Danny Danon, described as a hawkish legislator, is planning to put to vote a resolution calling J Street pro-Palestinian and asking that it “purge from its ranks” anti-Zionist elements and that the Israeli government officials refrain from contact with it.

In a follow-up move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who refuses to meet with J Street officials, has warned that any reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas could spell the end of the peace process, stalled since last September. But such Palestinian move is seen as essential if the Palestinian Authority can hope to win international recognition of the Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly meeting next September.

It is difficult to imagine how Israelis are willing to put up with Netanyahu at a time when the world around him is taking a big leap forward. Carlo Strenger, a professor at Tel Aviv University, had this to say in a recent column in the Israeli daily Haaretz: “The primal sin of the Netanyahu government is that it links Israel’s security concerns with settlement policy, with the expropriation of Palestinian property and the ‘Judaisation’ of Jerusalem, a tactic that the world perceives as nothing less than ethnic cleansing.”

He added: “...continuing the occupation dooms Israel’s long-term future, because it will drive Israel into ever deeper isolation. It will lose its friends in the free world, and will live in everlasting conflict with the Arab world, and this does endanger Israel’s long-term survival.”

Probably without realising it, Netanyahu may be digging his own grave.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017