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July 22, 2012, Sunday

Is Israel in good shape?

Let me begin by repeating my position on the state of Israel. I believe that Israel's right to live within secure and recognized borders must be fully respected by all.

The only way to achieve this, however, is Israel putting an end to the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians and recognizing an independent Palestinian state with the 1967 borders. I strongly reject the practice of labeling as anti-Semitism any criticism directed towards the uncompromising policies of Israel. I regard the unconditional backing for the policies of Israel by the Israeli lobby in the United States and elsewhere as highly detrimental to the interests of the Israeli people.

How the process by which autocratic regimes are replaced by representative governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and soon in Syria will affect the security of Israel is surely one of the main questions brought about by the Arab Awakening that has shaken the Middle East and North Africa region. This question is, of course, being debated primarily in Israel itself. During recent days I came across two diametrically opposed views on this issue arising from the Israeli establishment. One of them belongs to Barry Rubin, who is a distinguished professor of international relations.

In an article titled “The region: Israel is in good shape,” Rubin argues that Israel's security is not threatened, at least in the short term, for the following reasons: Internal conflicts will disrupt Arab armies and economies and reduce their ability to fight against Israel. Islamist policies will handicap their development. Even if they may try to attack Israel, they will be able to do so less effectively. Since anticipated democratization will not materialize, they will lose the sympathy of disillusioned Westerners. The Arabs do not want or need Turks to tell them what to do. Turkey's influence in the region is limited to northern Iraq. Sunni Arab Islamists will surely not follow Iran's lead. “The big Middle East conflict of the future is not the Arab-Israeli, but the Sunni-Shia one.” Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf emirates are well aware that the main threat to them is from Iran and Islamists at home.

Rubin also argues that while the Palestinians have failed the greatest opportunity they have ever had to gain the support of the United States by rejecting Obama's initiatives, Israel is dramatically successful in terms of economic and technological progress, and more importantly stands stable and united. (The Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2012.)

Israel's former Foreign Minister and former leader of the Kadima party Tzipi Livni, however, has an entirely different perception of Israel's circumstances, which can be summarized as follows: The elections in Egypt have strengthened the most radical elements in the region. The invitation extended by King Hussein of Jordan to Hamas is not encouraging. The fact that the Palestinian issue has been clouding relations between Israel and the Arab world cannot be ignored. Their leaders may have seen benefits in peaceful relations with it, but Israel has remained the enemy for the people. Israel has signed treaties with the leaders but did not make peace with the people. Momentous shifts in the region mean that Israel will have to take decisions not easily accepted by its citizens. This includes conducting negotiations with the Palestinians to reach an agreement. The key to normalizing relations with the Arab and Muslim world lies in the Arab League's Peace Initiative of 2002, which offers normalization with Israel if it makes peace with the Palestinians. Livni concludes that “nothing is more urgent than our need to solve our conflict with the Palestinians.” (“Neither an Arab spring nor Islamist winter,” Financial Times, July 12, 2012.)

I strongly condemn the terror attack on Israeli citizens in Burgas, Bulgaria, as I do all terrorism. No cause whatsoever can legitimize killing innocent civilians. The attack, however, is yet another sign that Israel needs to make peace with the peoples of the region. There are signs that even the people of Israel itself are increasingly weary of the policies pursued by their governments. The protest movement against social injustice and the high cost of living, surely a consequence of high military spending to ensure the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, is on the rise. The likelihood of a third Intifada cannot be excluded. All these seem to indicate that Rubin's thinking is wishful, whereas Livni's is highly relevant.

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