For the past few months we have been witnessing an upheaval in much of the Muslim world that is unparalleled by anything in recent history.
It stretches from Tunisia to Libya, from Morocco to Syria, from Egypt to Jordan, from Bahrain to Iran, from the Yemen to Algeria and to who knows where else.
Back in January, The Guardian’s Middle East editor, Ian Black, wrote: “Hosni Mubarak, 82, who like Ben Ali keeps Islamists firmly out of power and tolerates only weak secular opposition, is seeking another presidential term next year- when he will mark three decades in power.”
Little did he know when he wrote those lines that Mubarak would be out of power in less than a month.
The west’s response to the largely unexpected popular uprisings that have engulfed much of the Muslim world has been patchy, uneven, reactive and primarily motivated by self-interest. The New York Times among others has drawn parallels between the Prague Spring of 1968 led by Alexander Dubček and what is happening in the Arab world today, but the comparison is superficial.
Perhaps understandably, the dramatic events of the past two months have tended to overshadow the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While Syrian soldiers are reportedly murdering hundreds of unarmed protesters in Daraa and NATO aircraft are bombing Gaddafi’s headquarters in Tripoli, the world’s media have little time to report on housing construction on the West Bank, or even on last’s week’s power-sharing deal between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
However, the clock is ticking and the Palestinian declaration of independence is scheduled for September unless western leaders are successful in persuading them that it is not in their best interests to go ahead unilaterally.
A Palestinian state encompassing the territories east of the 1949 armistice line would leave Israel in a precarious situation. Israel’s coastal town of Netanya is just over nine miles from Palestinian Tulkarm. Even a shorter distance separates Ben Gurion international airport from the West Bank. Israel’s swift access to the River Jordan via Route 1 would be cut off by a Palestinian state extending from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.
At a time when Israelis are understandably nervous about the potential opening of an
uncontrolled border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, the prospect of a similar situation on her eastern flank between a Palestinian state and Jordan is no less worrying.
Were we living in a peaceful part of the world, it would be a different story. But Egypt is not Switzerland and Syria is not Luxembourg. Things are far too unstable in the Middle East for Israel to put her very survival at risk.
Of course we support the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, if the Palestinians are really serious about wanting a country of their own, then they are going to have to respond to Israel’s legitimate security needs, which include demilitarization and an Israeli military presence in the Jordan valley. If they won’t, then their legitimate struggle for national independence is going to be a non-starter.