March 28, 2011 Edition 8 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
The effect of changes in the Arab world - II
Israelis and Palestinians, take note  - Yossi Alpher
Netanyahu should recognize that he has a powerful interest in strengthening the moderate Palestinian camp.

Ongoing, but more complex  - Ghassan Khatib
The most significant and dangerous phenomenon in the second phase of this "Arab spring" is foreign intervention.

Don't end the revolution without the Palestinians  - Zvi Bar'el
Israel will have to adapt to a reality in which a new partner has to be addressed: Arab public opinion.

Arab democratic change can only help Palestinians  - an interview with Samir Abdullah
What is good for the Arab people is good for the Palestinian people.

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Israelis and Palestinians, take note
 Yossi Alpher
The past ten days of revolution in the Arab world have been marked by four dramatic developments that could be relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its solution. Saudi Arabia led a Gulf Cooperation Council expeditionary force into Bahrain. A coalition of mainly western countries led an armed intervention in Libya upon the request of the Arab League. In Egypt, a referendum overwhelmingly approved a series of constitutional amendments that were supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and the army but opposed by the youth coalition that led the revolution. And violent protests against the regime erupted throughout Syria.

The revolutionary dynamic in Bahrain, Libya, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere has not yet run its course. Hence any attempt to draw lessons and point to ramifications from events in these countries must be cautious. Nevertheless, what is happening is so dramatic that it begs closer observation by Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Let's begin with the least likely ramifications and work back to the more immediately relevant. If the GCC can intervene militarily in Bahrain due to fear of Iranian-backed Shiite encroachment there, and if the Arab League can ask the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya in order to rescue the opposition to Muammar Gaddafi from defeat, this might conceivably suggest the possibility of armed Arab intervention in Palestinian affairs or in some aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is a school of Israeli strategic thought that has long proposed returning the West Bank, or part thereof, to Jordan, and the Gaza Strip to Egypt. Under present circumstances, such a "solution" is out of the question. But if the current revolutionary wave were to strike these territories in an extreme manner that endangers not only Israel but their Arab neighbors, perhaps the notion that those neighbors would intervene militarily could become a little less unrealistic. Meanwhile, as we shall see, more limited interaction between events in Palestine and those in neighboring countries is certainly possible.

The future of the Gaza Strip's relationship with Egypt is relevant also within the context of the Egyptian referendum, where for the first time since revolution broke out the Muslim Brotherhood played a central and influential role. It now has to be assumed that the Brotherhood, which is far better organized politically than Egypt's nebulous youth coalition and the more traditional but small parties like the Wafd, will emerge from September's parliamentary elections as a major power broker, tolerated by the armed forces and endorsed by a considerable portion of the electorate. The more extreme elements in the Hamas leadership make no secret of their anticipation that this will strengthen their hand--in Gaza, perhaps in Sinai, in the West Bank, and certainly in any future Hamas-Fateh negotiations over unity. Under these circumstances, Egypt might no longer support the Palestinian Authority leadership the way it did under Hosni Mubarak, while a clash between Israel and Hamas in Gaza could provoke a crisis between Israel and Egypt.

Meanwhile, events in Syria pose even greater uncertainties for Israel and the prospects of peace. The Bashar Assad regime has been asking Israel to renew peace negotiations for several years now. Virtually the entire Israeli security establishment endorsed the idea, due to the prospect of leveraging a Golan-for-peace deal into Damascus' agreement to distance itself from Iran, Hizballah and Hamas. Had they become a reality, Israeli-Syrian negotiations could have had far-reaching consequences for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, whether by pushing the latter to the back burner or by weakening Hamas.

At this point in time, however, Israel is well-advised to sit tight and wait. The outcome in Syria is impossible to predict. If the Assad regime falls, it could be replaced by either a secular or an Islamist Sunni regime or even by more militant Alawites desperate to preserve their vested interests. Or the Assad regime as we know it could survive, whether by liberalizing or, conceivably, by massacring large numbers of its opponents, as Hafez Assad did in Hama in 1982. The outcome, whatever it is, could potentially affect three Israel-related peace processes or prospects: with Syria, with Lebanon and with the Palestinians. It could also lead to war, if Syria's hundreds of missiles with their chemical warheads fall into the wrong hands.

Beyond these issues lie heavy questions regarding both the potential relationship between Arab democracy, if indeed it blooms, and Arab-Israel peace, as well as the ongoing relevancy of the Arab Peace Initiative in an era of radical Arab regime change. More immediately, however, we must address events inside Palestine that appear to derive their inspiration from the revolutions around us. Relatively moderate and limited youth demonstrations in Ramallah and Gaza have focused thus far on unity rather than on specific regime change in the West Bank or Gaza. Yet in Israeli eyes, even this fairly modest agitation apparently generated an intra-Palestinian political cycle that has played itself out in the form of mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza and terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Itamar.

More such cycles of events are almost certainly in store. It is apparently too late for Israel to initiate peace talks with Syria in the hope of forestalling or influencing revolutionary challenges there. But precisely because developments in Egypt, Syria and possibly even Jordan are liable to end up strengthening Hamas, the Netanyahu government should recognize that it has a powerful interest in strengthening the moderate Palestinian camp through a settlement freeze, confidence-building measures and, above all, sincere negotiations.-Published 28/3/2011

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Ongoing, but more complex
 Ghassan Khatib
Just when the revolutions in Egypt and Tunis are being consolidated and institutionalized in an impressive manner inspiring to other Arab countries, the movement for change in other Arab countries seems to be much slower and more complicated.

The different realities that inform each Arab country are strongly reflected in the movements for change sweeping Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Jordan.

While some of the same problems and instigating factors that led to successful movements in Egypt and Tunis exist in these Arab countries, other factors may complicate the situation there. One complication is the issue of religion and ethnicity, which has arisen both naturally and has been provoked intentionally. This was obvious in Bahrain but also in other countries. The ethno-religious aspect, in many cases emphasized by parties with interests in diverting attention from social and economic grievances, also introduced external factors in some of these countries.

The behavior of the regimes faced with waves of protest has varied, and has played a role in their outcome, complexity and duration. In Syria, for example, the tough response to the protests and the success in preventing independent media from witnessing and reporting may have played a role in the way they progressed.

The two interesting common denominators in the reactions of Arab governments have been first, to claim a role by foreign powers or Islamists or both, and second, to try to bribe the public with sudden and generous gestures such as increased wages. For the most part, this has backfired, however, not only because it always comes too late, but also because the way it is conveyed is perceived as insulting.

The most significant and dangerous phenomenon in the second phase of this "Arab spring" is foreign intervention, which began with an Arab military role in Bahrain and proceeded with an international military role in Libya. The US verbally "intervened" this week in Yemen, when US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "We have had a lot of counterterrorism cooperation from President Saleh and Yemeni security services. So if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we'll face some additional challenges out of Yemen."

While the military intervention in Libya might have been justified by the Arab League decision that approved it, and the inhuman and vicious attacks by Gaddafi forces on Libyan civilians, the international community has to be very cautious here, especially since the Arab people have become acutely sensitive to foreign intervention.

While the situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is very different, this regional wave hit Palestinians as well. Palestinian youth, also encouraged and inspired by the sprit and tools of the movements in Arab countries, especially Egypt, translated their anger and desire for freedom into the issue that they identified as the greatest domestic priority: the reconciliation of Palestinian factions.

In the West Bank, the movement was not as strong as it was in Gaza, which was explained by the fact that the division has a direct and weighty detrimental effect on the day-to-day life of Palestinians in Gaza, especially when compounded by Israel's closure policies. At the same time, the authority in the West Bank tolerated the protests and was responsive to them, culminating in President Mahmoud Abbas' initiative to go to Gaza to work on forming a national unity government and holding elections.-Published 28/3/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Don't end the revolution without the Palestinians
 Zvi Bar'el
"Now we are like orphans," mourned Zahi, a Palestinian student of political science at Birzeit University. "Egypt is gone, Saudi Arabia is not interested in our problems, Syria is shivering, and there is no Arab League to support us morally." One could argue that the Arab revolutionary movements, having not yet produced a new political order, have indeed left the Palestinians without a political hinterland. It seems as if the Arab states and regimes that were involved in the Palestinian cause and that initiated and signed the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 are now mostly preoccupied with their internal affairs and their actual survival.

Yet, it would be a mistake to bemoan or bury the Arab factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. First, while Egypt struggles to formulate a new contract between the state and its citizens, its foreign policy remains intact, leaning on its previous pillars until a new political elite maps new directions toward the world and the region. One interesting change, though, that is beginning to take shape is reconciliation between Egypt and Syria. It is not clear yet what impact this will have on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the Egyptian effort to rehabilitate a traditional Arab axis that includes Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria may hint at the perception that a unified Arab policy is still a strategic option.

Secondly, Saudi Arabia, which unsheathed its sharp claws in Bahrain, is establishing itself anew as an active player at the forefront of the regional stage. This is not the first time Saudi Arabia has intervened militarily in another country's territory; last year in Yemen, the Saudi Air Force was deployed against Shiite separatists. Meanwhile in Libya, brutal aggression against an insurrection has brought about a renewed show of force by Arab countries. Egypt's support for the rebels, Qatari participation in the war and the Arab League's demand to impose an aerial siege on Libya may all be reminiscent of Arab participation in the war against Iraq in 1991. But now there is a difference: now, intervention looks more like an Arab initiative, i.e., a product of Arab public opinion, and not an American or western campaign that drags the Arabs uninvited into war.

An Arab interventionist policy failed to materialize in the past, except for Syria's intervention in Lebanon. Now it stems from new realities. While the intervention of the Saudis in Bahrain and previously in Yemen reflected Saudi national interests, the unified Arab position toward Libya corresponds with the demands of the Arab public. Leaders in the Middle East realize that they are not as free as before to design policies, because their publics have proved to be powerful enough to topple two regimes and are not stopping there. Consequently, Arab regimes realize that to regain the hearts and minds of their publics it will not be enough merely to negotiate; now they have to display "good behavior" toward "suffering brothers". Reforming or even changing other regimes in the region may actually ensure a supportive public at home.

These new developments may reveal a new paradox, wherein a new solidarity among Arab publics may override previous solidarity among Arab leaders, with no Arab leader immune from his public's dictates. Arab publics, through their representative leaders, will probably not stop at realizing their civil rights but will demand a voice in foreign policy and will have to be appeased.

If this is the new political paradigm by which we analyze the latest events in Libya, Bahrain and Syria, we have to consider its implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any new political initiative that needs Arab consent, such as Arab League approval to hold direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, will now have to address a wider circle and convince public opinion of its merits. Further, any American initiative will need the consent of the Arab public once, or perhaps before, it gains the leaders' approval. And Israel will have to adapt to a reality in which a new partner has to be addressed: Arab public opinion, which prior to January 2011 was totally ignored.

This may spell bad news for the peace process. On the other hand, if the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships find a formula that convinces the Arab public--in addition to the Israeli and Palestinian publics--of its applicability, that agreement will now gain the much wider support of the people rather than just that of an ephemeral leader. And popular support may open the way to further agreements between Arab states and Israel that no longer depend on the political (or physical) lifespan of a particular leader.-Published 28/3/2011

Zvi Bar'el is analyst for Middle East affairs of Haaretz daily. His book, "When Cars Fell from Heaven"(in Hebrew) was published last year.

Arab democratic change can only help Palestinians
an interview with Samir Abdullah
bitterlemons: How do you see changes in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, affecting the Palestinian-Israeli peace process?

Abdullah: I strongly believe that what is good for the Arab people is good for the Palestinian people. So, if these changes lead to real democracies and an end to an era of bad governance and corruption, this definitely will reflect positively on the Palestinian people and on their drive for statehood and independence. This is in the medium and long run.

In the short run, these changes might have Arab governments focusing on their internal affairs and maybe will also take the focus of international media and public opinion away from the Palestinian issue.

bitterlemons: If this is a long-term game, then, how does the Palestinian Authority's plan to take its cause to the United Nations in September fit?

Abdullah: We have to go by our agenda, despite what is going on around us because we cannot assume that these changes will happen. We set our agenda according to international willingness to support the establishment of a Palestinian state and to end the conflict. [United States President Barack] Obama himself said that he hoped next year, when he was giving his speech in the United Nations, that the Palestinian state would be a member of this organization.

The agenda for negotiations was set so that September would be the end of the second year of talks. This is an international agenda, it is not a Palestinian creation only. We will stick to this agenda and go to the United Nations General Assembly and ask them to establish a Palestinian state.

bitterlemons: Are you optimistic?

Abdullah: This is what is expected from us. We have to follow this and put it to the countries who promised to complete a peace process by that date. We will see if the international community supports us or shows another intention.

bitterlemons: There are noises lately about distancing the Palestinian cause from the US grip, but the strategy of going to the UN also depends upon American policy. How do you see this playing out?

Abdullah: Unfortunately, US policy is maintaining a double standard. We know that the United States supports Israel at all times and in all cases, despite the fact that this has brought headaches to US interests all over, especially in the Arab world. Perhaps the changes in the Arab world will convince the US to change. This is an open hypocrisy that should end.

bitterlemons: Do you think that the international interventions in Libya and Bahrain have implications for Palestinians?

Abdullah: These are part of the crisis in the region. They are different. The grave danger that was threatened against the innocent Libyan people was one that the international community, even the Arab world, sought to stop. We wish that the change in Libya would have taken the same course as Egypt and Tunisia, but this is a really stupid type of regime that took a path that will not protect it anyway.

In Bahrain, this is different. The Gulf countries' tolerance towards protest is not strong. Also the majority of the population is Shiite and they feared intervention from Iran. They wanted to close the file as soon as possible to as not to allow influence from outside.

bitterlemons: So you don't see either case as a precedent that puts Palestinians closer to having international troops on the ground?

Abdullah: Of course, if you look at this aspect, we asked for international protection in Gaza and in the year 2002 when Israel invaded West Bank cities and its behavior became very aggressive. We asked for this protection, but it was rejected. Now if Israel were to commit such massacres and become such a grave threat to the Palestinian people, then we would again ask for international protection. We will see if it comes or not. Israel is not Gaddafi.-Published 28/3/20011 ©

Samir Abdullah is director of the Palestine Economic Policy Research institute (MAS).