February 2, 2011
With the recent dramatic events in Tunisia triggering off public demonstrations in several countries throughout the Arab world, there is anticipation that perhaps a real change is finally coming to the troubled region. In an area of the world known for brutal and repressive leaders, minimal freedom of expression, extreme poverty and state corruption, any change for the good would certainly be welcomed.
However, before all the area analysts and political pundits rush to declare that a new epoch is upon us, a word of caution is due. Although the current demonstrations are unique in that they are occurring concomitantly in several different Arab countries, the fact is that the region has a history of events that started positively only to end disappointingly. A few examples should suffice.
For starters, there were the massive strikes and demonstrations throughout Iran in the late 1970s against the leader of the Iranian monarchy, the western-backed Shah of Iran. Although viewed abroad in a favorable light for promoting secularization and modernization, internally the Shah and his regime was considered corrupt and oppressive. The protests succeeded in ousting the despised Shah, something truly positive for the citizens of Iran. However, the joy proved to be short lived as the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in place of the deposed Shah. Thirty years later, the country, the region and the world are still being negatively influenced by these turn of events.
Further west there was the case of Algeria, where economic woes and years of little or no political freedom led to protests throughout the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These in turn forced the ruling regime to permit the formation of new political parties and the holding of real democratic elections. Although such elections were exactly what the western world wanted, the results were not. After easily sweeping the local elections and then the first round of the parliamentary elections, the main Islamic party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was poised to win the final round and take control of the government. However, being fearful of the intentions of the FIS, the military stepped in and seized power and promptly cancelled the election process. This was followed by arrests and crackdowns against the Islamists, which in turn led to a brutal and grotesque ten-year civil.
Closer to home, most of the world felt a deep sense of satisfaction when roughly five years ago the Arabs agreed to hold real democratic elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, or Parliament, of the Palestinian National Authority. However, the smiles quickly faded as the voters provided Hamas with a decisive victory in the January 2006 elections.
Finally, the toppling of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq, certainly a good thing for humanity, has nonetheless failed to solve the problems of that country and has in fact ushered in more bloodshed and destruction.
The point is that seemingly positive changes in the Arab or Islamic world frequently lead to unforeseen situations that prove to be as bad as or even worse than the original situation.
How then does all this connect to Israel? It’s quite simple. For years many supposed “right-wing” and “nationalist” leaders have been saying that Israel cannot trade land for peace until real democratization takes place in the region. Thus, rather than fostering public opinion by unequivocally stating what many of them certainly believe to be true, namely that the Land of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River belongs to the Jewish people, they’ve merely created a further stipulation for giving away more land.
In light of the current events in the region, this reluctance to clearly state the truth may come back to haunt us. As the events unravel, there’s a good chance that there might be some real free democratic elections and perhaps even some regime changes. Never mind the fact that based upon the history of the region it’s doubtful that these changes will lead to real democratization. Just the changes and the events themselves, together with universal short-term memory, will cause some to argue that things are headed in a positive direction and hence the time is right for Israel to relinquish more land. Should this happen, the same “right-wing” and “nationalist” leaders that made Arab democratization a precondition for relinquishing more land will have a hard time countering such claims.
Thus, before it’s too late all right-wing and nationalist leaders should publicly declare that regardless of any changes in the Arab world, the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. One has absolutely no bearing on the other.