By Shimon Z. Klein

Bat Hefer, Israel

The last few months we have all witnessed sweeping changes in much of the Arab world. It started in Tunisia with the overthrow of corrupt President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, snowballing into Egypt with Mubarak’s downfall. 

Yemen has chronic civil hiccups with its leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the demonstrations there are lower key. Oman is also showing signs of unrest, but that seems under control for the time being. Bahrain is in the game as well with demonstrations followed by an uneasy calm. The bloodiest and most serious uprising is in Libya where deaths are now running into the thousands with total chaos continuing unabated. Qaddafi is still clinging on to power tenaciously. The Libyan situation has degenerated into civil war. Qaddafi’s power base is weakening but the fight will be tedious and long. 

It is impossible to predict which Arab country will be next in line for revolution. Even Iran – a non-Arab country – has had some unrest but Ahmadinajad’s security forces have succeeded to suppress unrest wherever it has occurred. The Iranian dictatorship is strong and the Basij of Ahmadinajad is cruel and relentless.  How will all these changes in the Arab world affect the Palestinian people? At this stage it is difficult to say. We are all aware that since the uprisings against the oppressive despotic regimes in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has been put on the back-burner.

No doubt, the effects of the uprisings will also influence Palestinian thinking and attitudes towards the autocratic dictatorships that are leading them whether it is Hamas-controlled Gaza or the Fatah-controlled West Bank. The uprisings in the various autocratic states of the Middle East despite their ethnic and environmental differences have the same goals – goals of individual freedom, democracy, improved economic conditions, which have been denied the majority of Arab people in their respective countries and this includes lack of jobs and opportunities for newly qualified professionals.

These problems exist in the West Bank and Gaza as well. The leaders of both Palestinian areas are as anti-democratic as their despotic counterparts in the Arab world. Added to these problems are the problems created by the Israeli occupation and the continuing of building illegal settlements in areas designated to be the future Palestinian state. If there are no peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian people then it is hard to imagine how the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians will ever be solved.

 A possible scenario that could occur is that if peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians do begin, there could be an insurrection as is occurring in the Arab world resulting in the fall of the non-democratic governments in the West Bank and Gaza. If this happens, there could be chaos and there would be no representatives to negotiate with Israel. On the other hand, an insurrection against Hamas and Fatah could have a positive effect on the peace process as a new order could be more amenable to democracy and steer away from Islamic extremism.

The situation is so unpredictable that anything unexpected can occur. The Palestinian people have had enough suffering and hardships. They all want peace and are tired of the conflict. They want independence from the Israeli occupation as well as achieving democracy like their Arab counterparts in the uprisings against their ruling autocrats. The stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians could be ended when the old despotic Fatah and Hamas regimes are overthrown as in Tahrir Square in Cairo.  

Israel must also change its attitude and be prepared to end the occupation. Settlements on Palestinian occupied territory must be frozen and the illegal settlers must be resettled within the green line. Any government that takes over after a possible uprising in the Palestinian occupied lands will oppose the oppressive occupation. Israel must be prepared to end the occupation without compromising the security of its citizens. Riding out “the winds of change” in the Middle East is no option. Dialogue must begin now!

President Mahmoud Abbas could be viewed as the “Mubarak” of the Palestinians by the Palestinians themselves. If this occurs, the road to peace will be even more complicated if Israel does not change its attitude towards the occupation and take concrete steps to end it. Israel had relied on Mubarak, the dictator, as a broker to maintain peace. Israel like the rest of the world never expected his fall from power. Now, more than ever before, are opportunities to end the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Failure to do so could be disastrous and another of many opportunities would be lost to the detriment of all parties involved.

 Islamic extremism is now not the issue in the Arab world. The Arab people realize that Islamic extremism is against democracy and human rights. Hamas is no less on the firing line than any other despotic regimes in the Arab world. The young people of Palestine also know that like their Arab counterparts, they are being exploited by autocratic religious leaders.  

It is hoped that Israel heeds the wake up call and ceases to play into the hands of its right wing, racist extremists, who are part of its macabre visionless, unimaginative coalition.  Why should it be dangerous for Israel if it is joined by new democracies in the Middle East? What is occurring now in the Middle East proves that nothing is impossible. 

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