Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Revolution in Tunisia, Reform in Jordan Unleashes Anti-Jewish Forces

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By Barry Rubin

Recently, when I spoke on developments in Egypt, a serious and respected Middle East expert claimed that there was no sign of anti-American or anti-Israel slogans in Egypt or Tunisia during their revolutions. Really?

This is simply not true. The fact that a Jewish prayer room was burned down in Tunisia received only one passing mention in the New York Times, and none at all in other major newspapers. Moreover, we now can see footage of a big Islamist demonstration in Tunisia in front of the main synagogue including anti-Jewish chants.

Notice that as the marcher shout  "Slaughter the Jews!" and "The Army of Khybar is coming," a reference to the seventh-century massacre of Jews in the Arabian penninsula, one man photographs it all on his telephone. Hi-tech friendly and Facebook-savvy indeed.

Of course, this doesn't represent the views of all Tunisians, who are arguably the most tolerant people in the Arab world, but it does represent the Islamists, who are not so moderate after all.

Meanwhile, the possibility that a future Egypt government might cancel the Egypt-Israel treaty--a position taken by both the Muslim Brotherhood and the two leading reform leaders (Ayman Nour and Muhammad ElBaradei)--shows how difficult it is for Israel to make deals with its neighbors.

In Jordan, where a new government has taken office as a step toward reform, there's another chilling example In 1997, a Jordanian soldier named Ahmad al-Daqamsa guarding an area of land that Israel had returned to Jordan in their treaty, which had been made into a peace park, murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls there on a visit. King Hussein of Jordan touched Israeli hearts by coming to Israel and visiting the victims' families. The killer was sentenced to life in prison.

But King Hussein, like Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, is dead. Now the new Jordanian Justice Minister Hussein Mujali, has called for Daqamsa's release from prison. He even joined a trade union demonstration demanding this. Both Islamists and human rights' activists--yes, that's right, moderate, freedom-loving human rights' activists--have called for his release, too.

You see, nothing is an easier way to court popularity from the crowd than to bash Israel, and nothing would make a government more popular overnight than cancelling a treaty with Israel, though this might not actually happen because of external factors.

But wait! The Jordanian government says it won't release Daqamsa. Yet this is not a democratic government. It doesn't have to bend to popular demands. It can keep the peace treaty with Israel or a close relationship with the United States even if the masses don't like it. That same government proposed repealing laws that make "honor killing" something far less than murder. Yet popular demand prevented that from happening.

The idea that the popular is always the more moderate fails to comprehend a great deal of world history.

This is why nonsense like this by Thomas Friedman is dangerously false:

"The Arab tyrants, precisely because they were illegitimate, were the ones who fed their people hatred of Israel as a diversion. If Israel could finalize a deal with the Palestinians, it will find that a more democratic Arab world is a more stable partner. Not because everyone will suddenly love Israel (they won’t). But because the voices that would continue calling for conflict would have legitimate competition, and democratically elected leaders will have to be much more responsive to their people’s priorities, which are for more schools not wars."

Now nobody has written more than I have--in books like The Long War for Freedom, The Tragedy of the Middle East--about how this system worked. Yet the "voices that would continue calling for conflict" would include Hamas and a large portion of Fatah. Indeed--and read this carefully--the most obvious successor to Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority is Muhammad Ghaneim, who opposes any deal with Israel and would tear up any such agreement made by Abbas.

Logic has nothing to do with how people write about these issues. Hasn't the "Palestine Papers" affair once again shown how angry is the reaction to even the slightest compromise with Israel? The head of the negotiations' unit, who dared suggest some concessions, had to resign.

Let us assume for the moment that the peace treaty Israel and Lebanon came close to signing in 1982 was completed. Would the Hizballah-dominated regime, that came to power in free elections, abrogate that treaty? Of course it would.

If democracy is established in Arabic-speaking states there will be Islamist and leftist, and radical nationalist parties that will use demagoguery to get votes. In no Arabic-speaking country is there a strong liberal party, and that includes places where there is a relatively open political system like Kuwait, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Have no doubt, and I deeply regret having to write this, that if Israel ever were to make a peace treaty with the Palestinian leadership, a revolution or new leadership--whether dictatorial or democratic--would not feel bound by that deal if that government felt it could do better or win mass adulation by breaking it, demanding changes, or just ignoring the provisions and their promises.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

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