It’s clearer than ever: Israel is Not the problem

Posted on July 15, 2012


Roots of tension in  the Arab world are far deeper than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By           / NEW  YORK DAILY NEWS

Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 7:00 AM
  Syrian protesters hurl stones at the Israeli army along the Syria-Israel border last year. Syria’s Bashar Assad and others never miss a chance to point the finger at Israel — but the Arab Spring is proof that the Jewish State is not the obstacle to peace and stability.

MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty  Images

Syrian protesters hurl stones at the  Israeli army along the Syria-Israel border last year. Syria’s Bashar Assad and  others never miss a chance to point the finger at Israel — but the Arab Spring  is proof that the Jewish State is not the obstacle to peace and  stability.

In Syria, body parts are strewn across the streets of Damascus while  heartbreaking images — row upon row of children’s corpses — flash across the TV  screens in our living rooms.

In Bahrain, doctors are thrown into jail for treating injured  protestors.

In Iran, the mullahs defy international sanctions in an unrelenting quest to  achieve nuclear breakout capability — a breakpoint that would undoubtedly set  off a nuclear arms race in the region.

Yet, incredibly, 18 months into the Arab Spring, we’re still being fed the  myth that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root cause of all instability  in the Middle East. Its resolution, we are told, would alleviate all tensions  and solve the most pressing problems in the region.

Just recently, the brutal Assad regime had the audacity to argue before the  UN Human Rights Council that Israel’s occupation remains the main obstacle for  peace and stability in the region. This from a regime that is running 27 “torture centers” across the country and has slaughtered thousands of its own  people in a civil war that can potentially ignite a major conflagration.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is neither the defining issue of the region  nor the principal source of Arab discontent. Considering the 1,300-year-old span  and depth of the Sunni-Shiite divide, the century old Israeli-Arab conflict  seems brief by comparison. In truth, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a  convenient sideshow to the real problems within Arab societies and an  implausible excuse used by Arab dictators who have ill-served the interests of  their own populations and are now reaping the consequences of that neglect.

Protesters marching against their own repressive regimes throughout the  Middle East are demanding freedom, human rights and a more equitable  distribution of national resources and wealth. More than an Arab Spring, this is  a Winter of Arab Discontent: Discontent that is a result of high unemployment  rates within societies that are predominantly young (the median age in Egypt is  24).

According to a survey conducted by public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, “Earning a fair wage and owning a home are now the two highest priorities for  young people in the Middle East.” In short, people would like a job and to be  able to put food on the table.

In the vacuum created by the Arab Spring uprisings, new and dangerous  alliances are being formed based on the Sunni-Shiite schism. Iran, the world’s  leading state sponsor of terrorism and the preeminent Shiite power in the  region, is dangerously extending its influence, using proxies such as Hezbollah  and alliances with Syria and Iraq. In an already volatile and unstable region,  the rise of political Islam is a risky development that must not be ignored or  obfuscated.

 

While no one can predict the future, Israel strongly believes that there is  an opportunity in this current state of uncertainty and ambiguity. We hope for  regional peace and prosperity and for the promise of democracy to be fulfilled  for all of our neighbors. However, as Israel knows from its experience in the  Gaza elections, which brought Hamas to power, “democracy” is just as much an end  goal as it is a tool — a tool that is often used and abused by Islamist parties  to seize power. Democracy is about much more than elections.

In 1979, while educated, pro-democracy youth in Iran helped take down the  shah with their own version of Tahrir Square, they were unable to translate  spontaneous outbursts into political power, which was ultimately seized by the  Islamists. The Islamic Republic of Iran, focused not on democracy, but on  exporting Islamic revolution and terror throughout the world, stands as a memory  of this failure.

The problems facing our region are systemic, and the Arab Spring uprisings  did not eliminate them, but rather exposed them for the world to see. Civil  society in the Arab world is as fractured and complex as ever. The democratic  process is just beginning for the region, and immense challenges face both the  electorate and its leaders.

One thing is certain: Their destiny is entirely in their own hands. While no  one expects parliamentary elections to settle millenniums-old religious  conflicts or to lift the economy overnight, prioritizing democracy and quality  of life over sectarian politics is a winning formula that Israel proudly  supports and believes to be the best hope for long-term regional stability.

It is our hope that this course will eventually lead the region to a path of  unity, true democracy and prosperity for Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. But  while it is critically important to bring about a full and fair resolution to  the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recent events should serve as a reminder to us  all: When discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a regional perspective on  the true nature of Arab discontent is imperative.

Aharoni serves as Israel’s consul general in New York. In 1993-94, he was  a member of Israel’s team in negotiations with the Palestinians.

 

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