The Right-Wing Israeli Case That the Arab Spring Is Good for Israel

By Zvika Krieger

The popular uprisings across the Middle East have found surprising boosters: some right-wing opponents of the two-state solution.

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Moroccans march in support of Palestine this April. (Reuters).

TEL AVIV, Israel -- The conventional wisdom, both here in Israel and abroad, is that the popular movements sweeping across the Arab world are bad news for Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently described the Arab Spring as an "Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, and anti-democratic wave," saying that "Israel is facing a period of instability and uncertainty in the region. This is certainly not the time to listen to those who say follow your heart."

The contention that the Arab Spring is bad for Israel hinges on the assessment that the old regimes in the region are being replaced by more populist, anti-Israel forces, exacerbated by the rise of Islamist groups. (Most Israelis I met prefer the term "Islamist Winter" to describe what is happening around them.) Israelis are convinced that Egypt will abrogate its treaty with them, and that even regimes that are not overthrown will have to be more sensitive to popular will and thus be pushed to adopt more hostile postures toward Israel. As Graham Fuller, former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, put it succinctly : "The biggest single loser [of the Arab Spring], hands down, is Israel."

As it relates to the Palestinians, many Israelis are arguing, this period of instability and unpredictability is not the time to make concessions. As American Jewish Community Executive Director David Harris recently wrote, "Since the upheaval began in Tunisia, Israel's immediate security environment has become more, not less, challenging. The chances for peace, already remote, seem still more distant."

But during my current trip in Israel, I've been finding a positive take on the Arab Spring coming from an unexpected place: right-wing Israelis, particularly opponents of the two-state solution. From former security officials to West Bank settlers, I heard a surprisingly large number of Israelis arguing that the Arab Spring will actually solve their problems with the Palestinians.

The first step of their argument is that the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over Egypt, so soon enough they will be will be willing to annex Gaza (run by the Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas). The group is certainly not hampered by former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's fear that annexing Gaza would strengthen his domestic Islamist opponents. So Israel will no longer have to worry about that strip of land from which it unilaterally withdrew in 2005, but for which the international community still holds Israel responsible.

The next phase of the argument is that Jordan, though seemingly quiet, is actually brewing with discontent among its Palestinian population (which some estimates put at over 50 percent of the country), and a Palestinian overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy is inevitable, clearing the way for a Palestinian state in Jordan or the Jordanian annexation of the Palestinian cities in the West Bank. The "Jordan is Palestine" argument is a familiar trope on the Israeli right that reappears every few years, but the Arab Spring has, surprisingly, breathed new life into it.

Thus, in their minds, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is no longer an inevitability. There is no need for Israel to make painful concessions as part of a negotiations process. Settlement construction can continue apace since there will be no need to create a viable, contiguous Palestinian entity. In their minds, the Arab Spring, ironically, is killing the two-state solution.

Their analysis is naive on many levels. Most notably, the Palestinians would be unlikely to ever agree to any of this. And the analysis of their neighbors are also misguided.

They may be correct that Jordan's facade of stability is starting to show significant cracks, and that Jordan's Palestinian population is getting riled up by the neighboring revolutions. But as the International Crisis Group argues in their recent paper, the Hashemite regime will only fall if there is an alliance between the Palestinian population and native Jordanians -- often referred to as West Bankers and East Bankers. And while there are signs that this is happening more than ever before, it is hardly a solid alliance. And even if they manage to unite to overthrow the King, some power-sharing arrangement will be necessary -- and it is unlikely that East Bankers would ever agree to tip the demographic balance so dramatically by annexing the Palestinian territories of the West Bank.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is certainly gaining political power in the wake of Mubarak's overthrow. Their decision to run a presidential candidate after their blowout parliamentary victory, a striking break from their strategy of incrementalism, is interpreted by many as an effort to consolidate "full-spectrum authority." Analysts who dismissed the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, underestimating the group's influence and support across the country, were surprised to watch him come out on top of the country's elections last week. He will face a run-off vote against the more secular Ahmed Shafiq.

But having a government that is more hostile to Israel and more sympathetic to the Palestinians (and Hamas in particular) is not the same thing as annexing the Gaza Strip. The key Palestinian demand is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state; annexing the Gaza Strip is most certainly a move in the opposite direction.

I have no scientific way of knowing how widespread this Israeli embrace of the Arab Spring is. I have yet to hear it made publicly by current Israeli officials or in op-ed pages. But public-opinion experts and analysts I consulted with in Israel say that this view is becoming increasingly common in living-room conversations throughout the country. At the very least, it is an interesting paradox to hear the most vehement Israeli critics of the Arab Spring also celebrate its developments.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/05/the-right-wing-israeli-case-that-the-arab-spring-is-good-for-israel/257813/