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An Open Letter to the “Arab Street”


This was written by Benjamin Kerstein and was published at Jewish Ideas Daily.

First and foremost, congratulations. Even from our vantage point on the other side of a seemingly unbridgeable divide between our peoples, the extraordinary nature of what you have accomplished in recent weeks is obvious. The eventual outcome of your revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere is clearly still in question, but there is no doubt that by your actions you have changed the Middle East, possibly forever.

From our point of view, two very ironic things have emerged from what you have done. The first is that, contrary to the widely held belief that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the main reason for the “anger” of the Arab street, and the great impediment to political reform in the region, Israel’s name has been all but absent from your demonstrations and protests. This, in and of itself, is a hopeful sign. The second is that Israel’s own reaction to these events, despite their great promise, has been an ambivalent one.

The reason for our generally cautious and skeptical approach to your revolution is simple: we do not know if it is real or not. At this point, it is quite possible that you do not know, either. But if it is indeed real, and if it is here to stay, safe from the forces of reaction religious or secular, then there is no doubt that you will soon face an extraordinary opportunity. Through your silence on the subject, you yourselves have signaled that Israel is not, after all, the major obstacle to progress in your region. But the war against Israel certainly has been. You now have a chance to rid yourselves of that obstacle once and for all.

These days, amid the endless discussions about how much or how little Israel will or should concede in order to achieve peace, it is easy to forget that the Arab-Israeli conflict was, in fact, an Arab creation—in particular, a creation of the leaders you are now in the process of shrugging off. None of the wars between us, let alone the hundred-year war waged by the Arab world against Zionism, had to happen. They were wars of choice. Had your predecessors acknowledged our rights from the beginning and found some way to accommodate Zionism geographically and politically, we might have avoided a century of conflict. The cost of not doing so has been extremely high for both of us.

On our side, we have had to contend with constant fear, constant readiness, and the inevitable casualties of war. But the effect on you has been even more deleterious. War and hatred, with Israel and Zionism as their perpetual justification, have entrenched autocracy and authoritarianism in your countries, undermined your civic culture with conspiracy theory and violence, and stunted political and economic progress. And all of it was and is unnecessary.

The new openness and liberalism that we all pray will result from your uprising will present a unique opportunity to change this state of affairs. What is required is only one radical and courageous act: call off the war against us. Unilaterally and unconditionally, make peace with the state of Israel.

Read the rest of the essay, here.

8 replies »

  1. Why do I feel this may not be appreciated? I have yet to read of an Arab opposition member confirming that, “War and hatred, with Israel and Zionism as their perpetual justification, have entrenched autocracy and authoritarianism in your countries…”

  2. tltr

    too long to read.

    Who is its audience – certainly not the Arab Street.

    The Parisian Boulevard? The London Crescent?

  3. “The new openness and liberalism that we all pray will result from your uprising will present a unique opportunity to change this state of affairs. What is required is only one radical and courageous act: call off the war against us. Unilaterally and unconditionally, make peace with the state of Israel.”

    And we are all waiting for the Bibi initiative to take advantage of this unique opportunity …..
    .. and waiting ….
    … and waiting …
    ….

  4. Bella, Arabs will not appreciate it. They are enmeshed in a belief system which teaches that only war will bring about the rule of their cult on earth. Phobic avoidance of compromise is ingrained into them since childhood.

    To be able to put oneself in another’s shoes necessitates a certain cognitive maturity. This “revolution” (about which the Western media and Western leaders are almost delirious) is summed up for me by a sound byte on my national news near the beginning, in Tahrir Square, where a wild-eyed idiot was yelling hoarsely – “We want democracy and we will not compromise!”

    The capability to compromise is a vital prerequisite for democratic rule, as I understand it.

  5. MTC

    And we are all waiting for the Bibi initiative to take advantage of this unique opportunity …..

    Maybe you should have read the second part of the sentence before your usual Bibi bashing:

    What is required is only one radical and courageous act: call off the war against us.

    We (not you but we the huge majority) are waiting exactly for this.

  6. Peter:
    Maybe you should read something before you instinctively attack me. I actually agree with the article but I am not so naive to think that “one radical and courageous act …. Unilaterally and unconditionally, make peace” can be unilateral at the practical level, i.e, it is one one thing to issue a stirring declaration and it is another to work out the details. I hope the author does not believe that peace can be achieved by maintaining and formalizing the status quo in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. So if there is a “window of opportunity” to end the conflict now, should Israel take the initiative or simply wait until the other side comes cap-in-hand ? I am not proposing or discussing details here, but rather whether it is in Israel’s interest to take the initiative at this time. My comment merely says that my guess is that the govt will decide not to and don’t be surprised if there is universal negative reaction. As I said yesterday, this govt thinks it can have everything without paying the price – peace, security, prosperity and international support while maintaining the status quo – and the more this becomes impossible the more frustrated and irrational it gets.

  7. MindTheCrap

    I hope the author does not believe that peace can be achieved by maintaining and formalizing the status quo in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.

    The author jumps over all the rhetoric of the IP conflict and is saying to the Arabs – Show us that you really accept a Jewish State in such a way that we will loose all reason to think that you are not negotiating in bad faith. ie. That your preferred end result is actually destroying Israel as a Jewish Democratic Zionist state.

    Following is a link to an example of how Arafat negotiated in bad faith by one of his worshipers, Bari Atwan. Atwan seems so oblivious about the consequences of what he is ‘sharing’ here with the interviewer. (Arafat was a rank liar and cheat).

  8. MTC

    I hope the author does not believe that peace can be achieved by maintaining and formalizing the status quo in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. So if there is a “window of opportunity” to end the conflict now, should Israel take the initiative or simply wait until the other side comes cap-in-hand ?

    And I do believe that if the Arab side showed some interest in peace then we would have a different government. Sadly the majority will vote for Bibi until it will be convinced that Israel has a bona fide partner.

    And what “window of opportunity”?
    Making peace with Abbas – who can’t and doesn’t want to deliver it?
    Or signing a “hudna” with Hamas?

    My worries are not the window of whatever illusory vista but Amidror’s appointment.