It's almost a given among the Israeli center and right that there's no urgency to the matter of making peace with stubbornly hostile Arab states. Maybe in ten or twenty years, the climate in the region will be better, they say, so why rush?
But I'm wondering if the wave of unrest sweeping across the region and toppling some Arab governments doesn't argue otherwise. The various dictators Israel has pointed to as primary sources of the conflict are in trouble – and Israel, apparently, isn't happy about it, fearing the populist sentiment that threatens the kings and dictators may result in something even worse.
Doesn't that suggest that the theory that putting off tough decisions about peace until there's a more favorable climate in these countries is a pipe dream? And that the once-popular argument that Israel can only make peace with democracies is deeply flawed? It's interesting how you don't hear that one anymore.
In today's Washington Post, Janine Zacharia reports the latest chapter in this saga. Israel's leaders, after years of berating Syrian leader Bashar Assad and his late father, are now nervous about the demonstrations sweeping Syria that may be harbingers of a movement that could eventually topple his ruthless regime.
For all his support for anti-Israel terrorist groups and his resistance to negotiations without preconditions with Israel, “Assad, like his father before him, has ensured that the Israeli-Syrian border has remained Israel’s quietest front for decades, enabling that country’s northern residents to flourish in an atmosphere of relative peace even as the two nations remain technically in a state of war,” she writes.
Even more unsettling to Israelis is the “possibility that the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood or radical groups could rise to power in place of Syria’s secular, stable leadership.”
Israel knows Assad, she writes; it can live with him. It doesn't know if it can live with what comes next, whatever that is.
(Today's Jerusalem Post reports that Assad, clinging to power, has blamed an “American-Israeli plot” and Facebook for the unrest. If this guy found a bug in his hummos he'd say it was an American-Israeli plot.)
There's a counterargument here: that it doesn't make sense to sign treaties and make territorial compromises with leaders who may be gone tomorrow, replaced by radicals who will happily tear the treaties up.
But if that's what defines Israel's policy, it guarantees a future of endless, escalating conflict for the tiny Jewish state. And I don't think that's the future its founders envisioned.
Doesn't all this unrest and change in the region suggest there is no perfect time to make peace? And that putting things off doesn't necessarily ameliorate the very real risks in an peace process?
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