By: Kenneth J. Bialkin, Chairman
America-Israel Friendship League
The world is watching the spreading demands for change by Arab citizens to throw off the shackles of autocratic and repressive rulers. So far, the governments of Tunisia and Egypt have fallen and demonstrations continue in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Morocco, and rumblings of unrest simmer elsewhere. A brutal and bloody civil war threatens in Libya. We do not yet know whether these strivings for freedom and democracy and demands for economic reforms, educational opportunities and jobs will produce meaningful change. At AIFL we respect and admire the strivings for democratic realization and reform by those who are seeking a better life and opportunities. A true respect for human rights and participatory democracy would bring great benefits to all the peoples in the Middle East.
Democratic ideals inflame the hopes of all subjugated peoples and one never knows what it is that provides the spark which ignites the fury. The seemingly spontaneous uprising in Tunisia may have been influenced by the advocacy of the Bush Administration seeking the spread of democracy in the Middle East. The process of seeking to form a democratic government in Iraq, which is still a work in progress, has been carefully watched in Arab lands and elsewhere.
Since 1948, virtually the entire Arab world (except Egypt and Jordan who have treaties with Israel) has opposed the State of Israel, and since 1967 has adhered to the Khartoum Declaration of No Peace, No Recognition, No Negotiation with Israel and has incited the Arab peoples towards hatred and rejection of Jews and Israel. They have employed scandalous lies and propaganda in their viscous assault and since 1979 Iran has joined that chorus. Yet, it is more than slightly remarkable that in all of the protests, complaints and demands of the leaders of the new Arab Revolt the name of Israel has hardly been mentioned, nor have there been cries of sympathy and support for the demands of the Palestinian Arabs, or for an end to Israeli residential construction in the West Bank or Jerusalem. Those complaints hopefully vanish in the face of the real, sincere and desperate pleas of Arab demonstrators for recognition of their civil and human rights and their demands for participatory democracy. Perhaps the time is coming that the Arab world will see that Israel and the Jewish people are not their enemies, but indeed offer the hand of peace and friendship and the opportunity to realize a New Middle East as advocated some years ago by Shimon Peres, now the President of Israel. Under Mubarak the Egyptian government maintained a "cold peace" with Israel and resisted demands from many sources to return to the state of war which prevails between many Arab states and Israel.
A major test will come when the Egyptian revolution runs its course and we will know whether the resulting government of Egypt will respect or repudiate its peace treaty with Israel. If it respects the Treaty, new frontiers of cooperation and advancement in the human condition of Egyptians will become possible. If Egypt abrogates its peace agreement with Israel, the clock will turn back to before 1977 when Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem and declared "No More War", which led to the peace treaty of 1979. Israel now hopes for the best but must plan for the worst. The military and political leadership of Israel must contemplate the consequences of a possible spread of Islamic radicalism and terrorism including the possibility of another war with Egypt. The Egyptian borders become possible battle lines opening up new military threats for the IDF. In such a case, not only Egypt, but an expected growth in the power and influence of Iran throughout the Arab world, must also be included in IDF planning. The prospect of war is a two-way street and the leaders of Egypt and Iran must also contemplate the prospect of hostilities against Israel. The situation is complicated by uncertainty about the reactions of the United States. It is well known that United States influence in the Middle East and elsewhere has recently weakened. Israel's planners must consider how much it can rely on its traditional friendship and support from the United States.
Having failed to destroy Israel in more than seven wars, or through terrorism, suicide bombings, anti-Semitic incitement of Arab public opinion and relentless propaganda, Israel's enemies have turned to non-military warfare. This involves an insidious attack on the legitimacy of the State of Israel, efforts to expel it from the United Nations and other elements of the international community, organization of boycotts directed against Israeli universities, students and teachers, businesses and products, and efforts to charge Israeli diplomats and government officials with violations of international law.
The attack on Israel's legitimacy has extended to efforts by the Palestinian Authority and others to hi-jack the biblical and historical history of the Jewish people. They deny that Jews had any historical relation to Jerusalem and other areas of ancient Israel and they assert false claims of their own existence in the Holy Land from biblical times even though the birth of the Islamic religion did not begin until the time of Mohammad in the eighth century. The Jewish claim for land and recognition derive from the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, King David and the prophets. This claim has abided for more than 3,000 years, persevering through the creation and universal reverence of the Bible. The Bible reports that in his first year (516 BCE), Cyrus, the King of Persia, in order to reverse the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 597 BCE, and to fulfill the prophesy of Jeremiah, proclaimed that he had been charged by the Lord to build a house in Jerusalem and to send the Jews in his kingdom to "go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (he is the God) which is in Jerusalem" (Second Book of Chronicles 36:23). The revival of Zionism more than 100 years ago is a part of that history and its legitimacy lies in the continuous belief and aspirations of the Jewish people.
Israel's friends among many in the Christian community recognize Israel's historical and biblical rights and are eloquent testimony against the efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. An example of the issues distorted out of proportion in the assault against Israel is the question of Israeli construction in the West Bank. The so-called "settlements" in the West Bank range from isolated outposts to thriving cities like Ariel, population 40,000 including students at Ariel University, were authorized by successive Israeli governments following Israel's victory in the Six Day War in 1967 against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and other Arab states. Other small settlements were not authorized by the Israel government, which has ordered some to close, sometimes forcibly. The Obama Administration and the U.S. State Department has regarded them as illegal, different than the Reagan and Bush Administrations, which, from time to time, regarded them only as obstacles to peace. The issue of legality has been vigorously debated and disputed for many years. It has also been, and remains, the subject of debate in the American Jewish community. In 1982, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations debated the subject and declared its consensus view that the settlements were neither illegal nor an obstacle to peace. Most of the Arab world regards Israel itself in its entirety as illegal. Israel has offered to negotiate these issues in settlement discussions. Yet, it is this issue that almost stopped the U.S. from vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution to condemn the "settlements."
The demands of radical, militant Islam for the establishment of a world caliphate defy belief. The western world left the Middle Ages in the 16th Century with the Christian Reformation and the time is overdue for the Muslim world to do the same. Egypt could lead the way by reaffirming its treaty with Israel and firmly confirming Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. It would then be a matter of a short time for the rest of the Arab world to follow. The present Arab revolt provides an opportunity for such progress.
For Egypt, the prospect of a warmer peace with Israel, with the establishment of commercial and business ties, enhanced foreign investment and trade, cultural and civic exchanges, joint development programs to reduce poverty and unemployment, is an opportunity which if not seized now may never come again.