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Afternoons with IPCRI Regional Transformations in the Middle East: How Will They Affect Israel and Palestine

July 24, 2013 Dan Panorama, Tel Aviv

The latest installment of “Afternoons with IPCRI” focused on the regional transformation of the Middle East following the Arab Spring and its effects of the PalestinianIsraeli conflict. Walid Salem, the General Manager of The Center for Democracy and Community Development, joined Dr. Benedetta Berti, a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, and Ashraf Al-Ajrami, the Palestinian Minister of Prisoner’s Affairs, to discuss these issues. Dan Goldenblatt, IPCRI’s Israeli co-Director, opened the event with remarks on the rapidly changing landscape of the Middle East. Mr. Goldenblatt noted that Israel was better at “putting out fires as it goes” than it is at creating sustainable and permanent foreign policies. He gave context to the subsequent speakers, citing the second Gaza War, the collapse of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood government, and Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as examples of possible flashpoints for conflict. According to Mr. Goldenblatt, Israel has a choice – it can either wait out the turmoil, or act now to become an active participant in the reshaping of the Middle East. The first speaker, Mr. Walid Salem, cited the French Revolution as an analogue to the current turbulence in the Middle East. Noting that the worst violence of the French Revolution occurred after the initial political reordering, Mr. Salem noted that any nation’s progress to democracy was likely to take the form of a “zig-zag,” not a straight line. However, although Mr. Salem predicted a few years of chaos, he also noted important trends in public opinion polls throughout the Arab world. First, that Arabs do not want a continued violent conflict with Israel. Second, the Arab world does not seek normalization with Israel, as long as the occupation of Palestinian territories continues. Mr. Salem recommended a change in Israeli policy (ending the occupation) to sway the Arab publics in favor of normalizing relations. Mr. Salem took an optimistic stance about the future of peace in the Middle East, noting that the Arab Peace Initiative (API) provides a timely incentive for Israel to act and become a partner in a future regional peace deal which could “provide security for all countries in the region,” including Israel. Mr. Salem noted that with the armies of Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Hezbollah out of commission or entangled in their own conflicts, Israel was in a fantastic position to act in the interest of creating lasting Middle East peace. The second speaker, Dr. Berti, agreed with Mr. Salem about the need for immediate Israeli action to take advantage of the malleable political climate of the Middle East. Dr. Berti cited the social, economic, and political shifts in the region as the visible evidence of a wide undercurrent of Arab society that is mobilizing in favor of open political dialogue. Dr. Berti, citing Israeli concerns about instability in neighboring countries, recommended that Israel recognize the inevitability of short-term instability, and should act now to lay the foundations to address deep structural problems like economic stagnation and toxic citizen/state relations. Dr. Berti criticized Israel’s choice of “stability now rather than a www.ipcri.org www.facebook.com/IPCRI office@ipcri.org +972 (0)2 676 9460


Afternoons with IPCRI Regional Transformations in the Middle East: How Will They Affect Israel and Palestine

July 24, 2013 Dan Panorama, Tel Aviv

democratic Middle East after a decade of instability,” as a false dichotomy, an example of a short-sighted Israeli foreign policy that would eventually collapse, bringing harm to Israel. Dr. Berti ended by endorsing an end to Israeli orientalism, saying that Israeli politicians mischaracterize Israel as the sole “beacon of light” in the region. Dr. Berti recommends Israeli re-engagement into the Middle East, not as a Western occupying power, but as a Semitic Middle Eastern state. Dr. Berti also emphasized the importance of an Israeli paradigm shift to one that emphasizes human and social security over state security. The third speaker, Ashraf Al-Ajrami, pointed out the difficulty of negotiating with Israel when Israeli politicians refuse to negotiate in periods of strife (preferring to wait until the calm), and deny the necessity of negotiations in periods of calm. In this way, according to Mr. Al-Ajrami, Israel continues an occupation that makes the status quo untenable. Al-Ajrami notes the dire circumstances of Palestinian youths, who often turn to violence as a result of Israeli economic control of the Palestinian territories. Mr. Al-Ajrami concluded with a discussion of how recent events in Egypt may influence politics in the Gaza Strip. He indicated that Hamas’s power in Gaza was severely limited by the closings of all tunnels going into Egypt, and the fall of the Moslem Brotherhood (Hamas’s mother movement) as a result of the recent turbulence. Mr. Al-Ajrami also noted Gaza’s weak economic prospects, indicating that while the West Bank is in a much better economic and social situation, policymakers must not forget about Gaza. Al-Ajrami finished by recommending that Israel engage Hamas in the peacemaking circle, and stop pushing them further into the extremist camp by continuing the Gaza embargo. IPCRI co-director Dan Goldenblatt ended the discussion with a discussion on how best to proceed to achieve peace in the Middle East. Mr. Goldenblatt used a Hebrew word without an English equivalent, Lefargen, which loosely translates to “to be benevolent or compassionate” to recommend a shift in Israeli policy. According to Mr. Goldenblatt, Israel has an opportunity to show the Arab world, including the Palestinians, some token degree of progress and policy change, in order to encourage them to become active partners in the peacemaking process. The July 24th “Afternoons with IPCRI” concluded with a Question and Answer session, in which participants asked questions and probed the experts on their opinions. All three experts defended the necessity of Israeli policy change, and were optimistic about the possibility of peace following a swift Israeli action. However, Mr. Al-Ajrami noted that that Arab Peace Initiative would not be on the table forever, and absent timely action, the region might once again slide back into turmoil.

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Afternoons With IPCRI- Regional Transformations in the Middle East summary  

The latest installment of “Afternoons with IPCRI” focused on the regional transformation of the Middle East following the Arab Spring and it...

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