Waves of popular protest are challenging Israel’s partners in the “moderate Sunni axis” and bringing back the Arab Spring in full force. There is a consensus in the Israeli establishment, including the Labor Party and Benny Gantz’s new party, about Netanyahu’s efforts to recruit Saudi and Egyptian leaders for a regional summit intended to impose an autonomy-without-rights on the Palestinians. The protests in Sudan, Algeria and Egypt show that time is up for these leaders. The path to peace between Israelis and Palestinians is through partnership with the youth of the Arab Spring and not in alliance with corrupt and despotic regimes.
The Israeli strategy led by Netanyahu, which was intended to create an alliance with the regimes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the other Gulf states, has been revealed as mistaken and short-sighted. These regimes, without exception, are partners of US President Trump, and form the basis for the deal he is seeking as a solution to the Palestinian problem.
Last year, the idea that this deal would enable Israel to participate in a regional summit with these leaders, behind the backs of and at the expense of the Palestinians, became the heart’s desire of the moderate wing of Israel’s political establishment. Given the failure of efforts to come to an arrangement with the Palestinians, this wing hopes to achieve peace via the Saudis and Jordanians.
But while Israel’s national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat meets with Arab bigwigs in Sudan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, ostensibly preparing for the regional summit, the Arab peoples in these nations have different plans.
Since the end of December 2018, hundreds of citizens in Sudan have taken to the streets to demand the end of Omar al-Bashir’s dictatorial regime. This murderous government has controlled Sudan since 1989, supported by the Islamic Movement. The democratic protest movement that calls openly to bring down the regime is led by a coalition that includes doctors’ unions, university lecturers and professionals. It has attracted extremely wide popular support.
In Algeria, an unprecedented wave of mass protests that started in February 2019 forced the President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to cancel the elections and to announce his withdrawal from the race. This came as a response to daily mass demonstration in major cities and towns joined by students, professionals and ordinary people against Bouteflika’s intention to run as presidential candidate for the fifth time. Not only has the public lost all faith in his regime after 20 years of corruption and repression, but also Bouteflika is over 80 years old and hardly functions since suffering a stroke in 2013.
In Egypt, the protest movement is gaining strength against the repressive regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who recently pushed through a constitutional amendment that would enable him to rule until 2034. In February, the regime executed nine youths accused of terrorist activity. But popular Egyptian opinion holds that they were innocent, since there was no evidence of this activity apart from their own confessions, obtained through the most horrendous torture. The fatal train accident in Cairo at the beginning of March, in which 30 people were killed, ignited a wave of protest against the neglect and hardship borne by the Egyptian people while the military continues to control the economy and grants its generals handsome benefits.
Trump and Netanyahu’s central partner, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, also received a fatal blow when the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brought to light. And even Israel’s historical ally, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, is facing protests which forced him to sack his prime minister last year.
Eight years after popular protests shook the old order in the Arab world and brought the fall of regimes in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia, we see another wave gathering strength. The murderous repression which was meted out to revolutionaries in Syria, and the anarchy created by foreign intervention, gave the impression that the Arab Spring’s promises of freedom, democracy and social justice had finished in a nightmare that would deter the peoples from trying again. But it seems that the reports of the Arab Spring’s death were exaggerated. The energies of the fighters in their struggle for democracy in Sudan and Algeria, and the determination of the Egyptian youth in its struggle against dictatorship, suggest that the change of consciousness which the people of the region underwent cannot be so easily reversed.
In its current campaign for the Israeli Parliament (Knesset), the clear and unique voice of an Arab and Jewish party – Daam –presents an alternative path. Instead of counting on the shaky support of corrupt regimes and dictatorships whose time is past, Daam supports the struggle of the Arab peoples for freedom.
This position creates the basis for civil partnership between Jews and Arabs. Daam’s central call is for one state in which Israelis and Palestinians will live together in equality. This is in full accord with the spirit of the youth of the Arab Spring. We ask all supporters of democracy and social justice to join Daam’s campaign and take part in the struggle for freedom in the Middle East as the basis for a future equal partnership between Israelis and Palestinians.
- Translated from the Hebrew by Yonatan Preminger