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The View from Israel

Wariness over Egypt and Jordan, and hope for common ground

Marc Tracy
February 24, 2011
Religious Palestinians in Gaza don’t like him either!(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images))
Religious Palestinians in Gaza don’t like him either!(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images))

Steven Erlanger conveys that while there are many reasons for Israeli optimism as the Arab world slowly, jaggedly democratizes—accountable rulers in Egypt and elsewhere, for example, will be forced to tend their domestic gardens and less able to fall back on demonizing Israel (you can read a persuasive account of this dynamic in my interview with Professor Samer Shehata)—there are also grounds for the pessimism that, without a doubt, is the dominant mood in Israel itself. “New governments are more likely to increase their support for the Palestinian cause,” Erlanger reports. “That new attitude could pressure Israel to do more to find a settlement, some analysts argue.” He concludes, “Most others believe that Israel will instead resist, arguing that they cannot make concessions because they are now encircled by more hostile neighbors.”

You should read all of Erlanger’s piece—which touches on the Muslim Brotherhood’s prospects for power (it likely neither wants nor will get significant control of Egypt) and the resonance of the Turkish model of a democratically elected, moderately Islamist government (which is very strong; we should probably get use to the prospect of there being several Turkey equivalents). Meantime, two issues bear a closer look: The Israeli and Palestinian peoples’ common interests in the regional events, and the question of Jordan.

Libya’s situation—where longtime dictator Muammar Gadhafi has really dug himself in, killing protesters, losing control of parts of the country, and provoking calls (including from Elie Wiesel) for outside intervention—brought Israel and the Palestinian Authority together yesterday. Three hundred Palestinians trapped in Libya provided the opportunity for a rare moment of successful bonding between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu: After a “personal request” from the Palestinian leader, Israel will allow their entry into the West Bank. And a draft resolution passed the Human Rights Council—on which, notoriously, Libya actually sits—that was sponsored by Arab members such as Qatar and Jordan; signed by Iraq, Tunisia, and Turkey; and also backed by—wait for it—Palestine and Israel. (The United States, of course, also supported it.) Yes, folks, that’s right: The U.N. Human Rights Council just brought Israel and the Palestinians together. Gadhafi, as the above photo shows, is a real unifier in that way.

Then there’s Jordan. When I spoke to expert Bruce Ridel more than three weeks ago—when Hosni Mubarak was still nominally in power—he was already telling me, “From an American standpoint, Jordan is the one that is both at risk and critically important”: Equipped with a superb intelligence service, ferocious at fighting terrorism, situated on a critical piece of land, and lacking the oil money of the Gulf states to buy its citizens off.

The one thing Jordan has going for it, stability-wise, is the prestige of the nearly century-old Hashemite monarchy. But even here, as David Ignatius paints it, King Abdullah II must perpetually balance between the so-called East Bankers—the traditional Bedouins who historically make up the monarchy’s “base,” if you will—and the Palestinians—who are Westernized (like his own wife, Queen Rania) and who keep Jordan’s economy functioning. “People speak of ‘Meds’ and ‘Beds,’” Ignatius notes, “referring to the worldly Mediterranean outlook of the Palestinians and the traditional values of the Bedouin tribes of the East Bank.” The king, he adds, “depends on the entrepreneurial Palestinian business elite for Jordan’s economic growth; but he needs the army, dominated by the Bedouin tribes of the East Bank, for security.”

Abdullah II most definitely has President Obama’s backing, but what of his own people? A few weeks ago, in response to popular protests—albeit peaceable ones that, in large part, did not seek to unseat the monarchy—the king dissolved his cabinet and appointed new ministers designed to appease the protesters. And what have these new ministers done? The new justice minister called Israel “a terrorist state that will be destroyed,” and the new prime minister directed attention to Israel’s failure in the peace process. Apparently, this is what is selling.

Oh, plus, this is all good for Iran. Right, that.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.