Why did not the Palestinians follow the lead of their Arab neighbours and rise up against the regime they consider to be oppressive? Maybe it is because they are too busy fighting themselves. And that Israel’s freer than anywhere in the Middle East, writes Alex Patnick.
The Arab Spring started earlier this year in Tunisia and spread across the Arab world, like wildfire. Yet it has seemed to skip Israel’s Arabs and the Palestinians – why is this? It has affected its neighbours, its border with Syria but apart from the regular disturbances that in the West Bank and rocket attacks from Gaza, Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians have remained muted, and even more united in trying to get a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict.
The Palestinians are split into two factions, Hamas (which is opposed to the State of Israel and dedicated to its destruction) and Fatah (the political wing of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade). Officially overseeing the Palestinians is the Palestinian Liberation Organisation which, in its charter, declares the Israeli Declaration of Independence “null and void.”
Following the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established to help oversee Palestinian affairs. This was rejected by the majority of Palestinian and affiliated terrorist organisations, and still is by Hamas. Developments in recent months have led to a coalition between Hamas and Fatah to resolve the internal dispute between them in the hope that the UN will accept a unilateral declaration of independence this September. The US, UK, EU and a host of other countries have said that they will vote against the motion and Israel has says if the Palestinians do this then it will make any mutually acceptable treaty harder. With the Palestinians seemingly united and Israel opposed to any unilateral declaration, why have not the Palestinian people or Israeli-Arabs risen against the “Occupying Forces” or the “Apartheid Regime”?
To answer this one must look at the state of the Arabs within Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli-Arabs have more freedoms than any other Arab country. They have full representation in Israel’s Knesset, full access to benefits, full and free access to all there Holy Sites within Israel’s borders. Women are allowed to dress how they want, go where they please by themselves and do what they want.
There is no discrimination based on sex or religion within Israel. Muslims and Christians are free to worship without state interference and when they are attacked the state does act against the perpetrators. While Israeli-Arabs have many grievances, and may feel discriminate against, the alternatives are worse. For the Palestinians, Hamas want a state based on Sharia Law. Currently, in Gaza this is what is being done. Women are stoned, elections are not free and, until recently, Hamas regularly arrested members and activists of Fatah on trumped up charges. Within the West Bank there are arguments within the PA as to what extent the state will be based on Sharia Law and, until Fatah and Hamas can agree, there will be no peace-treaty, and no state for the Palestinian people. Therefore, the State of Israel is the best option available for those Arabs who have chosen to take Israeli citizenship, and some (mainly Druze) even serve in the Israeli Defence Force
With the Palestinians busy dealing with internal politics, the only group of people to cause any sort of trouble for Israel were the Syrians in the Golan Heights and even this wasn’t spontaneous. It was pre-meditated and arranged by the Assad regime to divert international attention away from the Syrian Army’s crimes against humanity and brutal suppression of the protests. Even this demonstration against the Israeli State fizzled out within a few days. One might then wonder about the Egyptians but as the current interim administration has agreed to uphold the 1979 Peace Treaty there is no protests, although to show solidarity with the Palestinians they have however, opened up the Rafa Crossing which the Mubarak regime kept closed but this is due to internal politics rather than Egypt-Israel relations.
The only question left for Israel is what happens next? What happens if Assad falls and the Muslim Brotherhood win the Egyptian elections? Despite all the rhetoric, Israel knows where they stand with Assad. Israel knows how he talks, and what he wants and his capabilities, the threat comes from unknown people and this is made worse by the Syrian crackdown on Israel’s spy network in recent years. With Egypt, the no-one knows what will happen whether the Muslim Brotherhood will uphold the treaty or not or who else is a likely candidate for power.
To summarise, the Palestinian people are too busy fighting themselves to rise against the State of Israel and the Israeli-Arabs prefer the State to the alternative and any external threats aren’t forthcoming as Egypt is upholding the peace treaty, Syrian threats have died out. Israel is lucky that being the only fully democratic country in the Middle East has allowed it’s Arab population to remain calm and satisfied and not launch large-scale demonstrations, or worse against the State. It’s only worry now is once the Arab world has settled who it is dealing with, and how.