The smell of Jasmine in Tunisia has wafted across Mediterranean Africa into Egypt, and the road from Tahrir Square now leads into Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Iran. It also leads to Jerusalem. In the wake of these uprisings, it is sad to see that America’s one true ally in the region, Israel, is not sniffing the Jasmine. Israel cannot remain both Jewish and a democracy without a Palestinian state, and if there were ever a time for a Palestinian state it is now.
The collapse of the Mubarak government in Egypt, long one of Israel’s regional allies, has made many Israelis nervous, and understandably so. A democratic Egypt will certainly begin its existence with less stability than Mubarak’s government, and whereas Mubarak stood by Israel, some of Egypt’s soon to be elected officials may not.
But with the smell of Jasmine intoxicating the other residents in the neighborhood, the Israelis need to embrace their new democratic neighbors, and they need to take the final steps towards fostering the creation of yet another Middle Easter democracy, one in Palestine. Democracy in Egypt, Jordan or Yemen may very well lead to the election of radicals who are anti-Israel, and yet, would any of these elected governments be any worse than the theocratic Ayatollahs of a nuclear-armed Iran? Elected governments in Egypt and elsewhere would be able to focus the attention of their electorate elsewhere and provide the services and jobs that young Egyptians are demanding. The overthrow of Mubarak has everything to do with disgruntled younger Egyptians wanting jobs, opportunities and dignity and nothing to do with Israel. Younger generations of Arabs are less concerned with Israel; they want what young Americans and young Israelis want: opportunity.
But oppressed people everywhere will stand up for themselves and they’ll do it in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Two centuries ago, colonists in North America stared the world’s most powerful empire in the eye and when the dust settled, a great nation was born. A few weeks ago in Iran, members of Parliament were calling for the execution of protest leaders. As they shook their fists, protesters were gathering in Tehran. Rebels oppressed by the government of Muamar Qaddafi have been driving across the desert in trucks to fight his forces – forces armed with tanks and planes.
The scent of Jasmine may soon reach Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, most of whom want exactly what the Egyptians do, a country to call their own. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians deserve the blame for decades of failure to coexist peacefully, but for the first time in 60 years, Israel is faced with a Palestinian leader who is willing to do more than preach peace. Mahmoud Abbas has taken every step to turn the West Bank into a stable area with a functioning economy. He has been very successful.
The failure to give Palestinians a state now will only isolate a young generation of Palestinian Arabs who are watching their peers take control of their own nations. How will they feel being on the outside looking in? Israel does not want to become an apartheid state and Palestinians don’t want to live in one. Israelis should embrace the movements of Arab peoples. A region of democratic countries serves the best interests of all the peoples of the Middle East and will ultimately foster cooperation and economic growth in and among these countries.
The time is clearly now. Never before has there been a real opportunity for the Palestinians. Never before has Israel found itself facing a Palestinian leader who actually desires peace, and never before has a movement so powerful as this one swept through a region of oppressed people crying out for freedom. Israel has been the imaginary enemy of Arab peoples for far too long, a sideshow proffered by their leaders to distract them from the injustices suffered at home. Yet Israel has been too content to let this be the case, expanding settlements in lands that even the United States recognizes as occupied territory. The young generation of Arabs doesn’t have a reason to dislike Israel as their parents did. Why give them one?
In 2007, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas stood on the verge of creating a Palestinian state and backed away over issues of seemingly trivial importance. It is now time for Netanyahu to continue where his predecessor left off. Palestinians must embrace democracy and take control of their own destiny, refusing to let the old distraction of Israel remain an impediment and a crutch for the failures of their leadership. Israelis must recognize that only be giving the Palestinians a state will they be able to secure peace in the Middle East. It is time for the Israelis and the Palestinians both to smell the Jasmine.