Of peace and myths

A few days ago, Fouad Ajami tackled “Five myths about the Arab Spring” in the Washington Post. Myth number 5 was: “The rebellions will further damage prospects for the Arab-Israeli peace process.” Ajami argued:

It’s true that hooligans overran the Israeli Embassy in Cairo after Mubarak’s fall. But Arab-Israeli accommodation hardly flourished in the time of the dictators. Despite a peace treaty that was the precondition of American patronage of his regime, Mubarak kept Israel at arm’s length. During his three decades in power, he went to Israel once — to attend the funeral of the slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Mubarak’s reign was an incendiary mix of anti-modernism, anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. The 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was kept, but it was a cold peace with no intimacy between the two countries.

And no praise ought to be showered on the kind of “peace” that Damascus has observed with Israel since the 1973 October War. The Syrian-Israeli border has been quiet, but Syria has had the Lebanon-Israel border from which to harass the Jewish state. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent statement that the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be “a blessing for the Middle East” is on the mark.

The leaders of the Arab rebellions may not be fervent, public advocates of peace with Israel, but they have emerged out of the recognition that the dictatorships used the conflict with Israel as a convenient alibi for their own political and economic failures. Does anyone truly believe that the people of Homs dread Israel more than Assad’s tyranny?

As it happens, we now have some indication of what the people of Homs think of the matter. Al-Ayyam – a new online publication “founded by Syrian pro-democracy activists seeking […] to provide in-depth analysis by Syrians on the current situation” which describes itself as “revolution-minded” – has posted a statement by the Homs Revolution Council reacting to Israeli news reports about preparations for Alawite refugees in case the Assad regime collapses.

According to Al-Ayyam, the statement is “hitting back at Israel and accusing it of colluding with the Syrian regime to strike fear in Syria’s minorities and misrepresent the revolution.” The Council’s statement reportedly characterized comments by Israeli Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, as:

1) An attempt at influencing world opinion and portraying the Syrian revolution as a sectarian conflict rather than a just quest for freedom and democracy,

2) Portraying Israel as a generous and humane country that opens its doors to refugees while it has turned millions of Arabs into refugees throughout its history,

3) Striking fear in some Alawites and pushing them to fight alongside the regime in an effort to protect themselves,

4) Misleading members of other sects into believing that Israel enjoys a special relationship with Syria’s Alawites and fostering suspicions between sects.

Al-Ayyam further reported:

The statement said that Gantz’s comments parallel the regime’s campaign to incite sectarianism. It emphasized that many Alawites have joined the revolution and that they enjoy the respect and protection of their revolutionary peers.

Other Syrian activists are also denouncing the comments as ill-conceived and intended to damage the revolution. Facebook users have started posting a status update that reads, “I am a Syrian revolutionary. I close the door to Israel and open it to anyone who is seeking shelter,” to counter the Israeli statement.

While the people of Homs may not “dread Israel more than Assad’s tyranny”, there  doesn’t seem to be a particularly clear “recognition that the dictatorships used the conflict with Israel as a convenient alibi for their own political and economic failures.”

Or, to put it differently: it’s a myth that Arab revolutionaries hate everything about the dictators they want to topple – the one thing that will survive long after every Arab dictator is gone is the popularity of “Israel as a convenient alibi for their [the Arabs’] own political and economic failures.”

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