PARIS - More than a year ago, Israel's reaction to the Arab Spring was perceived as a cautious wait-and-see attitude, as one more reason to maintain the status quo with the Palestinians. In any case, says Jerusalem, exactly with whom should we be negotiating? The Palestinian Authority is no longer considered representative of the people; and Hamas, its rival, is a terrorist organization. After the second round of the Egyptian presidential election, the Israelis felt confirmed in their skepticism.
Didn't history appear to agree with them? They can't imagine the Egyptians -- Islamists or not -- foregoing a cold peace for a hot war. Egypt just doesn't have the financial resources to launch such a reckless adventure. One wonders if it knows how it will pay public employees in four to five months.
But the Egyptian people's participation in the decision-making process, and a long-term evolution that will necessarily run counter to the army's interests, does not suit Israel. The country used to boast about being the only democracy of the region but now regrets the good old stability and predictability of its despotic neighbors.
Nothing good can come from the Arab Spring, according to Israeli leaders, neither for the populations directly concerned nor for Israel itself.
The absolute calm on the southern border with Egypt enabled Jerusalem to fully concentrate on the Iranian nuclear menace and to forge an implicit alliance with Saudi Arabia based on a common threat. For the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf, isn't the existence of a nuclear, Shiite Iran as much a threat to their existence as it is to the Jewish State?
Other potentially unstable borders are the ones with Syria and Lebanon. Predicting the unavoidable fall of the Syrian regime as Israeli leaders regularly do isn't just "standing on the right side of history," it's also, as for Iran, taking a common position with the Gulf monarchies. Israel is clearly taking advantage of a violent and confusing situation that helps divert the world's attention from the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Calm before storms?
The more events speed up in the Arab world through this long-term revolutionary process, the more it appears possible for Israel to keep the status quo on the ground with the Palestinians; a political status quo that doesn't prevent Israeli settlements, far from it. Around Jerusalem, the situation -- with multiple faits accomplis -- has become inextricable. It would take hundreds of geographers and surveyors to negotiate every inch of an acceptable compromise.
In such a situation, when ones arrives in Israel -- despite the rockets that strike the south of the country from the Sinai -- it isn't surprising to be struck by a feeling of almost unreal serenity. Is this, like a decade ago, the calm before the storm? Are we on the verge of a third Intifada, closer to the first than the second (protests by stone-throwing as opposed to human bombs)?
What is sure is that there is among many young Palestinians an undeniable form of religious and political radicalization. The convergence between rising Islamism in the Arab world and the humiliation and despair of the Palestinian youth is pushing them to abandon all spirit of compromise. "Because I am nothing, I want everything, all of Palestine, without its Jewish occupiers!"
The contrast is much too important between the movements that are speeding up at Israel's borders and the frozen situation in the Palestinian territories. Of course, compared to the current Syrian situation, they might seem better off, and they don't want to renew the "savagery" of the second Intifada. But a man cannot live on bread alone. He needs hope, and Palestinians have none. In the Middle East, in spite of appearances, time is not working in Israel's favor.
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Photo - Paolo Cuttitta palestine