MidEast's true causes are bread and liberty

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, January 20, 2011

Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution is being monitored with just as much apprehension across the Arab world as it is in Jerusalem. For Arab regimes, it is a question of their own survival - and whether what has happened in Tunisia could be replicated at presidential and royal palaces across the region. Israel shares the same concern - though, obviously, for different reasons.

If the Tunisian uprising were replicated in Cairo, Rabat, Amman and Ryadh, Jerusalem too would confront a vastly more complicated scenario.

The democratic deficit and the vast socio-economic injustice that afflicts the Arab Middle East could empower forces that are hugely more hostile to Israel than the present entrenched authoritarian regimes. Tunisia is not shaken by an Islamist wave to be sure, but in the power vacuum caused by the collapse of the regime, Islamists - even the battered Tunisian ones - may find an opportunity, and one which could prove contagious.

If, on the other hand, Tunisia gets a more benign regime that is more responsive to citizens' needs, that would no doubt be a positive development for Israel too - governments prioritising their dire domestic economic situation will not be wasting resources on distant radical causes.

Depending on the outcome, then, there is another, perhaps equally important, implication for Israel. As Tunisians fought to regain their freedom, it became apparent to all but the most impervious to reason that the Palestinian cause - regularly mentioned as the core issue of the region and the obstacle to change everywhere - was irrelevant to the collapse of the regime. Everywhere, people care deeply about Palestine - but it's mostly a sentimental issue devoid of practical relevance. Jobs, services, dignity and basic liberties are what matters most to people.

European powers were caught
mostly unaware, so persuaded they were that the region wanted, first and foremost, a Palestinian state. It turns out that the region's people want bread and freedom more - and this cannot be a bad thing for Israel.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

Last updated: 2:05pm, January 20 2011