The Arab Awakening and the Israeli-Palestinian Connection


Pro-democracy marchers in Alexandria, Egypt, celebrate their victory on February 18, 2011. Credit: Mohamed Adel (

The stunning failure of the international commentariat to foresee the seismic shifts that are engulfing the Arab world is reason enough to be guarded about what commentators are now telling us about the causes and meaning of the uprisings.

Until events proved otherwise, many self-appointed experts confidently—sometimes arrogantly—explained that the global movement toward democracy had been spurned by the Arab world simply because liberty and equality were “not part of the Arab makeup.” So it must have come as quite a shock to them that the Arab people turned out to be not so different from the rest of the human race!

While the future course of events is not yet clear, there are certain tentative deductions that I believe we can risk making even now.

The first is the self-evident observation that there are opportunities and there are dangers, including, as witnessed in Libya and, potentially, Syria, the ominous prospect of prolonged civil wars in countries where the ruling powers decide to fight anti-government protesters to the bitter end. It is, perhaps, telling that the regimes that have always regarded themselves as “revolutionary” are among the last to come to terms with the new revolutionary mood.

Second, autocratic regimes plainly cannot be depended on to deliver “stability.” This is not altogether surprising, as there is usually no mechanism to change these brittle regimes that does not involve bringing down the whole system.

A third deduction is that nonviolent mass action is not the poor relative of an armed uprising but can often be more effective in achieving and sustaining change. Had the popular rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt been commandeered by men and women of the gun, they would probably have invited instant and overwhelming counterviolence by the respective regimes, which would have gladly seized the opportunity to crush the incipient protests.

Fourth, while the grievances of the Arab street may be similar, the contexts are different in each country. So it is not surprising if the revolutions—and the responses they provoke—take divergent paths.

Fifth, no one faction—religious, nationalist, or ideological—owns the revolution, except maybe the Arab youth, male and female, who have broken through the fear factor and are not prepared to swallow the old slogans, put up with a life of oppression, and suffer the alienation, hopelessness, and humiliations of their parents’ generation. However, this is not to say that there may not be an attempt by this or that political grouping to hijack one or another of the revolutions. Eternal vigilance on the part of the young revolutionaries, coupled with strong constitutional safeguards, will be vital to forestall such an eventuality, particularly during transitional phases.

Sixth, the new social media have revolutionized the way people communicate with each other and the potential for rapid mobilization. To the ruling old guard, putting down armed uprisings and attempted coups must have seemed like child’s play compared with the challenges presented by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Seventh, unlike the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 that, in the main, aimed to transform their despotic governances into Western European–style liberal democracies, the Arab uprisings seem not to have very clear models other than generally wanting to change the political systems. Whether this is a strength or a weakness is yet to be seen.


Despite their rapid expansion through the Middle East, Arab Spring protests have been mainly national in character, each responding to specific circumstances in their respective countries, as in (clockwise, from top left) Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria. Credit: Creative Commons/HonorTheKing.

Finally, although there is undeniably a pan-Arab dimension to the unrest, as evidenced by its contagious quality, it seems clear that in each case the protests are essentially about the internal affairs of state rather than about Israel or Palestine.

However, if freedom truly spreads in the region, the denial of Palestinian rights and their lack of statehood will appear ever more anomalous even if, in the short term, copious media coverage of the Arab revolutions has largely knocked the Palestinian issue off the front pages, and the open brutality of the responses of some of the Arab regimes has diminished the common portrayal of Israel within the region as a uniquely repressive force.


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Dr. Tony Klug is a special adviser on the Middle East to the Oxford Research Group and a long-time writer on Israeli-Palestinian issues. Email:

Source Citation

Klug, Tony. 2011. The Arab Awakening and the Israeli-Palestinian Connection. Tikkun 26(4): 15.

tags: Analysis of Israel/Palestine   
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4 Responses to The Arab Awakening and the Israeli-Palestinian Connection

  1. Ron Edge September 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

    And, after Israel actually takes the next step in National Suicide by surrendering the “Disputed Areas”, what will you suggest be done when Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv, residential, manufacturing centers, etc in Israel are bombed with missiles? Some within 2-miles range.

    Remember please: the FACTS are that the Muslims themselves have stated several times that winning the “Disputed Areas” is only 1-more step in the total destruction of the “Jewish Entity”.

    What will be next?

    And do NOT ‘flame’ me as….whatever.

    Just answer the question with a solution to:
    1… The Muslims have stated several times that the ceding of those areas by Israel is but 1-more step in the eradication of the “Jewish Entity”.

    2…The Muslims refuse to even recognize Israel at all: EVEN its very existence.

    3…Per the above 2-FACTS, we know for certain that they will continue firing…. With much greater success since they will be much closer due to, in part, you.

    4… Faced in the end by the intransigence of both the Muslims and people such as yourselves, why shouldn’t Israel take as many of her enemies, count yourselves in, with her destruction as she can. Really: Why shouldn’t she?

    Can you not see by your inability to respond in any sort of logical/realistic manner that comports with the FACTS of the situation, that you are driving both Muslims and Israel to a “Final Solution” which you won’t like at all?

    You think you ARE responding to the “logical/realistic manner that comports with the FACTS of the situation”?

    “…common portrayal of Israel within the region as a uniquely repressive force.” REALLY!!
    —By you!!

    You REALLY “see” this, do you:
    “President Shimon Peres—spotting the opportunities—has urged support for what he has termed a “great moment for the region” that could dramatically improve Israel’s circumstances.”
    —By putting Muslim rockets within 5 miles of 70% of Israel’s population/manufacturing centers. THAT’S a plus, huh? That’s what reflects the actual facts on the ground?

    “Israel (has a)… “genuine concern that the long-standing peace treaties with two of its four immediate neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, could be at risk”.
    — The “Treaties” are threatened, NOT the people, airplanes, etc.

    “…to preoccupy Netanyahu is the threat to one of Israel’s trump cards—its claim to be “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
    —The Muslims had “Democracy” in the PA areas and got Fatah with NO elections; Had it in Gaza and got Hamas and NO elections. If they get “Democracy” in Egypt, are they going to allow Jewish, Christian Representatives to serve in their government? Like they do in Israel? Are they, with or without Democracy, going to allow 200,000 people to “protest” without 1-death? Like Israel does? Are they going to allow their Administrations to be replaced by their political opponents? Like Israel does?

    “But war is not what the youthful rebellions are about. More in keeping with their spirit are the themes of peace, harmony, justice, and dignity,”.
    —Already they’re being usurped by the Muslim Brotherhood. Aren’t they? No? Then, when they actually DO usurp them, label them as anti-Muhammad/Islam and start hunting them down: What on EARTH will your story(ies) be then….Hmm?

  2. Abe Hayeem October 4, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Tony- as usual,a very good and reflective article, containing some valuable insights. The one item I take exception to is this:”Israel might find itself increasingly isolated as the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement extends its appeal globally and governments around the world vent ineffectual fury”. Why ‘ineffectual’. BDS is the only serious non-violent means that civil society can use to get Israel to feel the reality of the consequences of its criminal occupation, while the major world powers continue to back Israel. It is in fact very effective, and growing in its necessity, if only to counteract Israel’s lobbies like AIPAC and BICOM, and the whole machinery of ‘hasbara’. It is an effective challenge to Israel’s determination to project the image of a western, hi-tech, and advanced democracy. That image fails while revealing its breaches of international law , and acting like a rogue state out of control.There must be consequences for its actions!

    • Caroline May 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Israel should accpet a cease fire if the UN will guaradanadtee Hezboladlah disadaradmaadment and that the UN will enforce demiladiadtaadrizaadtion (miliadtia) of the region. They should also be authoadrized to interaddict illeadgal arms shipments. Lebanon ceradtainly has the right to deploy its own soladdiers to conadtrol its own boradders. POW’s from both sides should be exchanged. I’m not sure how many Hezboladlah fightaders Israel holds, but they are not soladdiers of sovaderadeign Lebanon. They eleadments of an illeadgal armed militia. Arbiadtraradily pausading simadply to let Hezboladlah regroup and reassert itself in 1 month, 12 months, or 36 months is not accpetable.If the UN is just makading vague stateadments about their hopes and dreams and that all peoadple should live together in peace and joy — well, Israel has heard that before.If the UN will come in with overadwhelmading force and is ready to fight (if necadesadsary) to impose its manaddate, then Israel should defadiadnitely stop. Israel will have no choice.The UN has known about Hezboladlah for decades. The sitaduadaadtion does not need to be studadied by comadmitadtees for months. If they aren’t ready to impleadment a plan now, then they don’t havea0one.

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