#FCBBCA Israel and the Arab Spring: will democracy bring peace?

By Thomas Lowe

The focus of this lively and at times tempestuous debate was whether democracy would be the endpoint of the Arab Spring and how this would impact Israeli relations in the region.

“Who could speak against democracy”? asked former Israeli Ambassador, Yitzhak Lior, it’s “easy” to deal with dictatorships” but despite the dangers “we will be closer to peace if there are democracies around […] but it’s not on the cards yet.”

That democracy was the only possible outcome of the uprisings was challenged early on by a member of the audience, who pointed to the large number of alternative systems possible.

Having spent time in Tahrir square, journalist Eldad Beck said that, despite being initially hopeful about the “extraordinary” Egyptian uprising, his hopes for positive change have since died.

Human rights advocate Miri Weingarten emphasised the role of the uprisings in sparking Israel’s own wave of protests that she says consciously borrowed symbolism used in the Arab streets. Focused on the cost of living in the country, these “middle-class” demonstrations proved an awareness of social justice that did not yet question the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The panellists saw eye to eye on one point; that Israel must be deeply concerned about developments on its doorstep. The country’s  “physical and psychological” vulnerability gives rise to this fear, said Lior. 

Discussing a point raised from the audience that Israel’s  militarily dominance means that few states would consider launching an attack, the panel agreed that only Iran would consider it.

Journalist Daphna Baram, highly critical of the Israeli government, says the Iran-Israel threat is mutual and that there is a real risk of Israeli attack.

Eldad Beck and Miri Weingarten both suggested that Israelis have little knowledge of surrounding Arab states and this has hindered possible rapprochement with their country’s neighbours.

Tempestuous exchanges between panel members punctuated the discussion – there were spats, shouts, jeers and one panelist threatened to leave the discussion during 90 minutes that underlined how the subject of Arab-Israeli relations relations is a matter of intense debate.