Israel seems to take for granted that nothing substantial is going to change in its relations with the Palestinians, and with the Arabs in general. Only from this obstinate point of view can it be understood that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that he will respond to the murder of a family of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank — which he attributes to Palestinian terrorists, and which the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has publicly deplored — with the authorization to build hundreds of new houses in the zone.
The unstoppable and illegal (in defiance of several UN resolutions) settlement of the West Bank is the principal impediment to negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis. Abbas has made it the precondition for any understanding, and Barack Obama resoundingly failed last year in his attempt to bring his privileged Middle Eastern ally to reason. Washington, which recently vetoed in the Security Council a Palestinian motion to condemn Israel over the settlements, seems to have given up its mediating role in the conflict. Netanyahu, with two more years of mandate ahead of him, and a powerful lobby in the US Congress, acts as if nothing could undermine his intransigence and his systematic implementation of the Biblical eye for an eye as his only political strategy.
But a progressive democratization of the Arab world, such as seems to be emerging, will necessarily alter a regional status quo that had seemed unshakeable. When the leaders of certain relevant neighbor states have to answer to the people of their countries for their policies concerning Israel, tensions will inevitably rise, if, as is now the case, Tel Aviv does nothing more than provide another turn of the screw in its arbitrary oppression of the Palestinians every time anything happens that is not to its taste. And the United States, that of Obama or that of his successor, will have to pay a higher price for its unconditional fidelity to Israel in a Middle Eastern scenario such as that which seems to be shaping up.
The ongoing Arab uprisings cast doubt on the paramount argument that has so far enabled successive Jewish governments — pointing to the fact that they constitute the only democratic power in the region — to justify many of their unjustifiable actions in the name of their status as exclusive defender of Western, democratic values in a geopolitically critical region. As this excuse becomes progressively less credible, the interests of the Israeli people would be much better served if Israeli governments would reorient their policy toward an Arab world that is fortunately in a state of change.