Diskin: Arab Spring may inspire Palestinians to rise up

Former Shin Bet head warns mounting unemployment and frustration in the West Bank could ignite ‘the next conflagration’

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Yuval Diskin (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Yuval Diskin (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

The Arab Spring could have dangerous repercussions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since it could influence the Palestinian masses to take to the streets and rise up against Israel and the peace process as frustrations increase, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin said Friday.

In an op-ed on Ynet News, Diskin said the Arab Spring proved to the Arab masses, and the Palestinians among them, that “a critical mass of displeased people” can bring about coups and regime changes even if they are not the majority. This could put the peace process in serious jeopardy by causing frustrated West Bank youths who distrust both Israel and their own leadership to take to the streets and ignite “the next conflagration” — a “completely likely scenario,” in Diskin’s view.

Labeling this phenomenon “the gospel of the democracy of the masses,” but “not necessarily of the majority,” Diskin said the masses of the Middle East were slowly becoming aware of their power and strength after watching regimes topple in various countries despite being elected and supported by a majority.

Recent events in countries such as Egypt, said Diskin, serve to prove that if enough people on the Arab street voice their displeasure with the government, “the regime will struggle to rule” and will remain unstable.

This understanding, he said, has dawned all over the Arab world, resonating with the Palestinians in particular. Diskin warned, “all conditions are there for a Palestinian mass to rise up.”

The ex-security chief warned of mounting tensions and frustration “building up among Palestinians who feel their land is being taken away from them, who see new settlements built every day, and who realize that the state they so wish for is moving away.”

Diskin, who headed the Shin Bet from 2005-11, said that despite the marked improvement in the Palestinian Authority’s economy, many Palestinians “can’t even take much solace in the economy anymore,” as “feelings of oppression and discrimination intensify” over so-called “Price Tag” attacks and abuse by extremist settlers. This, in turn, gives rise to feelings of hopelessness, as well as “the ever-spreading impression among Palestinians that ‘there is no future, only a past.'”

The younger generation of Palestinians, said Diskin, “sees the Arab Spring storming in the Middle East” and “recognizes the weakness of their own regime” while bearing the brunt of the “consequences of an economy suffering under the occupation” — namely, unemployment despite high qualifications, leading to bitterness and rage.

As a result, Palestinian youths are in search of a target on which to unleash their frustrations — “and it’s easy to guess what that target will be.”

Diskin warned that young Israeli Arabs might also take to the streets along with their Palestinian peers.

“Palestinians or Israeli Arabs taking to the streets en masse is a completely likely scenario and not at all extreme,” he said. “It has happened before here and in the last two-three years in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Turkey, and Iran. Therefore, we must assume it can happen here, as well.”

Mass protests, he warned, could easily turn into another Intifada, rendering the two-state solution nigh impossible.

Suggesting a framework for a peace agreement supported by Israel’s neighbors and regional players such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Diskin said Israel’s first priority should be to imbue the Palestinian public with hope, which “may grease the wheels and aid a process of growth” within the Palestinian Authority.

“In order to send a clear message that our leaders do mean peace, we must create a dramatic change in the Israeli political map, which means setting up a new coalition of parties supportive of a peace agreement,” Diskin wrote. “The coalitional political map as it currently exists means there is no chance to lead a move towards peace in the Israeli public.”

Diskin urged building trust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and “pursuing negotiations as secretly as possible” until there was a tangible framework for peace. Once this was achieved, he said, leaders could focus on bringing about a change in attitude in their respective societies and make “generous gestures” to the other side in order to prove “that something is indeed changing.”

The most important such gesture, he said, would be “the immediate freeze of all settlement construction anywhere outside of the main settlement blocs.” The second would be additional prisoner releases, problematic though they may be, “as a government gesture to promote a peace process.”

The mutual gestures would pave the way for “bold moves,” such as appearances by Israeli leaders in Ramallah or Palestinian leaders in the Knesset.

Diskin stressed that negotiations must allow for viable and sustainable borders on both sides, narrowing down territorial exchanges as much as possible.

“I believe only the combination of brave leadership, strategic thinking, expectation coordination, creating hope, thinking outside the box and public dialogue on both sides, may lead to a turn that will veer us off the lane which leads us almost inevitably to the next conflagration,” he concluded.

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