By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Change is nothing new in the Middle East, but the political and social upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya in the last few years are new.
As are the direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that have been encouraged and facilitated by the United States.
Professor Zaki Shalom discussed Israel’s influence in the Middle East and its relationship with the United States in an interview with the Stillwater NewsPress. Later Wednesday, Shalom led a seminar about Israel, the Middle East and United States in the Wes Watkins Center on the Oklahoma State University campus.
Shalom is a member of the research staff at the Institute for National Security Studies and the Ben-Gurion Research Institute at Ben-Gurion University.
Iran and nuclear weapons
Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani told the United Nations’ General Assembly in September Iran was ready to reopen stalled negotiations over its nuclear program. Rouhani declared “peace is within reach” during his U.N. speech.
About a week later, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Rouhani’s speech a “ruse and a ploy” concocted by a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” to get the U.N. to lift economic sanctions against Iran, while it continued to develop nuclear weapons.
The United Nations economic sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiating table, but neither the U.N. or United States should trust Rouhani and Iran, Shalom said. Iran needs to open its nuclear facilities to inspectors. There must be proof that Iran isn’t producing weapons-grade uranium used in nuclear bomb production.
Middle East upheaval
Israel will not interfere with the social and political processes in other nations in the Middle East, Shalom said.
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ejected from the palace in January 2011.
Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011 in the Arab Spring revolution. Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeiden was briefly abducted earlier this month in what he called an attempted coup d’etat. The abduction points out the continued instability in Libya.
Egypt’s military deposed President Mohamed Morsi this July following months of protests against Morsi’s regime.
The internal conflict in Syria continues as chemical weapons inspectors inspect arms sites. Syria’s President Bashar Hafez al-Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons against his own people.
Israel will monitor the political upheavals in the Middle East, Shalom said. In a way, the social protests in those nations represent the growth of democracy. Not the form of government, but a society characterized by the equality of rights and privileges.
The Palestinian discussion
Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace talks in July. Monday, Netanyahu said he is making a real effort to reach peace with the Palestinians, but vowed to maintain his hard-line stance.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for their future state.
Netanyahu has rejected withdrawal from the West Bank and says he will never relinquish control of east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Re-opening negotiations with the Palestinians is a positive. There hadn’t been any talks in four years, Shalom said. Israelis and Palestinians will build a degree of trust through the discussions that are expected to continue through April.
Israel, U.S. relations
Shalom said the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is the best it has ever been. The leaders of the nations won’t agree on everything, but the U.S. commitment to Israel remains strong.