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Opportunities for Israel in a changing Middle East

Published: December 2, 2011
Section: News

Professor Shai Feldman (POL) discussed the effect of the Arab Spring revolutions on Israel and the relationship between Israel and Egypt in light of the latter’s upcoming elections on Wednesday. Alumni, parents, students and friends of the Brandeis community logged into a live chat to hear Feldman’s lecture and ask questions.

Feldman allayed fears that the revolutions in Egypt and surrounding countries will “galvanize a Palestinian Arab Spring.” Israel is concerned that the revolution will spread to Jordan, which has a significant minority population of Palestinians, and is critical to Israel as a buffer between itself and the Persian Gulf. Of more pressing concern are the upcoming elections in Egypt, the results of which are untenable at the moment.

Feldman stated, however, that “change in Egypt until now has been far less dramatic than people originally feared,” and that very few of the Egyptian population supports abrogating the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

He cites Israeli leadership as a large propagator of anxiety in the country. Israelis, says Feldman, are “fearful of change,” because they are influenced by the country’s leadership. “The talking heads get attention not by calming the people, but by stirring their fears.”

He advises that Israel can minimize the danger of upset and “moderate the change by acting positively … to the new Egyptian leadership.” He points out the potential positive elements of the situation. The changes in Syria have decreased the likelihood of collusion between it and Israel’s “arch-enemies.” In fact, Feldman points out, none of Israel’s worst fears have materialized. The Palestinian population has not mobilized against them and, as of yet, Egypt has not drastically changed its stance or broken the peace treaty. If the population elects a conservative Islamic government, Israel might have problems, but “all of this has to be taken in good measure,” Feldman said, and diminishes the gravity of the region’s change. He also stated that Israel’s position is relatively secure. The largest roadblock for liberal candidates in Egypt is their own lack of leadership.

“The change has not been as dramatic as first believed. There has been more continuity than change until now,” he said, despite media alarmists. Instead of focusing on the risks of the situation, Feldman believes the opportunities are far more important. “There is a natural inclination to look at the risks rather than to see the opportunities,” but Israel stands in a position to gain if they are imaginative in their diplomacy.

“The only way to survive in the Middle East is to think about how entrepreneurs operate in a bad economy,” Feldman said.