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JFNA General Assembly - Navigating the New Middle East

by Samantha Tropper |Nov 07, 2011|Comments
Up bright and early today at 7:00am after a late acoustic evening with Matisyahu last night.

I was shocked to attend the Hillel Student Breakfast this morning because there were absolutely no bagels served. Only croissants. My goodness, do they not know that we are JEWISH?????

But anyway, the room was organized with tables labeled based on different career interests. Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me, I chose the non-profit table. David Raphael, the Executive Campus Liaison for Hillel, was the mentor at said table. His advice about getting started stressed the importance of networking in today's society. I couldn't agree more and I am very excited to be at an event with such great networking opportunities.

After breakfast, I attended a breakout session on the subject of "Navigating the new Middle East." The first speaker, David Makovsky, director of the the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, shared his opinion that Egypt is Israel's main focus at the moment, and that we are only at the beginning of this issue, since the country is set to hold elections later this month. It also affects Israel's relationship with the U.S. Makovsky contended that this issue is an "open nerve in the Israel-U.S. relationship; it is a raw wound" because the countries have different goals: Israel is focused on Arab governments while the U.S. has been focused more on Arab peoples since 9/11. The financial aspect is also a big deal, as peace with Egypt is "crucial" in order to put more money into social programs in Israel and less into the military. Makovsky urged the audience to think more about Egyptian peace because, as he stated, "if you don't get a deal now you'll never get a deal."

I am also of the opinion that peace with Egypt is incredibly important to Israel's future, but I am torn on how difficult I think it will be. Most of the Egyptian people I spoke to on the ground in Tahrir Square during the "Millionia" protest on July 8 were feeling more militant about the issue with Israel and were content with essentially breaking the peace treaty of 1979. But when I met with the Muslim Brotherhood on June 19, I asked them a question about their policy toward Israel. They very diplomatically answered that they respect the peace treaty, but did not address the situation in Palestine before hastily moving on to another question. I am wondering how their visions have changed (or if they have, since I am not clear on exactly what they were to begin with) since the more recent, more violent protests in Egypt, and with the elections right around the corner.

Joyce Karam, a journalist for the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, slightly disagreed with Makovsky. While he is focused on Egypt, she advocated for an expanded view of the Middle East as a whole in order to understand it. In describing the four lessons she thinks people can learn from the Arab Spring, she encouraged people not to make the mistake of constructing broad generalizations, that each country's situation should be taken "as a case in itself;" or of saying that "this is a Muslim Brotherhood Spring" because the Muslim Brotherhood is different, even in Egypt, from other governing bodies, and furthermore, that they only have about 35% support from people in Egypt at the moment. I was happy to hear her stress the importance of reaching out to the people during these movements instead of focusing solely on leaders. "To make peace and sustainable policies," she says, we have to involve the people as well as the governments, similar to what the Obama administration is doing.

Natasha Mozgovaya, currently the chief U.S. correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, brought up the point that Israel has a few things to consider with regard to the Arab Spring. She mentioned something that I had been pondering for a while now: some people think the Arab Spring is beneficial to Israel because it takes their Arab neighbors' focus off of protesting against their existence and instead places it on the importance of rights and democracy, which will encourage the West to give Israel more support because it appears as "really the only stable ally." Is taking the focus off of Israel really the best thing, though? I think we need to focus more on Israel and its politics, but in a constructive manner. Is that even possible in today's world?

As a biased International Comparative Studies major with a concentration in the Middle East, I of course believe that the Middle East is one of the most dynamic and important parts of the international community today. It is imperative that countries begin to recognize the significance of the area in the future of global society because of its rapid change in politics and views of the people. Israel should not be the focus of Middle Eastern issues (nor do I think it really is right now), but we should rather expand the focus to include many governments and many political issues, such as the economic future of places like Egypt, Libya, and Iran, as well as states' military strategies and even cultural effects of the Arab Spring and their implications not only for Middle Eastern people but for people in the entire international sphere.

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