Which New Middle East?

BERLIN – Regardless of whether democratization in the “new Middle East” succeeds or authoritarian forms of government prevail once again, one fundamental change has already become clear: no one will be able to govern without taking into account domestic public opinion.

This change will shift the foreign-policy parameters of the Middle East conflict (understood as both an Israeli-Palestinian conflict and as a conflict between Israelis and Arabs more generally). Despite wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and the intifadas in the occupied West Bank, these parameters have proven surprisingly stable for decades, anchored by the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and the Oslo accords with the Palestinians.

All this is about to change. And, while the tectonic shift in the region was triggered by the “Arab Awakening,” its players are not limited to the Arab world or to the confines of the Middle East conflict. The United States, Europe, Turkey, and, in a certain sense, Iran all play a role – some more directly than others.

Let’s begin with the US. President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo two years ago created great expectations, but few or none have been fulfilled. Instead, the US allowed a political vacuum to form in the absence of any movement on the part of Israel’s government. This vacuum has now been filled by the Arab Awakening.