Two largest Tunisian parties support draft of new Tunisian constitution, which includes clause condemning normalization with Israel • Foreign Ministry officials fear government-sponsored hatred of Israel may spread to other Middle Eastern countries.
Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda party in Tunisia, which won a majority of the votes in recent parliamentary elections. Photo: Reuters
The new Tunisian government is gearing up to ratify a new constitution, and its language includes a section condemning Zionism and ruling out any friendly ties with Israel.
Tunisia was the first country to experience a popular uprising in what would later be known as the Arab Spring, sending former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia in January. Tunisians held their first open elections on Oct. 23 in which the moderate Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party, lead by Rachid Ghannouchi, won 30 percent of the 217-seat assembly. The second largest percentage of votes went to the secular and liberal Democratic Progressive Party.
Both leading parties are believed to support constitutional clauses that oppose the normalization of ties with Israel.
Israeli officials are concerned that government-sponsored hatred of Israel in Tunisia will spread to other Middle East countries, such as Egypt, potentially destabilizing the entire region. The officials noted that Tunisia is considered a moderate Arab country and has maintained friendly relations with Israel since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.
A senior official said that if Tunisia's new constitution is ratified with the anti-Israel clause intact, it could endanger the Jews living in the country. The clause, the official said, could lead to violence against Jews and encourage radicals to block any attempt to forge closer ties between the two countries.
Aviva Raz-Schechter, deputy director-general of the Middle East Division of the Foreign Ministry, held a meeting on Sunday to discuss strategies for keeping the anti-Israel clause out of the Tunisian constitution. Raz-Schechter said that if the clause was inserted, "It will inevitably affect other Middle Eastern countries as well."
Foreign Ministry officials were reportedly considering recruiting the help of other Western countries, to offer and apply economic sanctions and incentives to pressure Tunisia to drop the anti-Israel clause. One channel being considered is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, of which Tunisia is a member.