The Jerusalem Post reports that a draft of a new Tunisian constitution completed earlier this month "expressly prohibits normalization of ties with Israel, while upholding support of the Palestinians as state policy":

Early this month, the authority in charge of post-Ben Ali political reform adopted a "republican pact" to form the basis of a new constitution. The completed pact included the provision prohibiting ties with Israel, though some commission members reportedly favor leaving it out. Islamist parties, along with Arab nationalists and extreme leftist factions, are pushing to implement a constitutional provision that would ban normalization of relations with Israel.

Those reports spurred some 600 people to rally in the capital Tunis a week ago, threatening to unseat leaders believed to support normalization with the Jewish state. Tunisia and Israel briefly opened interest sections in each others’ capitals in 1996, but that cooperation ceased in 2000 with the outbreak of the Second Intifada.

"Death to all Tunisians attempting to normalize relations with Israel," said Ahmed Kahlaoui, who chairs a committee opposing the restoration of diplomatic ties. "We will denounce them and publish their names," he said, the AFP news agency reported, speaking at a meeting attended by hundreds of people, some waving anti-Israeli banners. Participants performed songs, dances and poems, and Tunisians veterans who took part in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war gave testimonies, AFP reported.

I don’t think it’s very likely that such a measure will end up in the final Tunisian constitution, but it’s still an important indicator of how the Israel-Palestine issue often functions in Arab politics, as a way for politicians to demonstrate their nationalist bona fides, and challenge opponents on theirs. Similar to the way that the issue functions here in the U.S., except in the other direction.

Some observers of the Arab uprisings seemed to think that a more democratic Middle East would result in the Israeli-Palestinian issue becoming less prominent. I thought that was wrong, and this latest story is more evidence for that. As polls continue to show, Arab publics continue to be deeply concerned over the issue. As we see these systems inch toward greater democratic accountability, we should expect to see that reflected more in their political debates, sometimes in ugly ways, as above.

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