Freedom and Democracy: Prerequisites to Peace
Eli E. Hertz
In the Middle East, the question has been whether the PLO would make the transition from terrorist organization to peace partner; from negotiating for hostages to negotiating at the table; from an organization devoted to a single ruthless leader dedicated to planning terrorist attacks, to an enlightened pluralistic government capable of running a country.
The twenty-year experiment in Palestinian self-governance from 1993 to 2013 has been a disaster for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Palestinian Arab’s self-rule has exposed a corrupt regime that persecutes its citizens and endangers its neighbors. The lesson: Peace will not bring democracy. Democracy is the prerequisite to peace.
The fact that democracies rarely trigger wars was an underlying principle behind the concept of self-rule for Palestinians. The assumption was that Palestinian self-rule would be democratic.
From Terrorist to Peace Partner
Proponents of the Oslo Accords expected that the Palestinians, of all people in the Third World, including the Arab world, would prove to be the exception to the rule. They noted that Palestinians were among the most highly educated Arabs in the Middle East (partially because Israel established universities for them after 1967 - as part of a policy of enlightened occupation).
Unlike other Arabs, Palestinians had direct contact with a model of democracy in Israel. Many worked in the Jewish state, learned Hebrew and watched Israeli TV, visited Israeli malls and beaches, and were familiar with Israeli life and politics.
By September 2013, two decades had passed since the Oslo Accords and the implementation of self-rule. What have we learned?
After twenty years of gradual self-rule, with 97 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza living under their own government and after more than three years of guerrilla warfare [the second intifada] using suicide bombers to target civilians, the hard lesson is: Peace will not bring democracy. Democracy will bring freedom and peace.
The Palestinian Authority, by any governmental standard - let alone democracy - has failed miserably to meet the expectations of its citizens or those of the international community.
Signing the Oslo Accords in 1993 required Palestinian leadership to establish democratic institutions as a key requirement for a lasting peace agreement. Subsequent agreements reemphasized that point. Although Palestinians made cosmetic changes that made them “look” democratic, neutral international observers found true democracy had failed to take root.
When one measures the Palestinians’ performance against eight accepted provisions and rights of democracies, a dismal picture of Palestinian society emerges.
Democracies guarantee fair and competitive elections.
Democracies vest power in the people either directly or indirectly by a system of representation based on periodic, free elections. They disdain and reject hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges and are structured to advance social, economic, and political pluralism.
The Palestinian Authority is an authoritarian system, though a legislative council was mandated and created under the Oslo Accords. The council has little power, mainly because of Arafat’s previous influence over the actual movers and shakers, and his control over funding, which severely limits the council’s independence.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was elected in January 2005 as the President of the PA, for a term of four-years that streched all the way to present time. Abbas has held power and never called for election, no matter the rule. The way things are going, Abbas may be staying in office for even longer. So much for “Top Democracy.”
Majorities rule democracies, although laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens, including minority groups and their rights to freedom of religion.
The Palestinian Authority denies Jews access to religious sites within its jurisdiction. It acquiesces to mob rule, allows the desecration of religious sites that are not Muslim and has compromised the neutrality and sanctity of Christian sites, including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The rights of other minorities, including the very lives homosexuals, are constantly jeopardized. The Palestinian power structure views Christians with suspicion and as unpatriotic because they refuse to send their children to violent demonstrations. Not one Christian Arab has ever volunteered to be a suicide bomber.
Democracies guarantee women the same rights and protections as men.
Palestinian society relegates women to second-class status, just as does the rest of the Arab world. Palestinian girls and women are freer than their counterparts in most Arab countries in terms of personal autonomy, education and career choices. But Palestinian society is stained by so-called honor killings, a tradition that allows male relatives to murder females in their families for sins such as adultery, pregnancies out of wedlock, premarital sex and even immodesty and flirting. The Palestinian Authority has not classed honor killing as regular a crime. The religious leadership empathizes with the perpetrators, not the victims, and as in other Arab states, the government fails to protect a woman’s right to life. Honor killings by Palestinians in Israel are considered murder.
Evidence suggests that the first Palestinian female suicide bomber may been driven to her actions to provide herself with an ‘honorable exit’ from desperate circumstances. Some in the Arab media champion female suicide bombers as the “ultimate feminists,” because when they perform terrorist acts, they achieve equal status to their male counterparts.
Democracies require transparent, accountable governments.
There is no equal opportunity in the PA civil service. Control of essential services and appointment of senior positions are given to relatives and cronies of a small circle of top officials, or based on one’s place in the social order based on the applicants’ hamula (or clan). Graft, kickbacks and old-fashioned extortion are rampant.
A Palestinian legislative committee found that a large percentage of the PA’s $3.54 billion annual budget, a majority coming from foreign aid and donations, is squandered through corruption and mismanagement. In 2003, Forbes’ annual rating of the world’s richest persons ranked the ‘oppressed’ late Arafat just behind Queen Elizabeth.
Democracies’ judicial systems guarantee their citizens equality before the law, due process and place constitutional limits on government.
The Palestinian Authority imprisons critics, employs harassment and torture to intimidate non-Muslims and other prisoners, and convenes quickie-trials for suspected terrorists Israel seeks to extradite. The PA tries and sentences the terrorists for harming Palestinian interests, not for killing innocent human beings.
The offenders are then incarcerated in prisons that former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer described as having “revolving doors.”
Democracies champion values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, by upholding freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Moderate and peaceful Palestinian Arabs have been silenced for years. The Palestinian Authority controls the media, and journalists face intimidation and confiscation of “uncomplimentary footage” or copy. A culture of compromise and reconciliation has not become part of Palestinian life, and disputes are still resolved by bloodshed and blood feuds. The same approach governs Palestinian negotiations with Israel, as when they demand Israel capitulate on the Right of Return. Palestinians show no signs of seeking peace and reconciliation.
Democracies support educational systems that promote democratic values, because a well-informed citizenry is vital to a healthy democracy.
The Palestinian Authority uses its schools to imbue children with hatred against Jews, incites them to violence and nurtures generations of future shahids - suicide bombers - willing to become martyrs who forfeit their lives to kill Jews.
Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The PA fails to make the grade on all counts.
Peace Does Not Bring Democracy. Democracy Brings Peace:
BECAUSE democracies hammer out their differences on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis at the polls, in coalitions, in legislative and public debates aimed at reaching compromises and live-and-let-live solutions, they prefer non-violent conflict resolution (e.g., negotiation and arbitration) to violence.
BECAUSE democracies have a built-in system of checks and balances to prevent absolute power, they rarely use force in domestic affairs or in the international arena.
BECAUSE democracies do not use their security forces to sustain and protect their respective regimes, they rarely use them as an instrument to intimidate their neighbors.
BECAUSE democracies place a high value on human life, they are sensitive to the cost-benefit ratio of armed conflict and not just the cost benefit of changing the status quo by force.
BECAUSE democratic governments rest on the consent of the governed and because the armed forces are subservient to civil authority and not a small inner circle, decisions to go to war are hard to make.
IN A NUTSHELL
· Palestinian Arab leaders must ‘walk the walk’ in transforming their political institutions into peaceful, democratic entities before they have another opportunity at statehood.
· Whether a newly appointed Palestinian Authority prime minister will want or will be able to bring about democratic reform and negotiate in earnest remains to be seen. Until Palestinian leaders and Palestinian society make the necessary changes in government, in their society, and in core values, Palestinian statehood could turn into a peril not only for Israelis, but also for those who champion their cause. The last thing the world needs right now is another rogue state.