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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Band-Aid approach to the Middle East

In yesterday's online Wall Street Journal (today's paper edition for those of you who - like me - now get it with the Jerusalem Post), there's a great article written by Natan Sharansky and Bassam Eid. I realize that while most of my readers know that Sharansky is a former Soviet dissident who spent about ten years in Israeli politics and Eid is a 'Palestinian' who "has devoted his life to exposing human rights abuses perpetrated against his people, regardless of whether the government committing those abuses was Israeli or Palestinian."

In the article, Sharansky and Eid lambaste the Bush administration for having abandoned its initial approach to the 'Palestinians' which, as you may recall, required a new leadership uncompromised by terror and the building of democratic institutions as a prelude to the creation of a 'Palestinian' state. Instead, the Bush administration, with the consent of both the Israeli and 'Palestinian' 'leadership' has returned to the failed policies of the past, which demand instant gratification and a 'Palestinian' state reichlet today. Here's some of what Sharansky and Eid have to say:
But the past few years have shown that when it comes to dealing with Israelis and Palestinians, the vital link between freedom and peace is almost entirely ignored. True, the administration is not doing anything against the wishes of the current Israeli and Palestinian leadership. But just as the Oslo peace process of the 1990s was a disaster that Israeli and Palestinian leaders wholeheartedly embraced, the current peacemaking round will prove equally disastrous because it ignores what is most important.

Rather than begin the long and difficult process to transform Palestinian society and ultimately pave the road to peace, the administration has consistently supported quick and foolish solutions: from crafting a "road map" that only paid lip service to reform; to backing a unilateral disengagement that by its nature ignored Palestinian society; to pressing for snap elections that preceded rather than followed reform and thereby brought Hamas to power.

When Arafat passed from the scene, we hoped that the Bush vision would finally be given a chance. But all that has happened is that President Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) and Prime Minister Salam Fayad have become the new "moderates" who need to be strengthened at all costs. Rather than establish a clear link between support for the PA and reform, and openly embrace the genuine Palestinian reformers who are the democratic world's true allies, Abu Mazen is promised billions despite having done nothing. With the media entirely under his control, incitement continues and no one raises serious objections. He is, we are told, too "weak" to take action.

A few weeks ago, in a meeting with a high ranking official responsible for European foreign policy, one of us (Mr. Sharansky) spoke about the need to support the work of the other (Mr. Eid) in promoting democracy and human rights in the Palestinian territories. After the European leader expressed his deep commitment to peace, democracy and human rights, he asked the all important question: "What is his [Mr. Eid's] relationship to Abu Mazen?" After hearing that it was strained because of constant criticism of Abu Mazen's failure to reform, the official's enthusiasm quickly evaporated. "That will be a problem. We cannot do anything that will undermine Abu Mazen." This new-old attitude reminds one of the absurdity of those who refused to support democratic dissidents behind the Iron Curtain because they were undermining their leaders.

President Bush should spend his final year in office helping Palestinians begin the transformation of their society so that the vision he once spoke of so eloquently will have a chance to come to fruition some day. We have wasted too much time strengthening leaders and reaching for the moon. Let's start strengthening Palestinian society and begin a real peace process once and for all.

I want to make several points here. First, the change in the Bush administration's approach can be correlated with the departure of the neocons from the White House and Condi Rice's installation as Secretary of State, which signaled a return to the traditional State Department approach to international problem-solving, which I would term the 'Band-Aid approach' (hence the title of this post). It has been characterized by the exchange of long-term goals and vision for short-term fixes that do nothing but entrench the current Israeli and 'Palestinian' leadership in power. We can only expect things to stay the same or worsen after January 2009.

Second, one of the implications of not holding Abu Mazen's feet to the fire and forcing him to carry out real reforms is that the chances for peace in the next generation - if not longer - have been destroyed as yet another generation has been raised in the spirit of hatred, violence and bloodshed. While it may be argued that this was already the case due to Arafat's control of the 'Palestinian Authority' from 1994-2004, the longer it goes on, the longer it will take to change course. That is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation.

Third, one of the problems with Sharansky's and Eid's approach is that it does not suit the Arab countries because (a) they fear nothing in the world more than democratic reforms that would depose their autocratic regimes, (b) they recognize that much as many 'Palestinians' would like to live in a democracy as a result of what they have seen in Israel, many other Arabs will want to live in a democracy if they see one in 'Palestine' and (c) they need to keep re-fanning the flames of the 'Palestinian' issue in order to keep their own regimes in power and to blind their populations to those regimes' actions, which results in the constant need for an appearance of 'progress' which runs counter to Sharansky's and Eid's prescription of slow, steady reform. Thus it may be impossible to move 'Palestinian' democratization forward without democratizing the rest of the Arab world as well.

In addition to the Arab governments' desire to keep subjugating their own peoples, there are costs to bringing about democratization that the West is currently unwilling to bear. To get some idea of what those costs are, look at the post-World War II period in Germany and Japan, in which the Western powers actually occupied those countries in order to wipe out the Nazi ideology that had seeped into them and did not allow free elections until several years after the war when the populations had been 're-educated' and the purveyors of evil who were caught had been brought to justice. Sharansky and Eid recognize that problem (witness their reference to "pressing for snap elections that preceded rather than followed reform and thereby brought Hamas to power"), but I doubt that the rest of the world recognizes it or is willing to pay the price to deal with it. Does anyone really see US or NATO troops occupying Saudi Arabia and bringing the 'royal family' to justice for the way they treat their 'subjects'? If that was going to happen at all, it would have happened right after 9/11, but instead members of the 'royal family' were whisked out of the US within a matter of days, and the Saudi role in 9/11 was and continues to be ignored.

Some of you may wonder why Israel is willing to go along with the Band-Aid approach and is unwilling to to support the kind of lengthy process that Sharansky and Eid's prescription to that would require. The answer to that is quite simple. Many Israelis - like the current leadership - are 'tired of fighting' and want nothing other than to be a 'normal' country. They do not and will not accept that we cannot be a normal country for the foreseeable future, and so they continue to stick on Band-Aids in a bid to end the 'occupation' as if that would solve the problem. Ending the 'occupation' would not solve the problem - it would exacerbate it. But many Israelis are unwilling to hear that , and our leadership remains unwilling to tell us this unpopular truth. Many Israelis figure that they personally will be able to escape the consequences of returning to the pre-1967 borders by fleeing abroad if it is ever necessary to do so. The fact that we Israelis live in a society where no one cares about anyone else anymore fits right in with the Band-Aid approach.

Sharansky and Eid have wonderful ideas, but I don't see enough of an interest on either side to the conflict or in the West to implement them. I don't expect to see peace here in my lifetime, and probably not in my children's lifetimes either. And that's the truth.

And read the whole thing.


At 11:54 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - I agree. The Arabs have no interest in an independent Palestinian state and the Americans and Israelis don't want it either but pay lip service to it avoid dealing with the reality of the Middle East.

That get us to the article authored by Natan Sharansky and Bassam Eid. The truth is free elections would probably bring extremists to power in many Middle East societies as it did in Gaza. There are no Arab democrats waiting in the wings. The best that can be done today is to manage conflict and keep the cauldron from boiling over. That's a far cry from the Peresian utopian vision of a New Middle East.

But since no peace will be had in my lifetime or in the next generation, that's probably the best any one can hope for - unless Iran ushers in a nuclear Armageddon that the ends the world sooner.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Sharansky and Eid, too, are offering a bandaid, a naive one at that. Bush/Condi's approach is wrong, of course, but it is still very much a neoconservative approach. It's past time to ditch the disastrous neoconservate approach to foreign policy and focus on the real problem, which is not lack of democracy, but Islam.


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