Whether the Palestinians know it or not, President Bush has paid
them a high compliment. He has judged them, in his Monday Rose Garden
remarks, capable of moving beyond Yasser Arafat, onto the higher slopes of
participatory democracy and free elections.
It is more than a compliment really. It is a road map. Here is
how to succeed in the modern world, the president might equally well have
If the Palestinians want peace, what they first must have, Bush
said, is "new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with
their neighbors." If -- preferring death and degeneracy -- they don't want
peace, well, excuse us Americans for speaking up. They are on track now --
the easy, downward track to international disgrace and personal extinction.
A brief glance at the evidence tells the appalling tale: 600,000
West Bank residents confined to their homes by an Israeli military
occupation precipitated by the suicide bomb attacks; all but two West Bank
towns returned for now to direct Israeli control; the Gaza Strip and its
large population marked down as the next target for restoration of order;
the whole Palestinian people, the peaceful along with the warlike, thrown
under direct suspicion in their dealings with the Israelis; thousands of
lives and jobs lost; yearnings for a plausible and effective local
administration effectively squashed; truth subverted by lies and twisted
propaganda; a psychotic mind-set -- that of the suicide bomber -- made the
primary mark of Palestinian identity; and all this the "gift" of leaders
gone astray. A little more such "leadership," and the Palestinian cause will
have had it for good.
It becomes a little easier at such junctures to appreciate the
Churchillian aphorism about democracy: the worst form of government except
all the others that have been tried from time to time.
For some American and European liberals, acceptance of Arafatian
culpability in Mideast violence is an unclimbable hill. Take the loquacious
Ted Turner, who last week came under sustained attack for remarks in which
he equated Palestinian violence with Israeli counter-violence. "Progressive"
religious leaders regularly attempt the same death-defying intellectual
feat. Just as sensibly you could have castigated the Poles for, my goodness,
actually killing German soldiers who merely happened to be invading the
Calls for "evenhanded" treatment of the two combatant parties in
the Middle East are a way for some to exculpate the more favored of the two
by seeming to inculpate (with the expected sly wink) both.
The Bush peace plan, which makes demands on the Israelis (for
example, ultimate withdrawal to the boundaries of 1967), contains its own
component of "evenhandedness." It would have to, to receive attention and
The Israeli journey to the "center," for purposes of settlement
and conciliation, would nevertheless be a shorter one. Israel has never been
anything but a functioning democracy. The problems in which the Palestinians
wallow -- autocracy and its twin brother, corruption; lack of accountability
on the leaders' part; lies presented in the classroom as truth; brutal
suppression of critics and the murder of "collaborators" -- are for the
Israelis all but non-existent.
Israelis, in a political context, can be turbulent and touchy,
given to bitter infighting. Nor is any people under the sun exempt from the
affliction of the itching palm. This is where democracy and the rule of law
come in. Democratic processes, starting with free and open elections, afford
the unfailing means for correction, voluntary or involuntary. In Israel,
governments fall, and leaders are turned out of office. A new set comes in,
empowered to explore different ways and means. Eventually, the voters review
those ways and means. Should they want, they can return to where they were
before. Or not.
Is it contended that the Palestinian people can't function with
the same intelligence, freedom and success? Yes. The Palestinians' own
leaders in effect make that argument.