Four elections, spanning just three months in three regions of the world, will shape events in this new year and probably for many years to come.
The American election in November returned George W. Bush to the presidency for another four years, ensuring his policy of liberating Iraq will continue.
The Ukrainian "re-election," necessitated by massive fraud during the first one, produced a majority for Viktor Yushchenko as Ukraine's next president. Eleven years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine can now look forward to real freedom. As Yushchenko said during his campaign, Ukraine was "independent, but not free."
The Iraq election, scheduled for Jan. 30, is part of a Middle East double feature with significant implications, not only for Iraqis, but the entire region. If the election can be held with the assurance that most who want to vote are able to do so and whoever wins the presidency can survive political intrigues and assassination attempts, the effect will be profound and possibly transforming for Iraq and her neighbors. Millions will be given hope only freedom brings.
That leaves the election for a new Palestinian leader to replace Yasser Arafat. Unlike the other three elections, which have been, or will be, based on a principle that people should be free to select the leaders of their choice, the Palestinian election will be something quite different.
Yoram Ettinger, a consultant on Middle East and U.S. affairs to Israeli Cabinet ministers, writes, "Elections do not become free through rhetoric, even when the rhetoric is uttered by leaders of respectable nations and by media and academia stars."
What does he mean? He elaborates: "Free elections are the byproduct of a society where citizens accord certain rights to their government. Free elections cannot be a byproduct of societies where regimes accord certain rights to their subjects, eliminate their opponents and brainwash their population with hate education."
Those Palestinians who truly wish to live in peace with Israel and have something they can call a state of their own are about to be disappointed again. That's because no matter who is elected to replace Arafat, the Palestinian objective of eliminating Israel and exterminating the Jewish people will not change.
During his recent visit to Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair linked progress toward a Palestinian state to the renunciation of terror by the PLO leadership. President Bush has said the same thing. That is not going to happen as long as the current regime remains in power, no matter who is elected.
Much of the "free world" is likely to pronounce the Palestinian election legitimate, because the world wants a "peace partner" it can use to badger Israel into making further concessions. The world has ignored all of Israel's previous concessions, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new pledge to pull "settlers" out of Gaza by February, instead of later this summer as he had previously promised.
A preview of the coming Palestinian election can be found by flashing back to a previous one in 1996. That election was supervised by international and Israeli observers. It was labeled "free and democratic" by such global figures as then-President Bill Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter, and then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, as well as the United Nations, European leaders, The New York Times, CNN and the three American broadcast networks.
Thus, the terrorists received not only an extreme makeover in much of the world's eyes, but an upgrade in their diplomatic status. That election changed nothing. The 11-year-old terror campaign continues.
As Ettinger writes, a prerequisite to free elections and peaceful coexistence "is the uprooting of the regime, which has been responsible for the deterioration of the Palestinian society."
None of those running for Palestinian leader, indeed, none of those in the Palestinian leadership, have given any indication of repudiating Arafat's strategy of terror until the singular goal of eliminating Israel is achieved.
Freedom is celebrated in U.S. elections and it appears to be on the march in Ukraine and possibly Iraq, but the Palestinian election will produce more of the same. Three out of four good elections would still be a good thing, but the world should not deceive itself that what happens in the Palestinian election will produce a change in policy or direction.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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