Joel Mowbray

More important, they have been exposed for decades to the functioning democracy - warts and all - of the Jewish state, including its protections for basic freedoms and minority rights. Polls have shown that when asked what type of government they want, Palestinians have said they would like one modeled on Israel's.

West Bank Palestinians would seem ripe for accepting real democracy. Unfortunately, the Western nations that have long been crucial to propping up the Palestinian economy have ignored both corruption and the incitement that has poisoned the culture.

U.S. taxpayers have pumped billions in direct and indirect aid to the Palestinian Authority, yet little has been done to cultivate alternative political voices to Fatah and Hamas.

Some plausible alternatives already exist. Palestine Forum advocates for a secular society with equal rights for all and a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution with Israel. It was started in 2007 by Palestinian billionaire Munib al-Masri, founder of the Engineering & Development Group. Wasatia is an Islamic group that argues for peace, and its coalition includes women, Christians and other minorities. Finally, Third Way is a secular faction headed by current Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, though it is no longer a functioning party.

None has emerged as viable, in part because the United States has not provided the kind of critical support as it did to anti-communist groups in the former Soviet Bloc or to reformers across the unfree world. The U.S. cannot simply anoint new leadership, but it can use its leverage to guarantee freedom to organize and attract political support.

The Palestinian Authority has attempted to head off its own protests by scheduling municipal elections, but this could make things worse. Balloting alone - even in "free and fair" elections - does not equal true democracy. Hamas carried out a blood-soaked coup against fairly elected Fatah members in Gaza after the free and fair 2006 election.

As the inherently slow process of developing political alternatives unfolds, the United States could instill immediate confidence by insisting on transparency and accountability in the hundreds of millions the Palestinian Authority receives.

Less obvious but no less important is that the United States must use its considerable influence to remove the Islamic indoctrination and incitement against Israel that has made Palestinians more excited about terrorism than peace. Conditioning aid to the PA on ending incitement would be a great place to start.

Part of preparing for a free society is also changing the discourse away from poisonous rhetoric. A society consumed with hatred of its neighbor might be distracted from the misdeeds of its leaders, but its people are still angry. That's hardly a recipe for long-term success.

Simply creating a Palestinian state won't do much and might make matters worse. Fixing the Palestinian society and signaling that the United States is serious about creating a truly free society, however, could substantially boost the Jordanian government and prevent unrest in the West Bank.

The question is whether President Obama will play it "safe" - or actually try to make us safer.


Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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