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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

February 27, 2003

Rooting for Democracy

Thomas Friedman has it in for the world. Until now, no one has promoted democracy in the Arab world.
In fairness, though, before now the U.S. has never shown much interest in Arab democracy either. It treated the Arab states like big, dumb gas stations, and all the U.S. cared about was that they kept their pumps open and their prices low. Otherwise they could do whatever they wanted to their own people at home or out back.
Only after 9/11, as we realized that what was going on out back in these countries threatened us, did the U.S. begin to call for democracy in the Arab world — but only to get rid of Yasir Arafat and to punish those Arab regimes it did not like, namely Saddam Hussein's. You still have not seen any serious democratization effort being directed at Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Kuwait. For America, government of the people, by the people and for the people is only for our enemies, not our friends.
But then, other than a few courageous Arab liberals, Arab intellectuals have not made democracy promotion a supreme value either. In part it's because liberating Palestine has always been treated by them as a more important political value. And in part it's because many Arab societies are still so tribalized, and have such a weak sense of citizenship, they fear that democracy could bring forth fundamentalists, a rival tribe or anarchy. Hence the Arab saying: "Better a hundred years of tyranny than one day of anarchy."
and in summary:
What all this means is that when it comes to building democracy in Iraq, the Europeans are uninterested, the Americans are hypocritical and the Arabs are ambivalent.
You'd think from this criticism was coming from a promoter of democracy in the Middle East. Well, yes, he has written about how the Arab world needs to enter the 21st century or face eternal stagnation. But for the most part it seems like empty sloganeering. Take, for example, Friedman's acceptance of Crown Prince Abdullah's "peace plan" last year. Friedman took Abdullah's plan seriously and had his paper promote the plan even as columnist Cragg Hines of the Houston Chronicle noted:
For one thing, in the draft idea's two weeks on the shelf, it has become clear that the proposal, if and when the prince fleshes it out, is not going to be carved on stone tablets. It will require intense negotiations that would not only involve Israel and the Palestinians (and we've been through that about a jillion times) but also ever-problematic Syria and Lebanon (for which you can read "and more Syria").
Even as Abdullah was entertaining Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, at midweek in Jeddah, one of the prince's principal advisers was in Washington conceding how nonspecific the notion was.
"We are not in the real estate or zoning business," said Adel al-Jubeir. "It's really up to Israel, the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria to negotiate, because it's their land." (Well, yes, and we've seen how easy that is, even when President Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak were ready to give away the store.)
In other words, Abdullah will accept the Nobel Peace Prize just so long as he doesn't have to do any of the heavy lifting.
Abdullah's proposal was nebulous and insincere. It required clarification. But just as long as Friedman could credit the Prince with new thinking he was no longer a bad guy. Did it make a difference that Fateh concluded its observations of the Saudi initiative like this:
Our supreme pan-Arab interests lie in the unified stance Arab states have to adopt, a stance that respects international legality, refuses any form of submission or begging, and views the Palestinian struggle as a battle of civilization between the Arab and Muslim world, on the one hand, and its enemies, on the other hand.
The Saudi peace initiative represents not only the Palestinian rights but also those of the Arab nation, and, therefore, it should not be prejudiced in any manner. It should be able to materialize our hopes into real peace in the land of peace, Palestine.
Revolution Until Victory.
In other words, to Chairman Arafat's political organization the Saudi plan changed nothing. "Peace" was to be based upon:
First, A just and comprehensive peace can be achieved when 1) Israel withdraws its forces to the borders of June 4, 1967 including Jerusalem, and evacuates its settlements. 2) A sovereign Palestinian state is established with Jerusalem as its capital. 3) The Palestinian refugees are allowed to go back to the homes they were driven out from.
Second, Arab states should extend all forms of political and financial support. The financial support in particular should not be subject to bureaucratic complications that prefer to channel money into long-term projects rather than preserve the PNA as an entity that has its own responsibilities.
Third, Arabs should reject the US definition of terrorism that excludes the Zionist terrorism represented by Sharon’s racist policies. Arabs should make the US realize that its interests in the region depend on the nature of its policies towards the Palestinian cause.
Fourth, the US should also realize that peace in the area includes not only Palestine but also the entire Arab world including Iraq. As Crown Prince Abdullah told Thomas Friedman, the US should not target Iraq because this does not serve the US interests or those of the region, and Iraq no longer represents a threat to the world peace.
Fifth, To face the Israeli hegemony and the international failure to contain it, Arab states should sever all kinds of relations with Israel until it changes its policies on all peace tracks.
Did Friedman then suggest that Fateh's belligirent stand threatened the "peace proposal?" Not that I saw. The New York Times did some PR work of its own claiming that Syria supported the plan. In fact an official Syrian statement that day stated:
Viewpoints were identical regarding all discussed issues and ideas where assertion was that the just and comprehensive peace in the region as the strategic option could never be realized but through the Israeli full withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories including from the Syrian Golan Heights to the line of June4 1967, the liberation of the remaining occupied territories in South Lebanon, the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital clinging the the right of the refugees return in accordance with related UN resolutions.
(emphasis mine) In other words Syria didn't even accept the UN sanctioned Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon (additionally the Arab Summit, where CP Abdullah was to formally offer his proposal was held in Syrian occupied Lebanon!) After such an acceptance whose to say that the terms of what constituted Israeli compliance wouldn't change? (In fact the UN Security Council never endorsed the Abdullah proposal because it called for an Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon that the UNSC had already certified!) Friedman, of course, never required that Abdullah give any specifics for his proposal. (Would the Arab League reward Israel by supporting its inclusion in the Middle East group of the UN? Would the Arab League allow Israel to keep French Hill, Gilo or Ramot? Would the Arab League require the destruction or evacuation of Maaleh Adumim or Efrat? Would the Saudis take the initiative to eliminate official antisemitism from the Arab world?) Words of peace were enough for Friedman even if the accompanying actions belied the sincerity of the proposal. He didn't require any real change. The charge of hypocrisy rings true for Friedman. Not only didn't he require any real change for Crown Prince Abdullah, he never required it of the Palestinians. Until July, 2000 he acted as if Arafat was a legitimate head of state. But he had to have known that the nascent Palestine that was created in Gaza, Jericho, Ramallah, Beit Lechem, Kalkilya, Tulkarem, Nablus and Jenin was a mini-Serbia steeped in the worst kind of corruption, hatred and terror. Still he considered its creation a good thing. If Bush insists that his standards for democracy and peacefulness for the Palestinians be attained prior to their achieving statehood he will accomplish more than Friedman's little exercise in pressuring Israel. Of course Bush's changes are not the kind to take two or three years; ten, fifteen years or even a generation may be required to undo the damage of the PA's antisemitic indoctrination of its population. Bush, if the sticks to his gun may effect change; Friedman who is wedded to Arab words devoid of any meaningful action can be nothing more than a hypocrite.
Cross posted to Israpundit and Doubting Thomas.