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

June 01, 2003

Bigotry and the Mideast road map

Hat tip to Honestreporting for pointing via e-mail this piece in The Boston Globe, an incisive assessement of the current status of The Road Map

A HOLE WAS torn last week in the international ''road map'' to Israeli-Palestinian peace when Mahmoud Abbas insisted that Yasser Arafat remains the unchallenged ruler of the Palestinian Authority. ''Arafat is at the top,'' Abbas, the Palestinian Authority's prime minister, told Egypt's al-Mussawar weekly, according to Reuters. ''He's the man to whom we refer, regardless of the American or Israeli view of him. . . . We do not do anything without his approval.''

Abbas's words should have ignited a firestorm. After all, a prerequisite of US support for the road map, spelled out clearly by President Bush last June, was an overhaul of Palestinian civil society, beginning with ''new leaders . . . not compromised by terror'' and committed to building ''a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty.'' Abbas, an Arafat henchman of 40 years' standing, was scarcely such a leader. Nonetheless, the White House hailed his appointment as a harbinger of Palestinian democracy -- and as proof that its policy of freezing Arafat out was having the desired effect.

But now Abbas has made it clear that Arafat is as influential as ever. The Palestinians are no nearer to democracy today than they were a year ago -- and never will be so long as Arafat retains his grip on power.

Does anyone care?

If Bush truly believed that Abbas was the key to a democratic, tolerant, and Arafat-free Palestinian Authority, he ought to be fuming now. If he didn't believe it, or if he didn't really mean what he said about Palestinian democracy being essential, the media should be lambasting him for having pretended otherwise. Either way, it should be clear to all that the road map, which is predicated on top-to-bottom Palestinian reform, is already at a dead end.

And yet the road map isn't being written off as a nonstarter. The absence of Palestinian democracy -- the lack of even the first stirrings of a democratic awakening -- is getting little if any press attention. No spotlight shines on the long list of measures the Palestinians are expected to undertake in the road map's first phase -- from drafting a democratic constitution to holding ''free, open, and fair elections.''

It is as if nobody really believes that the Palestinian Authority will become ''a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty,'' so why waste time and breath talking about it? And what is that attitude if not a kind of bigotry?

Let us be honest. How many Western journalists or politicians or diplomats could care less whether or not Palestinian society becomes a democracy? How many of them think Palestinians are capable of replacing Arafat's corrupt and brutal despotism with enlightened self-rule? How many lose any sleep when Palestinians are deprived of civil rights -- not by Israelis but by their fellow Arabs? [more]