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Then What?

It is self-evident to Americans that Palestinians – and all Arabs – no less than anyone else, would benefit from a democratic system and good government. It is reasonable, too, that the President would make American acceptance of a 23rd Arab state conditional on the establishment of Palestinian institutions that would serve the Palestinian people – and, by the way, vastly reduce the threat such a Palestine would pose to our democratic friend and ally, Israel.


It is self-evident to Americans that Palestinians – and all Arabs – no less than anyone else, would benefit from a democratic system and good government. It is reasonable, too, that the President would make American acceptance of a 23rd Arab state conditional on the establishment of Palestinian institutions that would serve the Palestinian people – and, by the way, vastly reduce the threat such a Palestine would pose to our democratic friend and ally, Israel.

Punditry pounced. What if the Palestinians have an election and re-elect Arafat? What if they elect Islamic Jihad or Hamas? Won’t it be worse? Won’t the US be hoist on its own petard for insisting on elections? Arafat, of course, announced that he had already planned local, national and presidential elections for January 2003 and that he would be a candidate for President. And he just might win. Then what?

They should have listened more carefully. The President didn’t say he would deal with anyone elected in the territories. He didn’t say elections were the sine qua non of the new Palestine. He said, “I call upon (the Palestinian people) to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty…” “And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state …”

If democracy, tolerance and liberty are the requirements, one can assume the process will take considerable time and outside assistance, and that while elections will be part of the process they will not be the first step and surely not the only one. Natan Sharansky wrote in JINSA’s Journal of International Security Affairs (June 2000), “The deeper a government’s commitment to democratic norms, the less belligerent it is likely to be… The belief that ‘strong leaders’ will deliver a ‘strong peace’ has been shown to be a dangerous illusion. The only way to create real Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation is to help the Palestinians create a liberal, democratic state that will uphold human rights at home and concomitantly live in peace with her neighbors.”

But the pundits require an answer, if only because Mr. Bush made a huge leap of faith when he asserted, “I’ve got confidence in the Palestinians. When they understand fully what we’re saying, that they’ll make right decisions as to how we get down the road for peace.” What, in fact, will the U.S. do if the Palestinian people weigh a new constitution and free political parties and STILL decide that blowing up Jews is better? What if they have transparent government, economic advancement and an independent judiciary, and STILL decide Jewish sovereignty must be eradicated with the blood of their children?

If we’re serious about the effort and the time it will take, they probably won’t decide that. But if they do, we’ll go with British PM Tony Blair’s formulation, “It’s for the Palestinians to elect the people that they choose to elect. But it’s for us to say the consequences of electing people who aren’t serious negotiating partners is that we can’t move this forward.”