- Palestinian-Israeli crossfire on
"Democracy and the conflict"

August 12, 2002 Edition 30

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>< “Democracy, terrorism and settlements” - by Yossi Alpher
Would a genuine Palestinian democracy indeed deliver on terrorism where Arafat has disappointed?

>< “The “trouble” with democracy” - by Ghassan Khatib
Allowing for real democracy and democratization to emerge in Israel and Palestine can only increase the chances for peace.

>< “Apartheid = separation?!” - by Alon Liel
The construction of the fence should be seen in the world as separation to prevent apartheid.

>< “Democracy is an enlightened choice for peace” - by Mudar Kassis
If the political leadership works only on the pulse of the street, it, too, becomes blind.

Democracy, terrorism and settlements

by Yossi Alpher

Democracy is highly relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It does not necessarily constitute a solution to the conflict, as United States President George W. Bush would perhaps have us believe; nor is it necessarily a victim of the conflict. But it is clearly an important factor in the history of the conflict over the past 10 years. And it is relevant to a solution.

The first link between democracy and the conflict goes back to the Oslo accords. The Rabin government, in entering into the Oslo agreements, initially encouraged the Palestinians to establish a democratic regime, with elected leaders and a legislative body. But it also assumed that Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat was a willing partner in a "deal" whereby Israel would deliver territories to him in return for his willingness to suppress Islamic extremist terrorism. Thus, alongside his initial encouragement for Palestinian democracy, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin presumed that an authoritarian Palestinian regime under Arafat would, like other neighboring Arab regimes, be more efficient at suppressing terrorism than democratic Israel had been. Hence his famous remark that Arafat would not be troubled by the Israeli high court and Israeli human rights advocates in dealing with terrorists.

Here we have not one but two mistaken assumptions: First, that the PLO under Arafat--democratic or not--would "deliver" on terrorism; secondly, that it was acceptable for Arafat to bend the rules radically in a good cause, in the process creating a corrupt, violent and oppressive regime. These, in turn, raise new questions for the near future: Would a genuine Palestinian democracy--if it could be established--indeed deliver on terrorism where the autocratic Arafat has disappointed? Will some alternative Palestinian dictator deliver on terrorism if he can just be engineered into power?

These questions are highly relevant in view of the apparent Israeli, American and international assumption that by pressuring the Palestinians to replace Arafat and clean up their regime we can somehow restore momentum to the peace process. Isn't it equally possible that true democracy in Palestine will follow the Algerian model, bringing to the fore anti-democratic Islamist elements whose sole purpose is to abuse the system? Won't President Bush ultimately be satisfied with a Mubarak type Palestinian autocrat, as long as he suppresses terrorism? Won't Israel?

On the other side of the conflict is Israeli democracy--lively, but poorly structured, indeed nearly anarchic. For some ten years now it has been plain to most Israelis that a successful formula for coexistence with the Palestinians requires the emergence of a Palestinian state, which in turn requires the removal of Israeli settlements. Yet successive prime ministers from Rabin to Ariel Sharon, some presiding over "peace coalitions," have continued building the settlements rather than dismantling them, thereby leading Israel on its own march of folly toward violent confrontation and, ultimately, South Africanization.

Here we witness the destructive influence of a radical, dynamic minority of settlers who have successfully exploited the democratic system to the detriment of nearly everyone. Was it Abba Eban who said that democracies make the right decisions only after they have exhausted all the other possibilities? Some of us can be forgiven for feeling exhausted wondering just how long it will take us to work through those "other possibilities."

Meanwhile Israeli democracy is being sorely tried by the struggle against terrorism. In our desperate search for successful deterrents against Palestinian suicide bombers we have been obliged to violate Palestinian human rights through measures like closure and curfew and now house demolitions and deportation--all in an effort to protect Israelis' right to live. We are being dragged deeper and deeper into a dirty war.

It is small comfort to note that the United States, too, has been obliged to curtail the human rights of its own citizens as well as its prisoners from the Afghan conflict. Unfortunately for us, the intimate coexistence of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples--geographically and demographically--makes for far greater human suffering in this part of the world than in America. It also calls for very different solutions.

Given the complexities of the conflict, the most democratic, hence just, step Israel can take today is to disentangle itself from Palestinian life: withdraw, dismantle outlying settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, build a fence to protect ourselves, and make sure Palestinians understand that we continue to carry a very big stick.

Whether or not Palestinians reform their regime structure and become the region's first true democracy is up to them, not us. It is pointless for us to oppress them because we are disgusted with their leader. Whether or not they have a leadership that abjures violence and seeks peaceful coexistence with a Jewish and democratic Israel is ultimately up to them, not us--though here we have a right, and an obligation, to respond with great force if they inflict violence upon us.

The only democracy we can and must legitimately worry about is our own.-Published 12/8/2002©

Yossi Alpher is an Israeli strategic analyst. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

The “trouble” with democracy

by Ghassan Khatib

The issue of democracy has always been a source of debate in liberation movements, with the Palestinian liberation movement posing no exception. Palestinians nearly settled that debate when they had the chance to cultivate a political authority for the first time based on the 1994 Oslo agreements. On that occasion, Palestinians proved (first to themselves, then to the outside world) faithful to their democratic intentions, taking the first available opportunity to elect a legislative body. Unfortunately, this council was limited in its powers and responsibilities by the Oslo agreements with Israel. Most of those limitations were Israeli restrictions, some set in the language of the agreement, and others simply Israeli practices implemented through the course of that agreement.

The debate over democracy, power, and its place in the conflict was recently renewed among Palestinians and others when United States President George W. Bush made his famous speech launching a vicious attack on the Palestinian leadership and calling for elections, while at the same time telling Palestinians in no uncertain terms not to reelect their current leadership.

That statement inspired discussion within the Palestinian leadership over the importance of democratic elections and the need to support the right of the Palestinian people to choose their leadership. It also shored up the Palestinian public’s insistence on supporting the current leadership because it is an elected leadership.

It is easy to make the argument that the greatest limitations on Palestinian democracy are those imposed by the Israeli occupation. For example, Israel in 30 years of military occupation only twice allowed Palestinian municipal elections. Today, the reason that the Palestinian Legislative Council has not held a second election in six years is that Israel has not allowed that to happen. This raises very legitimate questions about Israeli democracy, which is democratic to a certain extent inside Israel, but prevents democracy and democratic problem solving by Palestinians. In addition, the nature of Israeli practices in the occupied territories contributes to creating an apartheid situation where two communities--one, an indigenous Palestinian society, and the other, an illegal Israeli settler community--are living in the same area but under two completely different and unequal sets of laws.

There is, on the other hand, a strong linkage between democracy and peace for the simple reason that democracy allows the public to have its say over the policies and practices of its government. Human beings usually express a genuine desire for peace. And for that reason, the more democratic a society is, the more peace is pursued in that society’s political expressions.

Allowing for real democracy and democratization to emerge in Israel and Palestine can only increase the chances for peace. In order to enable Palestinians to develop their society towards democratic practices and norms, what is required is to end external control over Palestinian society, i.e. to end the occupation. That is the main obstacle towards real democracy.-Published 12/8/02©

Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the new Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.

Apartheid = separation?!

by Alon Liel

The dismissal of two Israeli scientists, Professor Gideon Toury and Dr. Miriam Shlesinger from the editorial board of the periodical The Translator in accordance with a boycott against Israel declared by several hundred academics, has generated a renewed wave of comparisons between Israel's policies and the policy of apartheid. The attempt several weeks ago to legislate a law in the Knesset permitting the construction of communities for Jews only also reminded many observers of the "whites only" signs in South Africa under apartheid.

The comparisons, or course, are not new. We still recall the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of 1975, "Zionism = Racism = Apartheid," which was cancelled by the same General Assembly 15 years later. Even the map of areas A, B and C in the future Palestine provoked waves of criticism because it reminded many in the world of the map of Bantustans in racist South Africa.

The term "apartheid" has in recent years become synonymous with two phenomena that at times do not even overlap. In the literal and perhaps socio-geographic sense, apartheid means different categories of people living separately by law. To some extent the American term "segregation" captures this meaning of the term "apartheid." In its second, more political sense, apartheid means the perversion of the law that derives from the brutal rule of a minority over a majority. White rule over the blacks of South Africa from 1950 to 1994 is the clearest example of both phenomena in the modern era.

Even without the aid of the two dismissed experts on translation, Professor Toury and Dr. Shlesinger, we can now undertake a serious attempt to analyze both usages of the term "apartheid" relative to the Israeli-Palestinian context.

Regarding the first meaning of the term--living separately--we must acknowledge that in the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there is almost no motivation on the part of the two communities, Jewish and Arab, to live together in terms of society, culture and religion. For the most part they live separately of their own volition and not because of legal compulsion, reflecting the two communities' closed and conservative nature and their desire to preserve their cultural and religious individuality. There is almost no joint education for Jewish and Arab children and there are virtually no mixed marriages. True, both establishments present administrative barriers to socio-cultural integration, but it is important to note that the establishments of both sides are involved here, and that there is a high degree of cooperation between the two communities and their respective establishments. The attempt by the Muslim Qaadan family to purchase a home in the exclusively Jewish community of Qatzir (which gained worldwide publicity and produced the abortive attempt to legislate regarding Jewish communities) is not a common phenomenon in Israel.

Turning to the second meaning of the term apartheid, its political context, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is near boiling point. There are today some five million Jews and over one million Arabs inside the 1967 borders of Israel. In the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are intended for the future Palestinian state, there are some 3.5 million Palestinian Arabs and half a million Jews. In other words, in the disputed territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean there are around 5.5 million Jews and 4.5 million Arabs. For the time being this constitutes a clear Jewish majority inside Israel and a bare majority throughout the entire territory.

Factoring in population growth trends, coupled with the near total decline in immigration to Israel, we can project a situation of parity between the two populations around 2010, and an Arab majority from the second decade of the 21st century. In other words continuation of the status quo, in which Israel exercises security--and in practice economic and political--control over the entire territory, will place Israel in a political apartheid situation in the Israel-Arab conflict in the foreseeable future.

Since the clock is ticking, and bearing in mind that the current Palestinian leadership has lost the confidence of the US administration and the Israeli public as a consequence of the Intifada, the inclination among Israelis toward separation from the Palestinians is in fact a struggle against the gathering danger of political apartheid. At present, political and physical separation (including the removal of settlements beyond a fence) is the only way to avoid rule by a Jewish minority over an Arab majority in just a few years. Accordingly, the construction of that fence between Israelis and Palestinians should be seen throughout the world as separation to prevent apartheid.

Linguistically this sounds absurd. But it is decidedly not absurd to anyone who understands the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002, and who wants the State of Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic. -Published 12/8/2002©

Dr. Alon Liel, former director general of the Israel Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to South Africa, is the author of the book “Black Justice” (HaKibbutz HaMeuchad Publishers, 1999, Hebrew).

Democracy is an enlightened choice for peace

by Mudar Kassis

When it is clearly time to work on laying the foundations of democracy in Palestinian society (for this society has a clear stake in laying these foundations--so do its neighbors and the world), the bargaining of interests and powers is dictating a “compromise.” Competing powers, fighting over the Palestinian “style of self determination,” always manage to reach a compromise that steps on the toes of democratization, since democracy cannot compromise with the enforcement of something against the will of a nation. This, unfortunately, happens to be the history of Arab-Israeli struggle, of occupation, and of the “war-like peace process” that Oslo turned out to be.

One of the problems of democracy is that it has not stopped being nationalist by nature, and tends to be localized rather than global. In practice, democracy controls relations within a state/society, but not between nations. If national interest and democratic processes and values come into contradiction, national interest dominates because of democracy’s localized nature. Hence, there can be nothing democratic in a conflict, other than the democratically-made choice to be non-democratic.

The answer to the rhetorical question of whether it is easier for two dictators to reach peace than it is for two leaders democratically representing two nations is, unfortunately, not only rhetorical. On the other hand, the harder choice (to make peace by democratic will) is the more lasting one. But this choice presupposes the existence of two democracies in a conflict, which cannot be the case when one nation is subordinated to the other by occupation. This may explain why decolonization is typically not a democratic process.

This was the case with each decolonized Arab Nation, throughout Africa, and in Latin America. It seems that the effort put into the struggle against occupation, the colonizers' destructive force, and the means required to face colonial power and violence leaves societies with political traditions, an economy, education, and set of values that make it very hard to democratize.

We should also bear into account that democracy is not an automatic choice. We should be able to imagine nations that would willingly choose a non-democratic system for their lives. There are certain conditions when democracy is “the right choice” for a nation. These conditions boil down to the fact that people should have a stake in democracy, or else some other system might happen to be more suitable for their lives.

The main interest at stake that democracy protects and sustains is power to-be-shared and wealth to-be-distributed according to a certain social contract. Hence, powerlessness, poverty and lack of sovereignty cannot produce democracy. The lack of democracy, as a result, is not likely to produce a sustainable peace. This logic leads to a well-known conclusion: colonialism is a vicious circle for both the colonizer and the colony. Both sides will pay a price for each day that passes without breaking this vicious circle, although that price may be more affordable than bloodshed, which will only grow and accumulate and be more difficult to settle.

The mechanism of build-up for this vicious circle is blindness. The seeking of revenge (hatred due to an emotional reaction to violence) creates a situation where people tend not to see the long-term effect of the damage on themselves, and the attention is deflected from the original goals: parties tend to put more effort into harming the other than into reaching their initial goals. If the political leadership works only on the pulse of the street, it, too, becomes blind. (Note that if it does not, it risks losing popularity.) This seems to explain why damaging the future is the “modus operandi” of Middle Eastern politics. It is a result of the shortsightedness or cowardly nature of its political leaders.

What we need are leaders who are truthful enough and dedicated enough to have a political vision of peace and justice, who are willing to lead and then to give up their political careers for a while after signing a genuine peace treaty that is designed to last. Only such a leadership can lead the two nations of Israel and Palestine into genuine democracies of the future, where the limits of the democratic system extend further than those of the army.-Published 12/8/02©

Dr. Mudar Kassis is a professor of philosophy at Bir Zeit University and has served as a researcher for the Palestinian Center for Policy and Social Research.

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