When Menachem Begin led Israel to peace with Egypt in the late seventies, he offered no preconditions regarding the democratization of that country. The same was true for Yitzhak Rabin when he made peace with Jordan in 1994. Indeed, Rabin went even further in his developing relationship with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in the years 1993-95: he stated publicly that Arafat should have an easier time than Israel in dealing with Palestinian Islamist terrorists because he would not be burdened by Israeli institutions like the High Court of Justice and human rights groups. Rabin and his successors thus chose to ignore the corruption and dictatorial features that came to characterize the Palestinian Authority.
With a few years hindsight, it appears that Begin and Rabin were right in not trying to interfere in the domestic structures of our state neighbors in the course of their peace efforts with Egypt and Jordan. Our agreements with those countries are stable, and while the peace is "cold", it has withstood regime change as well as the trials of nearly three years of violent struggle with our Palestinian neighbors. On the other hand, there is now a broad consensus in Israel that had Rabin, having successfully negotiated with the Palestinians the creation of a democratic infrastructure in the PA, insisted that Arafat adopt additional safeguards of a democratic society with regard to corruption and incitement, the situation might not have degenerated to the current impasse.
Conceivably these radically contrasting dynamics of peace reflect the different realities of Israel's relations with its state neighbors vis-à-vis the far more complex nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Alternatively, the problem may rest with the specific personality of Yasir Arafat (as opposed to Anwar Sadat and King Hussein), insofar as he appears to be incapable of ceasing to support violence and incitement. Meanwhile a new element has been introduced to the equation: the American determination, in the post 9/11 era, that global Islamic radical terrorism is linked to the absence of democracy in Arab and other Islamic countries, including Palestine.
The upshot of these developments has been the emergence, under pressure from the US and Israel, of a Palestinian reform program that is designed to inculcate additional principles of democracy in Palestine such as financial transparency and the monopolization of the tools of power in the hands of the elected regime. So far it has registered limited success.
But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Palestine was ruled by a dictatorial regime, a police state, that succeeded completely in preventing acts of terrorism against Israelis, and whose leader made extraordinary gestures of reconciliation toward us similar to those we encountered on the part of Sadat and King Hussein. Wouldn't Israelis be far more inclined to make peace with that leader than they are today, regardless of the absence of democracy? Would the US make any more of a fuss over that regime's undemocratic institutions than it makes with certain of our neighbors who live at peace with us despite the absence of a well developed democratic infrastructure?
The United States is currently committed to a radical design of democratizing the Middle East through a kind of cascade effect to be generated to a large extent by the democratization of post-Saddam Iraq. It is far too early to judge the efficacy of this effort. Nor--even assuming the absolute truth of the maxim that democracies do not make war on one another--is it clear that Arab democracies will necessarily be more inclined to make peace with us.
Meanwhile we had best worry about our own democracy. A survey just released by the Israel Democracy Institute indicates that at the formal, institutional level Israeli democracy is in good shape, but that at the popular level support for democracy in Israel is suffering. Israelis, for example, put more stock in strong leaders than in "debates or legislation," and seek in ever greater numbers to restrict the rights of Arab citizens. The survey also shows that democratic institutions we have taken pride in, like human rights and freedom of the press, have suffered setbacks. Most of these negative phenomena can be traced directly to the sense of siege from terrorism that preoccupies most of us, and reflect the heavy daily consequences of the ongoing conflict for Israeli society.
But there is one longer term ramification of the Israeli-Palestinian encounter that the survey ignored. Quite understandably, it looked at how Israeli democracy works for Israelis. The broader question is how long Israel can continue to be a democracy if we remain in an open-ended occupation of another people that will soon outnumber us, and if we continue to narrow the options for a two state solution by forcibly integrating the Jewish and Arab populations between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea through virtually unrestricted settlement.
Yossi Alpher was Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, and was a Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Barak.
In theory, democracy and democratization should be good news for the cause of peace. The logic behind that argument is simply that democratization offers added opportunity for the public to express its views and interests and for decision-making bodies to take public sentiment into consideration. Since the public has a vested interest in peace, then expanding public access to decision-making circles (which is what democracy is about) should also strengthen peaceful tendencies in individual politicians and the government as a whole.
Indeed, the Palestinian experience offers examples supporting that argument. The 1996 elections, the most prominent democratic exercise in recent Palestinian history, enhanced and strengthened the peace camp in Palestine and allowed for stable Palestinian engagement in the peace process that followed.
Another example is, of course, the recent political reform process that has spurred steps towards Palestinian decentralization and the delegation of powers. The elected Palestinian Legislative Council drafted and then voted for constitutional amendments that created a prime ministerial post, thereby contributing to a Palestinian political structure that is more varied, representational and conducive to peace.
But before one gets too comfortable with the thesis that democracy brings about peace, it must be pointed out that Israel’s recent history discredits that argument entirely. It was free and democratic elections in Israel that brought to power individuals and political parties that previously formed the central opposition to the peace process. It was the exercise of democracy that created this current Israeli government, one that holds dear political positions and ideologies that are completely incompatible with the fundamental notions of Palestinian-Israeli harmony, namely the requirements of international legitimacy and the principle of exchanging land for peace. Certainly Israel is not alone in this case; there are other historical examples of instances when the public voted into office leaders that later proved to be neither democratic nor peaceful.
It is possible then to conclude that even as democracy and democratization may help peace along, they are not enough to guarantee and promote peaceful tendencies. Indeed, there is the need to encourage and recruit other auxiliary factors. In other words, the peace camps in both Israel and Palestine need to be more efficient and adamant in using democratic opportunities to promote their cause, rather than allowing the enemies of peace to manipulate the democratic competition for power.
Further, those external powers that wield influence over the publics in our region should invest themselves in the cause of reconciliation. In this regard, it is useful to remember that the Israeli public, for one, is very sensitive to signs of approval or displeasure from the United States government and its people in evaluating the political performance of Israeli leadership. That factor contributed to the downfall of both prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
The argument that wars have not broken out between democracies has proven correct thus far. The argument that it is better to make peace with democratic countries is also true: a democratic country is obligated to its agreements, each new government continues where its predecessor left off, and it makes decisions on the basis of broad support--unlike some small clique that takes power and whose commitments become irrelevant the moment a different faction takes over the country in its stead.
These arguments have led figures like Natan Sharansky and Binyamin Netanyahu to assert that democratic Israel cannot make peace with the non-democratic Arab countries, and that it must wait until these countries are democratic before it signs peace treaties with them. Alternatively, as long as these states do not change their regimes, Israel must demand wide security margins in making peace with them--so wide that these countries will apparently be prevented from making peace with us.
While in Israel this concept has not been universally accepted, the United States, and particularly the Bush administration, has proven receptive to these arguments: the cause of democratization plays a central role in the American effort to advance the peace process in the region. Any expression of reservation regarding this new approach is liable to be interpreted as a reservation about democracy and, god forbid, as support for reactionary regimes.
The truth is that those Israelis who raise the issue of democracy with our neighbors as a precondition for any peace agreement are not exactly waiting for the moment when an appropriate Palestinian partner will appear in order to deliver over the West Bank and Gaza Strip and rid ourselves of a 36-year-old occupation and the heavy demographic burden that comes with it. These are right wingers who are convinced that time is working in Israel's favor, who understand full well that the Arab world will not become democratic in the near future, and who are prepared to wait even for several generations until the neighboring regimes change, because they are not prepared to pay the price of peace.
The real question that confronts us is not whether it is preferable to reach peace agreements with democratic neighbors, but whether it is right for Israel to wait for additional decades until this happens. Doesn't the fact that in 2010 there will be more Palestinians than Jews west of the Jordan River mandate an agreement at an earlier stage? Can Israel maintain the burden of the occupation and the allocation of its resources for the occupied territories for many more decades? Is continuous war the situation in which we want to raise our children and grandchildren instead of living normal lives like most countries?
Anyone answering in the negative has to conclude that peace will be made with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese when we find the right balance between the national interests of the various parties, regardless of the nature of their regimes. Perhaps wars have not broken out between democracies, but peace treaties and other agreements have been made between democratic and non-democratic countries (even between Israel and Egypt and Jordan) without anyone feeling the need to demand a regime change before adding his signature. Regional peace is likely to accelerate the processes of democratization, and it is more likely that this will happen than that Middle East regimes will soon become democratic and thereby set the scene for peace agreements with Israel.
America's efforts to advance democracy in the region are worthy of our admiration and our assistance. We recall that similar attempts were made by the West in Egypt, Syria and other Arab countries in the 1930s and 1940s. These were far-reaching efforts, applied to a largely illiterate population, and they failed. The next attempt should be made cautiously, bearing in mind what happened in Algeria a few years ago when Islamic radical elements exploited the new regime for their own dark purposes.
Yossi Beilin was Justice Minister in the government of Ehud Barak, 1999-2001, and an architect of the Oslo peace process.
The persistence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is having a direct and significant impact upon the development of democracy in both societies. Israel is a country with thousands of intellectuals in a wide range of fields. Still, since 1974 all of Israel’s prime ministers have been military leaders. Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu and Yitzhak Shamir were either generals and/or ranking members of Israel’s special forces and intelligence services. This is militarization at its heart. It seems very clear today that Israel is under the influence of a silent coup d’etat where the military dominates politics, as well as the texture and quality of democratic life.
Doubters should pick up the new book, Wars Don’t Just Happen, by Motti Golani, which details Israel’s culture of power. "Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, its leadership has generally preferred to use force to solve problems, not all of which have been life-and-death issues," writes Golani, as quoted in Ha’aretz. The consequences of this approach are visible in the Israeli political system, where Israel’s ongoing military posture is strengthening the executive, to the detriment of the legislative. Israel has a democratic system, but it is what one might call an ethnic democracy, where "tribalism" rules. The only way to escape this situation is to institute reforms. If the United States is the model, only after the mid-1960s and the acceptance of civic society and multiculturalism did democracy in the United States flourish.
On the Palestinian side, the continuation of the conflict is directly and blatantly responsible for the rise and strengthening of radical Muslim movements that do not accept liberal democratic values in the universal sense. Here I am differentiating between political Islam and Islam the religion. The faith of Islam includes Sufis who are complete pacifists, as well as the Osama bin Ladins of this world who divide humanity into two groups: Muslims and the rest. The Palestinian opposition group Hamas does not see things black and white in this manner, but it also does not share in a vision of democracy that incorporates liberal democratic values.
Another effect of the conflict is that it is making more and more Palestinians poor, at least for the moment. There is a correlation between education, income and democracy and it has been shown that poverty and democracy are not highly compatible.
But the protraction of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not only having a detrimental effect on democracy’s development in Palestinian society, but democracy in the entire Arab world. These acts of terror in Morocco and Riyadh are at least in part related to the continuation of outstanding Palestinian claims.
Simultaneously, the conflict is preventing real debate. In my own personal example, at the end of 2001, a visitor from the Palestinian security services came to my house late at night. He never mentioned my name per se, but the conversation centered on his opinion that this Intifada is a time of war and that in war, the rules of the game are changed. He told me that in such times, "we" cannot tolerate Birzeit professors using their positions at the university to criticize the Palestinian president. This argument has been used throughout the Arab world during periods--like today--when Arab states have been under attack. In the din of battle, all other voices are expected to stay silent.
Saleh Abdul Jawad teaches political science at Birzeit University in the West Bank.
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