Friday, January 27, 2006

Palestinian Election: Whose Wake-Up Call?

Sincere commitments to democracy and the rule of law stand on the untiring respect for democratic outcomes – otherwise such spoken commitments could not be at all too sincere. Great and enduring values survive because those who claim them do not give them up solely because, at one time or another, it was convenient to do so. We dare not subtract or cheat on our commitment to the liberty of man, for we do so at our own peril.

When Hamas won the Palestinian elections this week, expressions of outrage and outright disbelief have marked the headlines of the western media. President Bush explained that he found the Palestinian election to be “interesting”. That it was “a wake-up call to the [Fatah] leadership” in that “the [Palestinian] people are demanding honest government” and that “they want services to get decent education and health care”. In other words, President Bush, was conceding that the reputation of Hamas for honest governance and for delivering essential and reliable public services stood in stark contrast to the corrupt and unreliable leadership of Fatah. The president was right to draw such a conclusion – but life would be a lot simpler if answers to such momentous issues were so clear and definite.

This is not a wake-up call for the Palestinians – perhaps a shake-up call. But, this is a wake-up call for the West. What President Bush and American lawmakers need to wake up and understand is that the Palestinians are also demanding an end to settlements, road blocks, assassinations, incursions, and collective punishment. They demand freedom, dignity, and respect. Excluding these fundamental conditions from our definition of the Palestinian aspirations is at best blind if not entirely ignorant. After all, the Israeli democracy did vote the Likud party into power in 2000 although the latter did not recognize the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. Was that an expression of Israeli frustrations with the Labor party’s handling of the economy? Maybe so – But, at the time, observers were quick to point out that the Israelis were expressing their frustration with Labor’s “soft” stand on Palestinian terrorism and “failed” Oslo/Camp David peace negotiations.

The president was sure to note in his remarks that “one can’t be a partner in peace if your party has an armed wing”. That should come as a surprise to the Shia and Kurdish coalitions that together won more than two thirds of the vote in the last Iraqi election. The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) maintains a fully armed and trained militia called the Badr Brigade. Moqtada Sadr’s group maintains its own militia, the Mahdi Army, and the Kurds have their own defense establishment, known as the Pesh Merga - All outside the control of the central Iraqi army that US tax payers are currently funding. Now, I agree with the core meaning of the president’s statement, but I find it to be disingenuous given what is happening in Iraq under US supervision.

Another issue the president raised regarding Hamas was that the US will not do business with a “political party that advocates the destruction of Israel”. I believe Mr. Bush would be surprised to hear the position, for example, of Abdul Aziz Al Hakim, the leader of Iraq’s SCIRI, on the matter. The US is right to ask that Hamas accept the right of Israel to exist peacefully aside a Palestinian state. However, they would be well advised to know that democracy in Arab countries does not automatically lead to a peaceful resolution of the Arab/Israeli conflict. There has been growing gap over time between Arab, US, and Israeli definitions of what constitues a "just" resolution to the conflict and there is a difference between what some see as "resistance" and what others view as "terrorism". The democracy-to-peace theory is, at least in the short-term, an illusion produced by a lack of understanding of Arab popular sentiments and excessive expectations tagged to the movement for democracy promotion. Democracy is not without risks, tribulations, and consequences. It is indeed a noble and vital endeavor, but it is not the answer to everything - it is not a cure-all for humanity’s terrible track of bad decision-making.

Nonetheless, to be sure...

Democracy is undoubtedly a far better proposition than tyranny and autocratic rule. It is a megaphone for the aspirations, hopes, and beliefs of man and a palpable mirror for his frustration, rage, and dejection. Hamas will be well advised to know that democracy is not an instant soup of voting rights and majority rule. That it is a vigorous market of ideas and the collective expression of faith in equal opportunity and protection for all under the law. That it is the reason why free minds excel and feeble souls prosper.

Yet, one would be reminded that it is when feeble minds prosper that free souls struggle.


Blogger Karim said...

"But, this is a wake-up call for the West. What President Bush and American lawmakers need to wake up and understand is that the Palestinians are also demanding an end to settlements, road blocks, assassinations, incursions, and collective punishment."

Well said, Jawad. I totally agree on this. The question is: will the West actually hear the wake-up call? I personally think the West is very unlikely to change its attitudes toward the middle-east in a way that is meaningful to the palestinians. That is why I can only see more injustice and more violence looming on the horizon. Plus, with all what's going on in the region, in Iraq, Iran, Syria and elsewhere, one has serious reason to expect real trouble in that part of the world in the next few years. I hope the future will prove me wrong on this. For now, all I can say is that I feel very, very concerned.

January 28, 2006


Post a Comment

<< Home