Sunday, November 28, 2004

"Measure Palestinian Freedom, not Summits" - Article by Natan Sharansky - THE JERUSALEM Post 26.11.04

Measure Palestinian freedom, not summits

[The peace process will fail again if it is not linked to real democracy and human rights]

By NATAN SHARANSKY – Nov. 25, 2004

The death of Yasser Arafat has once again placed the search for peace at a crossroads. Ten years ago, policymakers took the wrong road, believing that peace could be made with a dictatorship. Today, we must instead embrace a peace process that is anchored in the expansion of freedom within Palestinian society.

The temptation to return to the Oslo formula will be very great. Today, many hope to identify a Palestinian strongman as quickly as possible who can prevent chaos, rein in the extremists, and reach a deal with Israel. Similarly, many view the upcoming Palestinian elections as an opportunity to legitimize a Palestinian leadership that could quickly be "strengthened" by Western and Israeli largesse.

This was exactly the misguided approach to peace that failed so miserably over the last decade. According to the logic of Oslo, a "moderate" like Arafat should be embraced and empowered by the free world so that he would be strong enough to fight terror and reach an agreement with Israel.

Unfortunately, little attention was paid to how Arafat ruled. In fact, far from being considered an obstacle to peace, Arafat's repressive rule was seen as facilitating peace. As prime minister Yitzhak Rabin put it only days after Oslo was signed, Arafat would fight Hamas "without a Supreme Court, without human rights organizations, and without all sorts of bleeding-heart liberals."

What was not understood then, or often even now, is that a non-democratic Palestinian regime will, by its nature, always threaten Israel. Non-democratic regimes always need to mobilize their people against external enemies to maintain internal stability. This is why the regime in Egypt, having lost Israel as a political enemy by signing a peace treaty, sponsors what is perhaps the most rabid anti-Semitic incitement on earth. That is also why the Saudi regime funds a Wahhabi fanaticism at home and abroad that is terrorizing our entire world. And that is why the Palestinian Authority used all the resources, not to improve the lives of Palestinians but rather to strengthen hatred toward Israel.

It is time to explore the road not taken, a road that could make all the difference.

Toward the end of the Cold War, the free world began to link its policies toward the Soviet Union to human rights within that nation. Rather than focus on what Soviet leaders had to say about the West, the focus turned to how the Soviet regime was treating its own subjects.

THE JACKSON Amendment, for example, linked most favored nation trade benefits to the Soviet Union to that regime's respect for its citizens' right to emigrate. By focusing attention on a concrete right that was easily measurable, the Jackson Amendment proved a highly effective means of measuring the degree of freedom within the USSR and, as a result, Soviet intentions.

We, too, should seek to find concrete means to determine whether Palestinians are making progress on democratic reforms, so we can link our policies directly to such reforms. In addition to the obvious need to preserve the Palestinians' right of dissent - the quintessential mark of a free society - there are other reliable measures of the new leadership's commitment to reform.

First, that leadership can finally seek to end the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in refugee camps. Four generations of Palestinian refugees have been used as pawns in the Arab world's struggle against the Jewish state. These refugee camps should be dismantled as soon as possible and the refugees resettled in decent housing.

A leadership that is willing to end the fantasy of destroying Israel and begin to actually improve the conditions in which Palestinians live should be embraced by the free world with a new international Marshall Plan that can put an end to a shameful humanitarian disaster.

Second, the new leadership can stop poisoning Palestinians to hate Jews and the Jewish state. Textbooks where Israel does not appear on the map and PA-controlled television programs where kindergarten children beckon their classmates to follow the path of suicide martyrdom should be replaced with an educational system that promotes peace.

Third, the new leadership can expand economic opportunities for millions of Palestinians. For a decade, Arafat hollowed out Palestinian civil society and crushed its middle class. He monopolized basic industries, controlled work permits in Israel, as well as the distribution of international aid. A test of the new PA will be whether it, unlike Arafat, is willing to embrace joint ventures that strengthen the Palestinian middle class while inevitably lessening the control the new regime has over its subjects.

Finally, a new Palestinian leadership that is committed to reform will be our partners in fighting terror, for as long as terror continues no reform will be possible.

We should be under no illusions about the upcoming Palestinian elections. The winner of these elections, like the elections that were regularly held in the Soviet Union, will not have anything to do with democracy. The winner will be chosen well before Palestinians go to the polls.

Free elections can only be held in a free society where people can express their views without fear of being punished, let alone killed. Indeed, free elections are never the beginning of the democratic process but one of its crowning achievements.

Still, whoever emerges from the elections in January should be given an opportunity to win the trust of the free world, including Israel. How can a new Palestinian leadership win our trust? Simple. By trusting its own people.

If the new Palestinian leadership seeks to build a democratic society, then the free world should support and encourage each step along the way. Such a leadership should be provided with international legitimacy, money and, yes, territory. But if the new leadership is not interested in building a democracy, then it should be given no legitimacy, no money, and no concessions.

The formula for peace is simple: Embrace leaders who embrace democratic reform and reject leaders who don't.

In the last 10 years, the state of the peace process was measured largely by whether summits were being held, negotiations were being conducted, envoys were being sent to the region, or concessions were being made. According to these criteria, the peace process was either moving forward or stuck in neutral. But I measured the state of the peace process by the degree of freedom within Palestinian society. By that standard, the peace process was almost always in reverse over the last decade as a fear society descended on the Palestinians.

In the weeks, months, and years ahead, those who want to know the state of the peace process might want to tune out all the chatter and ask themselves one question: Is there more freedom today within Palestinian society than there was last week, last month, or last year? If the answer is yes, then we will truly be moving down the road to peace.

[The writer is minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, and author of the just-released book The Case for Democracy.]

Thursday, November 18, 2004

"In Democracy He Trusts" - Article from the "J" - San Francisco

In democracy he trusts

S.F. native sees opening of Arab society as vital to Israel

by joe eskenazi
staff writer

Natan Sharansky and Aryeh Green bumped into each other at a virtually abandoned Israeli beachside hotel nearly 20 years ago.

The famed Russian dissident loved to swim in the ocean — but he was a weak swimmer. And Green, a San Francisco-born, U.C. Berkeley-educated Israeli, was a former lifeguard.

Fast-forwarding to the present, Sharansky is Israel’s minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs. And Green is one of his top advisers and a key figure in Sharansky’s Yisrael B’Aliya political party.

Green, who dropped in on his hometown last week for a series of speeches, finds himself straddling a number of competing beliefs. The kippah-wearing dual citizen and former rabbinical student describes himself as a “lifelong lefty.” And yet, his party caters largely to Russian emigres who, to put it extremely mildly, are not.

What’s more, he and his liberal Berkeley friends are having a harder and harder time talking about Israeli-Arab relations.

Green, 41, an affable man with rapid diction that seems to have been ever so slightly influenced by his British-born wife, is fond of Soviet physicist and social activist Andrei Sakharov’s observation that democracies rarely make war upon one another.

Israel is a democracy. Its neighbors are not.

“I bought hook, line and sinker into this as I helped write the [party] platform. The only guarantor of Israeli peace and security is the opening of Arab society,” he said.

“The real solution to this kind of problem is not going to be resolved by handing back this territory or that territory. It can only be resolved by reaching the position where two societies learn to live with each other and accept each other’s right to exist. And that’s only going to happen when Arab society becomes open, free and democratic … with rights for religious and sexual minorities.”

Yet, after four years of terrorist warfare and incitement in the Arab media, Green believes his fellow Israelis are not in the right place, emotionally or otherwise, to accommodate even a willing Arab peace partner. That will have to change.

“Israeli society is not at the point yet where it can look at the Palestinians, the Arabs, and desire friendship and a relationship,” he said.

“Israeli society does get up every morning and reach for that kind of relationship. I don’t want to be misconstrued and say that Israeli society is racist and we all hate Arabs. But liberal, multicultural love for the other should be the basis of relations with our neighbors and that is something we have to work towards.”

So, in many ways, Green sees the departure of Yasser Arafat — “being rid of all the baggage he carries as the terrorist father of violent Palestinian struggle for independence” — as a chance to move toward a more liberal, democratic Palestinian government.

“That is my hope. What do I expect? Chaos,” he said, glumly.

“We’re talking about the possible ‘Lebanization’ of at least Gaza if not all the Palestinian-administered territory. I’m not sure how long it’s going to last, but it’s not going to be a short time.”

And, even without the possible ensuing chaos, conditions in the territories are incredibly depressing for Green. As a soldier during the first intifada, he describes Palestinian-Israeli interactions as “almost a game, a lethal game.”

“There was a resentment of the Israeli presence in the territories. So they’d throw rocks at us. They wanted us out of their lives. I’m not passing judgment. They’d throw the rocks. We’d shoot rubber bullets above their heads. They’d run away. We’d come back,” he said.

“Now, they have guns and rockets and they want to kill us.”

Green blames Arafat and the Arab media for turning the 12-year-old rock-thrower of 1990 into the 26-year-old suicide bomber of today.

It’s a hard time for Green to remain optimistic, but he always has Sakharov’s mantra to give him hope.

“Democracies do not make war with democracies,” he said with a nod. “Democracies do not make war with democracies.”

Copyright J, the Jewish news weekly of Northern California

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A note from Katie on Arafat's Death

From my wife Katie (nee Wagerman, originally from London), written to friends and family. Pretty self-explanatory, thought I'd share it here as well.

Sunday, 14 November 2004

To all my dear family and friends abroad,

I have been following the news reports of Arafat's death on Sky news, CNN, and BBC World and all I can say is I'm appalled to watch the world's Western leaders making statements over what an "icon" and a "symbol" Arafat was. This man practically invented modern terrorism - hijackings, the targeting of women and children, bombings of bus-stops and cafes, suicide bombings, the lot.

He did indeed put Palestinian nationalist aspirations on the map, but only so long as Palestinian statehood could be achieved alongside the total annihilation of Israel. He founded the PLO three years before the 1967 war, (a war started by five Aab nations to wipe Israel off the face of the earth) so please don't talk to me about occupation. Arafat's stated and singleminded objective was to wipe Israel off the map years before 1967, when there was no West Bank, no occupation, and when Israel was nine miles wide.

Do you know what I felt when Arafat died? I felt like it was a victory. Arafat and his minions murdered thousands of people, many of them children and innocent civilians, and by blocking peace and negotiation at every turn, he caused his own people untold suffering. And now it's 2004, and he's dead and we're still here. He failed in his objective. His last big push for fame and intransigence has been the second intifada, an intifada which has been disastrous for the Palestinian people, not to say for the thousands of Israeli civilians he had killed. A lot of Palestinian people are out on the streets today weeping for Arafat - and a lot of them aren't. Suicide bombings. Was that really the most that Arafat had to give to history in the 21st century? Was that really it?

Do you know what is amazing about the Israeli people? Their incredible restraint. Arafat has been a symbol of suffering and hatred for us for so many years. You could forgive Israelis for dancing in the street when he died. But there was nothing. I read all the time about attacks on Moslems, both physical and verbal, that go in the US and the UK. Moslems on the street don't get attacked here. Not even the morning after a bombing. Instead, on the night of Arafat's funeral, which was also the ending of Ramadan, Malcha shopping mall in Jerusalem was packed with Arab Moslem families doing their shopping and eating at all the restaurants. I know because I was there. Nobody looked as if they were mourning. They all looked as if they were there for the same reasons as Aryeh and I were, to catch a movie and grab someting to eat at Pizza Hut.

Here's to better times for all of us. Arafat has gone, but not Arafat's culture, the culture of hatred, incitement, rejectionism, feudalism, and financial corruption that he has left behind him in every Palestinian office and every classroom - that will take much longer to eradicate. It will all depend on the courage of his successors, may God give them strength. Meanwhile, we are left with a billion missing EU and UN dollars that flowed into the coffers of the Palestinian Authority and were never heard of again (I take that back, $100,000 dollars a month did go to paying for Suha Arafat to live in a Paris hotel). While Arafat was in power, not one new school desk, not one new hospital bed, appeared anywhere in the West Bank. Where did that money go? You could ask David and Nava Applebaum, but they won't be able to hear you. They were blown to pieces the night before Nava's wedding at the Hillel Cafe bombing.

So next time you hear about what an icon Arafat was, please keep in mind what he was for me and my countrymen - a champion of unneccessary suffering and death. Fifty six years ago, the UN voted that a Palestinian and Jewish State should exist alongside each other in the middle east; Israel accepted the resolution and the Palestinians rejected it and decided to go to war instead. Where is Israel today and where are the Palestinians today? I pray for the sake of every Palestinian and every Israeli that there are some brand new leaders waiting in the side-lines. We sure as hell need them.

As for me, it goes without saying you won't see me dancing in the street after Arafat's death. But that doesn't mean I don't want to.


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