The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


In a recent post ( Welfare Reform – ME Style ), I commented on the recent election of Hamas as the representative party of the Palestinians. I held out little hope that the election of this band of terrorist thugs would help the situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Today, in a must-read article in the on-line Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami provides useful insight into the Palestinian election and suggests that some good may yet come out of it.

This was not a defeat of President Bush's "diplomacy of freedom" that has just played out in Gaza and the West Bank. The claim that the bet on Arab democracy placed by the president has now been lost is shallow and partisan. These were Palestinians who voted a mix of incoherence and legitimate wrath at a ruling political class that had given them nothing but false bravado and fed them on a diet of maximalism [the fantasy that a powerful leader would obliterate the Israelis and give all Israeli land to them]. For decades, the outside world had asked precious little of the Palestinians. Arafat, the Maximum Leader of their movement, had never owned up to any historical responsibility, and there were always powers beyond waiting to bail him out, to wink at his deeds of terror, to subsidize the economy of extortion and plunder that he and his lieutenants, and his security services, had brought with them to the Palestinian territories in the aftermath of the peace of Oslo.

Ajami suggests that the election of Hamas was predictable.

From the fury and the ruin of the second intifada, Palestinian society had emerged empty-handed. What it had going for it was the power of Israel's political center, the historic decision on the part of mainstream Zionism to be done with the moral and political burdens of occupation, and to be done with its entanglement with the Palestinians. The most unlikely of political leaders, Ariel Sharon, before illness caught up with him, had picked up the mantle of the late Yitzhak Rabin. It was time to get Gaza out of Tel Aviv, and time to let the Palestinians shape their own political world. Arafat's political heir, Mahmoud Abbas, would try to wean his people away from the addiction to failure and maximalism. He was an ordinary leader for a postheroic era; he wore no kaffiyeh, packed no pistol at his side. He was not enthralled with his image and his place in Palestinian history. The problem lay in his weakness: He had promised to cap the volcano in the Palestinian street. One Law, One Authority, One Gun, he had proclaimed. But the political culture of Palestinian nationalism had succumbed to the romance of violence; authority issued from a good throwing arm and from the rifle. Mr. Abbas could not deliver: The warlords of the security services, and the diehards of Hamas, were masters of their own domains.

And that in the broader ME conflict, ‘autocracies and terror are twins.”

It was not historical naiveté that had given birth to the Bush administration's campaign for democracy in Arab lands. In truth, it was cruel necessity, for the campaign was born of the terrors of 9/11. America had made a bargain with Arab autocracies, and the bargain had failed. It was young men reared in schools and prisons in the very shadow of these Arab autocracies who came America's way on 9/11. We had been told that it was either the autocracies or the furies of terror. We were awakened to the terrible recognition that the autocracies and the terror were twins, that the rulers in Arab lands were sly men who displaced the furies of their people onto foreign lands and peoples.

This had been the truth that President Bush underscored in his landmark speech to the National Endowment for Democracy on Nov. 6, 2003, proclaiming this prudent Wilsonianism in Arab lands: "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place for stagnation, resentment and violence for export." Nothing in Palestine, nothing that has thus far played out in Iraq, and scant little of what happened in other Arab lands, negates the truth at the heart of this push for democratic reform. The "realists" tell us that this is all doomed, that the laws of gravity in the region will prevail, that autocracy, deeply ingrained in the Arab-Muslim lands, is sure to carry the day. Modern liberalism has joined this smug realism, and driven by an animus toward the American leader waging this campaign for liberty, now asserts the built-in authoritarianism of Arab society.

Ajami suggests that the Palestinians will tire of the rantings of Hamas just as they tired of the corruption and ineffectiveness of Fatah, and as a consequence, elect more reasonable and responsible leadership that might have a chance to improve their lives. I just hope it doesn't take them 30 more years.
To be sure, there are the "usual suspects" among the Arabs who are averse to the message and to the American messenger, and our pollsters and reporters know the way to them. But this crowd does not reflect the broader demand for a new political way. We have given tyranny the patience of decades. Surely we ought to be able to extend a measure of indulgence to freedom's meandering path.

To quote one of Israel’s greatest statesman, Abba Eban: “it seems that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” In this case, I hope Ajami is right, and Abba Eban is wrong. Time will tell.