Friday, August 08, 2008

No Peace Without Democracy

In today's Wall Street Journal, Natan Sharansky and Bassem Eid, a Palestinian Arab and the founder and director of Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, based in East Jerusalem, write that there is no hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians without a democratic reconstruction of Palestinian civil society. They write how in the wake of the Oslo Accords, Israel and the United States collaborated with Yassir Arafat to create a corrupt dictatorship in the regions controlled by the Palestinian Authority. That process led directly to popular rejection of Fatah in favor of Hamas, and the absurd spectacle this week of some 200 Gazan Palestinians affiliated with Fatah seeking asylum in Israel.

Back in 2004, Sharansky published "The Case for Democracy--The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror." While the books received much admiration and praise, there were many pundits, especially in Israel, who condemned Sharansky as being naive in thinking that democracy was a prerequisite to peace. This criticism became especially strong in January 2006, when Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. "See what happens when you give such people democracy," the critics crowed.

One can only conclude that the critics never actually read Sharansky's book. In it he emphasized how free and democratic elections are the final step in progress toward a democratic civil society, not the first step. Democracy requires, as a prerequisite to free elections, the emergence of a political culture that is supportive of freedom. He posited what he called the "town square test":
if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. The Palestinian Territories, under Arafat, Assad and Hamas, were and remain a fear society. Democracy also requires, in Sharansky's view, freedom of religion and transparency in government and the court system.

What democracy does not require, in Sharansky's view, is a dilution of national, religious or ethnic identity. In his most recent book, "Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Defending Democracy", Sharansky strongly criticizes the trend toward post-nationalism in Western democracies, including post-Zionism in Israel. He argues that just as the enemies of democracy have strong identities, the citizens of democratic societies must feel that their cultures offer a history and values that transcend the individual, a culture to live for, and, if necessary, to risk one's life in defending. A society whose ideal is expressed by John Lennon in "Imagine," with "no countries," "no religion," "nothing to live or die for," and "all the people living for today," is one that is ripe for decay, destruction and conquest. The Kosher Hedgehog strongly recommends this short, readable, but pithy book by one of the great moral figures of our time.

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