Author of the Palestinian “democracy hurdle”?

Today’s WaPo has an intriguing article by Dana Milbank in which he writes that just nine days after Bush’s re-election he had a special meeting in the White House with Natan Sharansky… Or, as Milbank describes him, “an Israeli politician so hawkish that he has accused Ariel Sharon of being soft on the Palestinians.”
Sharansky has apparently recently co-authored a book called “The Case for Democracy”, which argues that nothing should be given to the Palestinians at all until they have established a full democracy. (Under conditions of foreign military occupation?? Exactly how are they supposed to do that, again?) His publisher got copies of the galleys to Prez Bush, who was so impressed that he (a) invited Sharansky over and (b) incorporated most of his ideas into the policy toward the Palestinians that he outlined at the joint press conference with Blair.
As Milbank writes,

    Sharansky made waves this spring when he rallied with Jewish settlers to oppose the Likud prime minister’s plan for a unilateral pullout from Gaza — a plan that Bush had endorsed. Sharansky, head of a Russian immigrant political party, said Sharon’s plan, though supported by a number of Likud hard-liners, would be “encouraging more terror.” A figure who has previously railed against the “illusions of Oslo” and described that famous accord as “one-sided concessions,” Sharansky resigned in 2000 from Ehud Barak’s government over the Labor prime minister’s plan to attend a peace summit in Washington.
    “He’s been suffering in the political wilderness in Israel with these ideas for some time,” [his co-author Ron] Dermer said of [Sharansky]. But when it came to Bush, Dermer said, “I didn’t see a lot of daylight between them.”

This whole idea that a nation must be fully democratic before it can allowed its independence is quite bizarre, and quite a-historical. Did the US colonists have a full range of their own fully democratic institutions before they fought for and won their independence from the British Crown? Of course not! It took them 13 more years, as I recall, to work out the details of the US Constitution.
In the modern (i.e. post-WW2) era, no other nation has been obliged to “prove” its democratic credentials before being given independence… Of course, a working democracy is a very desirable thing. But to make it a precondition for national independence? That is the bizarre thing.
Anyway, I could write a bunch about this whole cart-before-horse idea, but I have to go… Just finally, though, I’d note that the tired old proposition that “democracies don’t launch wars against other nations” is palpable nonsense in the present era.

17 thoughts on “Author of the Palestinian “democracy hurdle”?”

  1. The old “democratic peace” theory is not quite what you say it is, Helena. The theory is that democracies don’t fight each other. If you restrict the definition of democracy to “well-established democracy” (you can’t just have one election and say you are democratic, you have to have some kind of track record), then the theory has yet to be disproved.
    The big question is however what is a well-established democracy. Looking at the recent US record of unleashing devastation at selected targets, you might wonder. One might ask, how big a military sector can you have in a country and still say that civilian democratic institutions hold the real power?
    Also, I find it disturbing that the USA can’t hold a national election with any degree of transparency. Here in Canada, this problem was solved long, long ago. In many places in Europe, including those which were fascist or communist dictatorships a generation or so ago, this problem is solved. There is an entrenched reluctance in the USA to take a serious look at problems with the registration system, problems with the balloting and counting system, gerrymandering, because gaming the system is considered by the pros as a legitimate part of politics, and has always been so. Wasn’t Gerry of gerrymandering at the Constitutional Convention?
    There is also the feeling, based on old English practice going back centuries, that only certain people are really entitled to vote, and that making it too easy to vote just encourages the wrong elements. This, I submit, is not a modern democratic attitude. It’s an attitude that could pass for democratic a long time ago, but no longer.

  2. This is just an excuse to avoid reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. If the Isrealis really wanted an agreement, would they really care how the Palestinians are governed? (Is Israel a democracy by the way?)
    I wonder if South Africa made similar demands of the ANC?
    This rhetoric implies the reason for the current impass is some sort of flaw in the Palestinians.
    I think on the question of whether democracies start wars one can ask whether the U.S. is a democracy. Do American citizens have much actual input in the decisions of government?
    There are also different kinds of wars. There are the wars against weak opponents who cannot really threaten you such as those against Grenada, Panama, and Iraq and then there are wars where each citizen is really put in danger.

  3. The only demand Israel has made over the years is that any agreement be made with a party that represents the Palestinians, and as such be accountable for delivering. The Palestinians are highly fragmented (13 terrorist organizations for just one cause and one enemy), and it would be very easy to end up giving territories in exchange for non violence from 4 out of the 13.
    The land for peace formula has that quirk that the party delivering the peace can renege on the deal much easier than the party that gave up the land.
    Compared with the extremism the Palestinian side has to offer, Sharansky is a ranked amateur. If Bush likes his writing, that speaks mostly about Bush’s literary taste, not Israeli consensus.

  4. David, your post made me wonder if perhaps things would be better were Israel to be less ‘united’. Currently, there are many Israelis who are seriously opposed to the actions of their government, but their opposition produces little in the way of policy or action. I think sm’s point in the first point is the critical one here: at what point does reliance on the military subvert a democratic government?

  5. Helena,
    The comments on “Riverbend’s family “celebrates” Eid” has been spammed. Thought you should know.
    And as I comment very rarely here I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your blog and all the work you put into it.

  6. SM– your point re the traditional “democratic peace” argument well taken. However, if people are dying in a war (which is what happens), to me it doesn’t make any difference if the government they happen to live under is democratic or not… So it is the political coloration of only the war-initiating government that I would look at, not of the war-receiving government, whose citizens are all, well, just human beings like and me…
    (Indeed, if they’re living under a non-democratic government you could say they are doubly blighted.)
    Morten: thanks for the kind words.
    On spams in general on this blog, I am periodcially faced with waves of spambots or whatever they’re called assaulting it. My chief tech advisor (and son) has done things to help like (regrettably) “closing” old posts to comments after some period… Meanwhile, I put my finger in all the holes in the dike by banning the offending IPs so they can’t use those IPs to send NEW spam… I can also Delete comments, which is a bit of a cumbersome process.
    Actually that one on the Riverbend post is far less offensive (“wrinkle cream wrinkle cream…” ) than some of the truly nasty sexual-related ones that come in that I am totally offended to have anywhere near the blog.
    Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving to all US readers.

  7. Now we’re trashing Scharansky, who along with Sakharov, Medvedev and Bukovsky, kept the light of freedom flickering in the last decaying days of Lenin/Staliin’s Great Soviet Experiment!

  8. Aunt Deb,
    I think that the effect of the military on a democracy depends on the institutional strenghts and traditions more than the size of the military. If the lines of power are blurred and generals in active duty have a political role, then there is trouble. That would be the case in Chavez’s Venezuela, in Musharraf’s Pakistan, or so many other places like Syria and maybe Turkey, where the balance of power has a strong military component.
    I do not know what you mean by a less united Israel being better, nor better to whom. Israel has traditionally been at least bi-polar, and the left has had a strong voice inside and outside the country. The left has been in power for most of Israel’s existence, and that didn’t change a thing in terms of the uncompromising stances of the Arab world towards Israel’s right to exist.

  9. No one is trashing Sharansky. He has revealed his true colors with complete clarity in his statements and positions regarding rights and freedoms of Palestinians.

  10. in point of fact, David, it was the left (e.g., Peres, Barak) that has been far more victimized by intifada/terror/suicide bombing campaigns over the years…often strategically timed to ensure that they were toppled by their Likud election opponent (Netanyahu, Sharon).

  11. Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments: love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds. trevor Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing.

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