The Right Coast

January 12, 2005
Sharansky on Palestinian Freedom
By Mike Rappaport

Natan Sharansky has a powerful article arguing that peace between Israel and the Palestinians depends on whether the Palestinian Authority promotes freedom and that this requires the World Community to pressure it to do so. Here is an excerpt:

Whether the election of Abu Mazen will be a turning point in the search for peace depends critically on whether the Free World, led by the U.S., is prepared to link its policies toward his new government to the degree of freedom the Palestinian Authority affords its own citizens.

For many policy makers, a free society for the Palestinians has little to do with the demands of peace. What is advocated instead is a policy that will strengthen a "moderate" so that he can fight extremists and make a deal with Israel. But merely replacing Arafat with Abu Mazen will not turn a failed Oslo formula into a success. Oslo failed because it was based on the premise that a strong dictator would make a strong peace. What Oslo's architects did not understand was that dictators need external enemies to justify the repression necessary to keep their societies under control. In contrast, democratic leaders, dependent on popular support, have a powerful incentive to deliver peace and prosperity to their citizens. In order to avoid the mistakes of the past, the focus this time must be less on summits and envoys and more on helping the Palestinians build a free society.
While Sharansky is certainly right that freedom for the Palestinians would greatly improve the situation, it is quite possible that Palestinian society is simply not capable of freedom any time in the near future. While many have argued that Iraq is not ready for democracy -- a claim I disagree with -- a comparison between Iraq and the Palestinians shows just how much further the Palestinians are from the necessary preconditions of democracy. Iraq once enjoyed constitutional monarchy and the Kurds, Shia, and even probably a majority of the Sunnis want democracy. Among the Palestinians, the civil society is so torn by violence and conflicted, and there is so much corruption, that is not clear democracy has any chance.

Still, the US and the World should do what is possible to introduce the rule of law, markets, and democracy into the area. But it is important for Israel to have a wall and a strong defense, because the chance of there being Iraqi freedom is probably an order of magnitude greater than the chance of the Palestinians creating a free society.