Palestinian freedom, not summits
by Natan Sharansky
peace process will fail again if it is not linked to real democracy
and human rights.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
is time to explore the road not taken, a road that could make all
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
is minister of Diaspora affairs and Jerusalem, and co-author, with
Ron Dermer, of the just-released book The Case for Democracy