Obstacles to Palestinian democracy

09.29.03

Former Palestinian security minister and relative “moderate” Mohammed Dahlan was part of Mahmoud Abbas’s puppet cabinet, so he ought to know a whole lot about not being able to get much done. He said that he wouldn’t want to be a part of the new Ahmed Qurei cabinet even if he were approved, because it will be powerless:

Dahlan said he does not want to join the council, which includes all the security chiefs, several officials, Qurei, and Arafat, since it will not be able to make any decisions.

A source close to Dahlan said the members on the council are all rivals and the one who will be in charge is Arafat.

Dahlan was brought into the Abbas government supposedly over Arafat’s objections, and has a reputation as being against terrorism and violence.

Of course, people keep getting drawn into these Palestinian power-play shows as though they’re real . . . as though the “moderates” aren’t just playing a part for the media . . . as though anyone could get into government over Arafat’s objections. It’s all an elaborate hoax that people keep swallowing. And central to that hoax is that if Israel would just (insert action here), then the Palestinians would make peace tomorrow.

This new puppet government won’t be any different than the old one.

And I’m starting to come to the conclusion that Bush is wrong, that democracy isn’t the best precondition to impose on the Palestinians at this stage.

Democracy is a great system . . .when supported by the people. But its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness in a population that is more resistant to change than its leadership. Look at Canada’s attempt to push through gay marriage, to the opposition of a large portion of the population. When the people aren’t ready for something, in a democracy, the government is usually too weak to make it happen.

So when you have a population that’s less than amenable to drastic change, then it takes a very strong leadership to push this change through. And a courageous, visionary leadership, capable of being ahead of the times and seeing possibilities that the population may not be ready for yet. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have no such leadership. Instead, they have Arafat, a corrupt dictator content to push them around and fan the flames of hatred and violence when it suits his personal ends.

But a free and open election tomorrow among the Palestinian people would probably result in the election of Hamas.

It’s utter racist nonsense to say that the Arab countries can’t deal with democracy. But it’s political reality to say that democracy can’t be externally imposed upon a population that isn’t yet ready for it. No country in the world came to democracy without first trying a whole host of other options for decades, centuries, or millennia. It’s still relatively new to the Western World, in the grand scheme of things. And it works – precariously, shakily – but it it works here, because the values of the people are in line with the values of free and open government.

So maybe instead of insisting on democracy before heading back to the bargaining table, Bush and the outside world should insist that the Palestinians come forth with some form of leadership willing to denounce terror and embrace reconciliation – whether their populations like it or not. And they should insist that this leadership has the backing and means necessary to enforce this. That can’t easily be propped up externally either – the West has backed enough corrupt dictators in its day, and has yet to learn its lesson – but there are more options within middle east politics for this form of government. The power structures and economic and social realities need to catch up before democracy can have an honest go.

It’ll happen. And sooner, rather than later, most likely. But it can’t happen right now, as these cabinets – each more of a joke than the last – are showing us.

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