Thursday, November 11, 2004


If only

It is time for George Bush to put his money where his mouth is. With the passing of Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian Authority is supposed to hold presidential elections within 60 days. That's two months, so it will be sometime in January. Guess who else is supposed to have elections in January? Iraq. If Bush can get behind elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, then he needs to get behind elections in Palestine. There needs to be no bullshit about how you can't have elections with violence. One need only look at Iraq and see the statements from Rumsfeld and Bush about elections there to know that this is not the way that the Bush administration sees it. Talking yesterday, President Bush said:
"There will be an opening for peace when leadership of the Palestinian people steps forward and says, `Help us build a democratic society.'

"And when that happens and I believe it's going to happen because I believe all people desire to live in freedom the United States of America will be more than willing to help build the institutions necessary for a free society to emerge so that the Palestinians can have their own state."
Well, that's happening now (and actually has been happening for a while, with no help from the US). What the US needs to do is put pressure on Israel to let elections happen. Because you cannot have an election with no freedom of movement, with checkpoints and closures and curfews. It's impossible. And Israel is not going to just stop everything so that the Palestinians can have elections. You need the US and to a lesser extent the Europeans (you already see Tony Blair saying a word or two about this, though nothing substantial) to get behind this and walk the walk of democracy in the Middle East. If it does not, it will become clear that invasion by the US military is the prerequisite for "democratization."

I went to a talk by Nathan Brown yesterday about Palestinian succession after Arafat and I came away with three key things.
1) The key to having a Palestinian leadership that can engage in the peace process with legitimacy is US pressure on Israel to support a) elections in the Palestinian territories and b) engagement with the Palestinians on Gaza disengagement, so that it becomes a bilateral step and not a unilateral action.

2) The way the position of Prime Minister was written into the PA actually makes it a very powerful position. Under Arafat, this power existed really only on paper, as the presidency was obviously the only office that mattered. But with Arafat gone, it is conceivable that an individual could rule from the Prime Ministership and the Presidency would be more of a ceremonial position (very much like within Israel).

3) Everything really depends on the Israelis. It does not matter who the Palestinians choose as their leader or which leader emerges. If the Israelis refuse to engage with that person, there will be no change. There can be no elections without Israeli acquiescence. The list goes on.
So, yes, there is an opportunity here. But it is not only to have a new Palestinian leadership. The opportunity exists for the US and Europe to exert pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinians, to work together to have democratic elections, and all that other great stuff. If only.

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