Yesterday, President George W.Bush and his negotiating partners made a good start toward peace in the Mideast.
Now there’s only one thing that can screw it up:
Of the four participants in the Aqaba Summit, three – Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas – mentioned democracy. The exception was Jordan’s King Abdullah, the unelected leader of a country rated by Freedom House, the human-rights group, as ‘partly free.’ And what of the other Arab leaders Bush met with the day before, in Sharm el-Sheikh?
The same Freedom House rates both Egypt and Saudi Arabia as ‘not free.’
Of course, that didn’t stop Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from praising democracy – in other countries.
And maybe that’s what the Mideast needs: some Mubarak-like hypocrisy about democracy.
Because it appears that democratizing and peacemaking are two different things. But wait a second: Bush has said many times that democracy is the future of the Mideast. In his February 26 speech to the American Enterprise Institute, for example, he extolled the ‘d’ word, declaring, ‘The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder.’ That may be the case, but nations and peoples, democratic or not, have goals that are sometimes expressed in violence.
One might consider the Palestinians:
According to a poll conducted last month by the Organization of International Solidarity for Human Rights, 95 percent of Palestinians insist on the ‘right of return’ to the homes and lands they claim within Israel. Indeed, 84 percent of Palestinians say that they oppose the creation of a Palestinian state if it includes the formal renunciation of this ‘right of return.’
Israelis, of course, consider such a return to be a deal-breaker, tantamount to national suicide for the Jewish state.
So Abbas knows that if he is to have any success in negotiating with the Israelis and their American allies, he will have to keep the ‘return’ issue in the back-ground.
But such back-grounding could explain why Abbas – who was, in effect, appointed by the United States – has an approval rating among Palestinians of between 2 and 4 percent.
That’s right, 2 and 4 percent.
To be sure, Abbas’ popularity could surge if his summiteering delivered tangible benefits to the folks back home. But in the meantime, opinion polls show that anti-Israeli and also anti-American feeling is rising – in the Palestinian territories, in the Arab world, in the Muslim world. A survey released on Tuesday by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that 98 percent of Palestinians have an unfavorable view of the United States. And that percentage was exceeded in King Abdullah’s country of Jordan, where 99 percent saw the United States unfavorably.
Indeed, 71 percent of Palestinians and 55 percent of Jordanians said they believed that Osama bin Laden was the world leader most likely to ‘do the right thing’ in foreign affairs.
No wonder Jordan’s king made no reference to popular sentiment in his speech yesterday.
The numbers were almost as bleak elsewhere.
In countries such as Lebanon, Morocco and Pakistan, 70 percent or more of respondents held strongly anti-Israeli and anti-American views.
Does this matter?
Not if the countries aren’t democracies.
But what if they are democracies, where public opinion – and popular passion – rules? For example, in Turkey, eight in 10 have a negative view of the U.S., according to Pew. Three months ago, a high-level deal to let the United States use Turkish territory as a jump-off point for Operation Iraqi Freedom was undone because the masses erupted in opposition. Nine in 10 Turks opposed the war.
And speking of Iraqi freedom, what’s up with that?
Answer: not much.
American liberators have decided to put Iraqi democracy on hold indefinitely, until they can be more sure of the electoral outcome. In other words, Bush is praising democracy for Arabs – but thwarting it for the Arabs whom America controls.
Oftentimes, dictators can make deals – even good deals, such as peace deals – that democrats can’t. Such deals might hold, until the people speak. And that always happens, sooner or later. But until that time, let’s be thankful for hypocritical dictators/peace-makers.
Bush nixes democracy and hypocrisy
by James P.Pinkerton,
Newsday, June 5, 2003
typeface* by Kai Bernau
typography* by Helmut Schmid.
* of course, only of the original poster.