The Sharansky moment?

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In the history of Israel's relations with the US, there has been no precedent for the influence that Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky has had on US foreign policy. While in the past Israeli leaders have worked closely with their American counterparts, no one other than Sharansky has managed to actually influence the way that American policymakers think about foreign affairs or perceive the role of the US in the world.


Today it is beyond debate that Sharansky has deeply influenced US President George W. Bush's thinking on international affairs. After reading Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy, Bush told The New York Times that Sharansky's worldview "is part of my presidential DNA." This Sharansky-inspired "presidential DNA" posits that the Arab world's conflict with Israel, like its support for global jihad, will end when the Arab world democratizes. In Sharansky's view, once Arabs are governed democratically, they will not wish to sustain the conflict.


If Sharansky and Bush are correct, then the past week has been one of the greatest weeks in the history of the Middle East. Syria's puppet government in Beirut has resigned and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is being squeezed from all directions. He has declared that he will end Syria's occupation of Lebanon and has turned over Iraqi Ba'athists to American forces in Iraq in the hope of stemming the seemingly inexorable demise of his regime. Egypt's dictator, Hosni Mubarak, under attack from Washington and from his democratic opposition – that for once is being supported by the Western media – has announced that he will enable other candidates to run against him in the upcoming presidential elections.


Empowered by the support they are receiving from the US, rather than declaring victory and quietly going home, democracy advocates in these countries are ratcheting up their pressure and demands. Damascus's announcement that it would withdraw its forces from Lebanon was met by a Lebanese demand that Hizbullah be dismantled.


In an interview Wednesday with Al-Jazeera, Druse opposition leader Walid Jumblatt said of Hizbullah and its claim that Israel is wrongfully controlling the so-called Shaba Farms on the Israeli-Lebanese border, "What are these [Hizbullah] fighters doing for us? They want the Shaba Farms. Let the Syrians present documentation that the farms are even part of Lebanon. The Israelis say that they were taken from Syria and we have no proof of anything. And what will happen after the Shaba situation? Will Hizbullah's people continue to walk around armed in Lebanon and serve the Syrians?"


What is happening in our neighboring lands is nothing short of a revolution. There has never before been a situation in the Arab world where so many people have been willing to stand up to their regimes and demand their freedom. Although the Arab revolution is only in its earliest phases – and it is impossible to foresee what will transpire in the coming days, months and years – the very fact that the Arab world has responded so dramatically to the Iraqi elections at the end of January and to Bush's call for democracy seems to be a full vindication of both Sharansky's political theory and of Bush's decision to graft it onto his genetic code.


But other events from this past week would seem to cast a pall on the excitement. On Tuesday, Israeli Arab MKs Ahmed Tibi and Muhammad Barakei, while participating in an Arab League conference in Abu Dhabi, told their colleagues not to normalize their relations with Israel. According to a report in the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, confirmed by the Ynet Web site, at the conference, held under the aegis of the Abu Dhabi Center for Strategic Research, the two told their audience that Israel was manipulating the world into believing that it was advancing the cause for peace by withdrawing from Gaza, but it was actually entrenching its control over Judea and Samaria and abandoning the cause of peace.

Tibi told Ynet, "The Sharon government is not worthy at this point of any diplomatic prize. The depth of the peace will determine the depth of normalization. And at this point there is no peace and therefore normalization can wait."


Barakei said, "I said these things in reaction to signs of normalization [between Israel and the Arab world] that is totally unjustified."


The fact that these politicians – who owe their positions to the fact that they live in a democracy – have called for the Arab world to continue its rejection of their own country would seem to put a damper on the notion that democracy can bring an end to Arab rejection of Israel. Indeed, as an Arab colleague remarked recently, "The reformers in the Arab world hate Israel just as much as their leaders whom they are trying to overthrow."


It is more than likely that the anti-Semitism with which the Arab world has been inculcated for the past 100 years will not disappear even if the Arab world becomes democratically governed.

But that is not the main issue.


Sixty years after the end of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is still a potent force in Europe and yet Europeans, whose countries are now entrenched democracies, are not planning to go to war against Israel. Their national identities are not defined by their hatred of Jews or of the Jewish state.


The reason Arab anti-Semitism is so powerful a political force today is because the Arab world is ruled by dictators. These men need an external bogeyman to excuse their failure to bring freedom and prosperity to their people. If Arabs are afforded the freedom to determine how they wish to live their lives, it is likely that social anti-Semitism will not be sufficiently powerful to provoke them into going to war against Israel.


Aside from anti-Semitism's apparent incurability, the fact of the matter is that in Israel's immediate vicinity, the democratic revolution now sweeping neighboring states has been smothered. Tibi and Barakei's statements may seem out of place during this revolutionary moment, but what they represent more than anything else is the failure to apply the Bush-Sharansky Doctrine to the Palestinian Authority.


The Palestinians today, four months after Yasser Arafat's death, perceive Israel as weak. In a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 74 percent of Palestinians said that they see Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to destroy the Israeli communities in Gaza and northern Samaria as a vindication of terrorism as a national strategy. The Palestinians stated that they do not believe that Sharon would have ever presented the plan if it hadn't been for the Palestinian terror war against Israel.


It is this perception of Israeli weakness and terrorist strength that undoubtedly prompts the opportunistic likes of Tibi and Barakei to side with them against Israel. Just as every time Israel opens negotiations with the Ba'athists in Damascus, the Druse on the Golan Heights hold parades in honor of the Assads, so today, when Israel looks weak, Israeli Arabs want to make sure that the PA sees them as loyal to the cause. While they can rest assured that a democratic but weak Israel will do nothing to punish them for their treachery, they cannot risk supporting Israel as it strengthens and legitimizes the terror-supporting, quasi-tyranny next door in the PA.


Ironically, it is Israel's democratically elected leadership that has been most opposed to the notion of Arab democracy. Sharon and Vice Premier Shimon Peres have passively and actively colluded with those who reject the Bush-Sharansky Doctrine in the US State Department to ensure it remains unapplied among the Palestinians.


Sharansky wrote in his book that when he presented his ideas to Sharon, the
prime minister told him that they "have no place in the Middle East." One of Sharon's advisers reportedly said that Sharon "views Sharansky's ideas with scorn." Peres, the father of the idea of replacing Israel's Civil Administration in the territories with a PLO dictatorship imported from Tunis, has spoken vacuously of the need to build an "economic democracy" – rather than a political democracy – among the Palestinians.


And the result of Israel's rejection of Palestinian democracy and its consequent effective abandonment by the Bush administration is the continuation of Arafat's dictatorial and terror-supporting regime in the territories. On Thursday, Yemen's news agency reported that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with Hamas kingpin Khaled Mashal in the coming weeks.

Abbas's decision to engage rather than fight terrorists has enabled a precipitous rise in the terror threat to Israel's population centers around Judea and Samaria. During his election campaign, Abbas embraced Fatah terrorists in Jenin led by Zakariya Zubeidi. Two months ago, the IDF arrested Zubeidi's brother, Jibril, who is a member of Islamic Jihad. The arrest led to the uncovering of a Hamas factory in the Jenin area for the manufacture of Kassam rockets that Jibril and his associates had planned to fire on Afula. And Abbas plans to enlist these men into his "reformed" security services that are set to be trained and equipped by the US, Jordan, Egypt, Russia and the EU.


Israel's decision to prefer the rule of Arafat's deputy to genuine democratic transformation in the PA has paved the way for the international community's embrace of Abbas. Rather than demand an accounting for the billions of dollars in international aid that were stolen by Arafat (and by Abbas and PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and their associates), in London this week the international community pledged to transfer more than a billion additional dollars to the PA.


Buoyed by this unqualified support, Abbas is now demanding that the international community drop the demand that he fight terrorists and enable the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state immediately. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has already accepted this position.


So in the space of one week, we see the consequences of both the Bush-Sharansky Doctrine and the appeasement-based status quo in action. While the region's war-torn, radical and terror-engendering history tells us what the ultimate consequences of the status quo will be, we have yet to harvest the fruits of the Bush-Sharansky-inspired revolution.


The main question we should be concerning ourselves with now is whether the revolution will be extended to the Palestinians or whether – once Sharon-Peres-style appeasement is grafted onto its genetic code – the revolution will fade away and be forgotten.



Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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