A democratic Palestine, with no discounts
President Bush did not propose a peace plan this week. He defined a war aim. Twenty-one months after the start of the great Israeli-Palestinian war, an American president defined what Israel is fighting for.
President Bush did not propose a peace plan this week. He defined a war aim. Twenty-one months after the start of the great Israeli-Palestinian war, an American president defined what Israel is fighting for: It is fighting for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state, for the principle of two democratic nation-states for two peoples.
Thanks to George Bush, the idea of a democratic Palestinian state this week became the complement to the idea of a democratic Jewish state. Just as it has been evident since the 1990s that without a clear commitment to democracy, the idea of the Jewish state is deficient, as of this week, it should be evident that without a clear commitment to democracy, the idea of the Palestinian state is dangerous. Just as the legitimacy of sovereign Israel is conditional upon its self-definition as a Jewish and democratic state, the legitimacy of independent Palestine is conditional upon its constituting itself wholeheartedly as a free state.
The complementary visions of the democratic Jewish state and the democratic Palestinian state are completely dependent on each other. For if there is no Palestine, by the end of the decade Israel will no longer be Jewish and democratic. But if the future Palestine is not democratic, sooner or later there will be no Israel: The violent extremism that will erupt from this state will cause Israel to vanish.
Refined Israeli journalists have turned up their noses over the last two days: Bush is superficial and simplistic, they claimed; he adopted the Likud's platform. But Bush did not adopt the Likud's platform. And the worldview that Condoleezza Rice formulated for him is far from being superficial or simplistic. On the contrary, it is the new American understanding
that found expression in the Rose Garden speech is a fairly profound Jeffersonian understanding - an understanding that draws a clear moral boundary between those who are committed to democracy and stability and those who are not so committed, between those who want life here and those who sow death here.
The Palestinians did not like the line Bush drew, and rightly so: For more than a generation, they have made quite sophisticated use of liberal-democratic terminology in order to attack Israel, without seeing this terminology as seriously obligating themselves as well. The American president's simple moral clarity will make it hard for them to continue to play this double game. Therefore, from this week onward, the demand for a democratic Palestine will be a legitimate demand placed openly in the center of the diplomatic table. From this week on, it will be clear that, just as the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state is a vital goal, the possibility that a dictatorial Palestinian state will be established is a strategic threat.
There were also Israelis who disliked the line Bush drew, for obvious reasons: These democratic and peace-loving Israelis have for years adopted the undeclared worldview that the Palestinians are exempt from the business of democracy, a business whose rules do not apply to Muslim Arabs. For that reason, these Israelis never demanded that the Palestinian junta establish a real democracy in Area A, with a real legal system and a free economy with no corruption. These Israelis also never demanded that Palestinian society come to grips with the racist rot that has spread through its value system, its educational system and even its nursery schools, which encourage five-year-old girls to play at massacring Jews.
George Bush's approach is different. When he was a presidential candidate, the then-governor of Texas made an interesting argument: White liberals, he said, relate to minorities in American society with a kind of "soft bigotry of low expectations." This week, he brought that approach to the Middle East. Standing between Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, the president declared he is no longer willing to accept the bigotry of low expectations with regard to Palestinian society. The Palestinians are no different than any other segment of humanity, he said between the lines of his speech. The fact that they are under occupation does not grant them moral discounts. When they murder, they are murderers. When they oppress, they are oppressors. When they are victims of occupation, they are victims of occupation. And as long as their leadership does not choose the democratic experience, it should be treated as an enemy of freedom. As long as it lends a hand to the collective aggression of murderous suicide-madness, it should be treated as endangering world peace. Nothing less.
Because of this, Bush's outline is not an implementable peace plan. It was not intended to be. This outline is a definition of the purpose of the war and its theater: Who is fighting who and for what. In this sense it is truly part of a broad campaign. It is a prelude to the coming attack on Iraq. Yet the Likudniks who are prematurely rejoicing are mistaken - for if the war Israel is fighting is a war for the establishment of a free society in the promised land, the occupation cannot be part of it. Neither can the settlements. The same cruel choice that Palestinian society must confront in the coming months will shortly confront the Israeli right as well.