It is true that despite the constant presence of the opposition on the streets, Lebanon is still a far cry, the experts say, from democracy. Syria as well, they are probably right in saying, is in no hurry, despite Bashar Assad's statements, to withdraw from the land of the cedars. There is also a vision for a time when Mahmoud Abbas - if anyone can do it - brings to fruition the plan for a "democratic Palestinian state" drawn up for him by Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair at the London Conference. But there are signs, including the courageous demonstration of intellectuals in Damascus, that indicate that the dream of democratizing the Middle East, which these experts and their colleagues in the United States have described as a pipe dream - or a delusion of the Israeli right in order "to perpetuate the `occupation'" - is actually starting to take shape.
Most Middle East scholars in Israel were hooked, and perhaps still are, on the paradigm whereby when it comes to democracy, the Arabs, including Israeli Arabs, are "different," and it is therefore forbidden to ask them, when it comes to human rights issues - the status of women, and individual rights, for example - to act as we, the "progressive" Westerners, do. And along with them and perhaps due to their influence, the policy makers particularly during the Oslo period made a laughingstock of the request, especially the one voiced by Natan Sharansky, that in addition to security, any agreement with the Palestinians should be conditional on and attribute the same level of importance to democratization.
Whoever links peace to Palestinian democracy, they responded, is like someone who argues that peace will not be achieved before the arrival of the Messiah. In other words, he is someone who prefers territories to peace.
And this was the theory that legitimized Arafat. He, an Arab who could not be - perhaps due to genetic reasons? - a democrat, would deal with terrorism, as in Yitzhak Rabin's gruff statement, without B'Tselem and without Bagatz (the High Court of Justice).
The reaction of the Oslo people and most of the authors of articles in leading newspapers to those who warned, as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov put it, that a ruler who does not protect the rights of his subjects will also violate agreements with his neighbors, has not been forgotten: This is the talk of the enemies of peace; a transparent tactic for keeping the territories.
When President Bush defined the democratization of Iraq as one of his main goals, he endured criticism from most of the intellectuals and leading newspapers in his country. But now it turns out that he, and not they, foresaw what lay ahead. And even though this was not the objective of the war in Iraq - there were, of course, global interests, and there was a genuine objective to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction that the president believed, as a result of erroneous intelligence reports, Saddam Hussein was continuing to develop - the gentle wind of democracy that has started to waft through our region is an achievement whose importance is difficult to dismiss light-handedly.
Indeed, the Americans, although by a small majority - as we would say here "but, nonetheless, a majority" - are agreeing to shed blood and spend money so that Iraq and in its wake other Arab countries as well will have democracy.
Fact: This majority voted for Bush when he made the democratization of our region, and apparently not coincidentally, one of the main objectives of his platform in his reelection campaign.
The case of Walid Jumblatt is the proof of the victory of the Bush doctrine: When Kamal Jumblatt, a Druze leader in Lebanon, was killed, apparently by the Syrians, his son and heir, Walid, hooked up with the stronger side, the Syrians. And only recently, after being convinced that Bush was serious in light of the terrorism in Iraq as well as the unrelenting pressure on Syria, did he dare to ally himself with opposition politician Rafik Hariri. And even when the latter was assassinated, he understood the hint: This assassination, at this time, when this strong man, Bush, clings to his vision, moves the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon closer - and perhaps also the end of the regime that killed his father.
The snowball effect may yet reach the Golan Heights: When the Syrian regime falls, the Druze will again be able to hoist - as they did in times when they trusted us not to abandon them to the revenge meted out by Assad's regime - the Israeli flag.
And from Lebanon to Egypt: It is not because of a late infatuation with democracy that Hosni Mubarak is allowing free elections - really - instead of the referenda that have elected him by a majority of 98 percent. Indeed, and this is a message for Israel, the rulers of the region are now internalizing the fact that Bush is determined to make his declarations come true, which is something that cannot be said of them and their Israeli counterparts.
In his inaugural address, Bush noted that Natan Sharansky's book, "The Case for Democracy," greatly assisted him in formulating his approach. "Only the power of freedom," he quoted from the book's subtitle for the celebrants at the inaugural ball, "can overcome tyranny and terror."
Democracies, he said, do not fight each other and do not provide a haven for terrorism. And why, one must ask, doesn't the government of Israel - which Sharansky, even though a prophet is without honor in his own city, and certainly in his own government, is still a member of - adopt this doctrine and present it as an ultimatum to the Palestinians? After all, specifically now when Bush has transformed it into his strategic vision for the Middle East, and the London Conference is also pushing in that direction, the Palestinians will not be able to dismiss it easily. And this is also indeed a way, apart from a more credible agreement, of also gaining more courageous presidential support for Israel.
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