The days of mourning have not yet ended, and the late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat is already greatly missed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his comrade-in-arms, U.S. President George W. Bush. And is it any wonder? Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is languishing in prison while terror reigns in Iraq, Osama bin Laden continues to give everyone the finger, Afghanistan is becoming the world drug center, and Europe is not showing any tendency to assist in the war against the ayatollahs in Iran. And now of all times, one of the last icons of the war against terror has been taken from them. Instead of the man with the scruffy face and the military uniform, they are threatening to seat a cleanly shaved doctor in a suit and a tie. Where will they find a new "there's-no-partner," to whom Sharon refuses to talk? Who will rescue Bush from his road map peace plan, which promised that "a settlement negotiated between the parties" will result in a final status agreement that "will end the occupation that began in 1967"?
But Israel will persevere, America will persevere. Dr. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) declares that he is opposed to terror? Bush demands democratization first of all. Mohammed Qureia (Abu Ala) demands a state within a year? Sharon sent him to censor the press. It looks as if, due to all the confusion in the wake of Arafat's sudden demise, they haven't paid attention to the contradiction between the two conditions. It's hard to think of a stranger combination than democratization and occupation - than a colonial power that demands that the country under occupation will not only hold fire, but hold its tongue as well. And all this, in return for a string of glass beads in the guise of a promise of "painful concessions" and an acceleration of the theft of lands, the destruction of houses and the pilfering of olives.
In Ramallah and in Gaza they have not forgotten the words of Sharon's adviser Dov Weisglass, who declared that after the withdrawal from Gaza everything would stand still "until the Palestinians become Finns." It's not certain that Israel 2004 would pass the Finnish test. In the absence of political hope, it's no wonder that Hamas supports the Bush-Sharon version of "democratization." The fundamentalists have the greatest interest in putting the "Oslo criminals," headed by Abu Mazen and Abu Ala, to the test of the polls. People who see themselves as the messengers of Allah do not have to fear that the elections will also lead to the imposition of a democratic regime. After all, nobody is talking about democracy, but rather about "democratization." Such a process, when it is being conducted while there is an occupation, is probably destined to an end that is similar to that of the peace process - which is being conducted while settlements are being built.
Minister Natan Sharansky, one of the leading opponents of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, suggested a brilliant formula to Bush: "the depth of the withdrawal in accordance with the depth of democracy." It's lucky that he wasn't here when Sharon destroyed the Israeli city of Yamit in order to build the peace with Anwar Sadat's Egypt - the symbol of democracy. According to Sharansky's formula, we would still be in a state of war with the Hashemite kingdom in Jordan. It is interesting that Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a great fan of democratization, conducted negotiations with the late Syrian president Hafez Assad over the return of the Golan Heights, without demanding that democracy be imposed in Syria.
There was one and only one Arab legislature that brought down a government in a democratic process par excellence of a no-confidence vote. That was the Palestinian parliament, which last year forced government reform on Arafat, which included the appointment of Abu Mazen as prime minister. What did Sharansky and his ilk propose as a prize to encourage the PA? Withdrawal from the center of Ramallah, or expansion of building in the settlement of Psagot (which is adjacent to that city)?
Democracy can be a two-edged sword. When it is practiced under conditions of occupation, it serves its extremist opponents. When it is accompanied by a cease-fire and the beginning of negotiations about a permanent solution, it serves the forces of peace. One doesn't have to be the head of Military Intelligence to understand that the only chance for the pragmatic group headed by Abu Mazen to overcome the extremist nationalist and religious circles, lies in its ability to convince the Palestinian street that there is a substitute for violence. It is Israel that is holding at least half of this substitute: an end to the cycle of the attacks-assassinations, and a renewal of negotiations on the basis of the road map - the creation of that knight of democracy George W. Bush, which was approved by the well-known democrat Ariel Sharon.
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