The Disturbing Aspect of Arab Democracy

The "Bush Doctrine" to advance democracy in the Arab world has kindled an incisive argument among our neighbors and in distant America, but it draws scant attention here in Israel, an unfortunate situation.

The "Bush Doctrine" to advance democracy in the Arab world has kindled an incisive argument among our neighbors and in distant America, but it draws scant attention here in Israel, an unfortunate situation.

Any change in Arab regimes will impact Israel enormously. In Jerusalem, however, this is being ignored, with the concept being treated as if it were merely a naive American fantasy. Israel's leaders are convinced the Arabs are not sufficiently developed to adopt a Western-style government, preferring the existing dictatorships, which are perceived as anchors of stability and security.

Israel has contrasting interests: On one hand, democratic neighbors will be less threatening and will reduce the danger of war; on the other hand, Israel will lose its unique character in the region. The "shared values" that tie it to America will belong to other countries, as well.

Many Israelis fear that if the Arabs are given the freedom to choose, they will elect extreme Islamists to power. But the real challenge posed by an Arab democracy will be its continued striving against the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

A very ominous sign for the future can be found in the Report on Arab Human Development, the third in a series authored by a group of intellectuals from Arab countries under the sponsorship of the United Nations Development Program. The two previous reports won accolades in the West because of the self-criticism they exhibited, and because they came out against the degeneration and weakness of the Arab regimes, calling for more openness and political freedom. The new report repeats the old claims and places considerable blame on Israel and the United States as obstacles to regional development. The publication of the report was delayed for two months due to American pressure to change some of the contents.

Israel is mentioned in the report 162 times, almost all negatively. "Israel's wrongs" are detailed one by one: "Violation of the human rights" of the Palestinians in actions such as the "assassination of leaders and cadres of resistance"; the killing of civilians; the demolition of homes; the construction of the fence; the establishment of the settlements; the disregard for UN resolutions, thanks to the American veto in the Security Council. The previous Knesset speaker, Avraham Burg, is mentioned in the report because of his comments regarding the impending collapse of Israeli society. Palestinian terror does not appear at all in the report, with the exception of the hypocritical mention of "victims on both sides, but unproportionally."

The authors do not make do with condemning the occupation of 1967, but also criticize the very establishment of the State of Israel "on Palestinian land" and demand the realization of the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees. World opinion has called for minimizing the "harmful influence" of Israeli-American ties. In a survey of the ways to advance the region, there was considerable support for the establishment of a "democratic state of Palestine" - or, in other words, the destruction of Israel. There are no proposals in the report regarding how to integrate Israel into the region and cooperate with it.

The administrator of the UN Development Program, Mark Malloch Brown, describes the document as "an authentic reflection of the view of many thoughtful, reform-minded intellectuals in the Arab region." This is a group that will carry the political change and democratization on its shoulders.

For Israel, this is very worrying news. The denial of Israel's right to exist is rooted very deeply in the Arab political culture, and an enormous change will be needed to uproot it and develop new relations. The evacuation of Gaza, and perhaps a future withdrawal to the fence line on the West Bank, will not be sufficient.

The Foreign Ministry said of the report: "The Arab scorpion has once again stung itself." This criticism is on the mark, but the problem goes beyond the diplomatic sparring. Israel's cumbersome efforts to court the existing regimes in the Arab region are not enough. A far-reaching soul-searching is necessary on the question of how Israel will be affected by political reforms in the region and what it must do to become part of the process, rather than be perceived as an enemy of change.