The Long Road to Palestinian Independence

Obama might be able to promote a Palestinian state, but he cannot promise that it will respect civil liberties.

The yearning for freedom constitutes the essence of many nations’ existence. But that is generally not true of the nations in our region ‏(including elements of the Jewish nation that are working to annul their own people’s political liberty‏). It is reasonable to assume that the demonstrators who launched the protests in Tunisia and Egypt indeed aimed for Western-style liberty, but other forces in these countries, who constitute the decisive majority, seek “liberty” in a very different sense.

The Palestinians who yesterday signed an internal reconciliation pact do not seek freedom along the lines that Aluf Benn urged U.S. President Barack Obama to articulate in yesterday’s Haaretz ‏(“Bin Laden killing gives Obama new chance in Mideast”‏). To obtain such basic rights, the Palestinians do not need a presidential declaration. Nobody − certainly not Israel − is preventing their conferral. Though the Palestinians lack full political liberty, what is stopping the Palestinian Authority’s leadership from granting the Palestinians “human rights, dignity and freedom from oppression?”

For over a decade and a half, the Palestinians have had control over their domestic affairs. Is the lack of a declaration by the U.S. president what has prevented them from establishing an independent, impartial judicial system in lieu of the present one, which is steeped in corruption? Is that what has stopped the Palestinians from maintaining a free press and governmental transparency or preventing corrupt cronyism? Is the lack of a presidential statement what has stopped the Palestinians from setting up a police force that protects the citizens rather than being a bastion of corruption whose main assignment is to protect the regime by intimidating the citizenry? Isn’t all this the very essence of civil liberty?

Yesterday, a new alliance was forged between those who bite their tongue to conceal their innate opposition to the existence of a Jewish state and those, such as Hamas, who show exactly what is in their hearts via bloody terror attacks. This alliance deliberately drives the other form of liberty, political freedom, even further away.

Had they really desired political liberty, the Palestinians could have attained it years ago. For instance, they could have obtained it after the signing of the Oslo Accords. The governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were prepared to grant this form of freedom. So were the governments of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

Yasser Arafat, who feared that fulfilling the commitments he signed in the Oslo Accords would cause him to go down in Arab history as the leader who betrayed the Arab nation’s bedrock principle − namely, the absolute negation of the Jewish state’s right to exist on sacred Muslim land − chose instead to annul the Oslo option by sanctioning the murder of hundreds of Jews. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, who feared that Obama might force Benjamin Netanyahu to cough up a Palestinian state obligated to recognize Israel, suddenly disappeared from the negotiating theater. He did this by presenting a precondition ‏(a freeze on settlement construction‏) that had never been put on the table in any previous talks with Israeli prime ministers.

Now, via his alliance with Hamas, Abbas has further hamstringed himself. That’s the real meaning of the sudden warmth in his relationship with those who threw dozens of his own people off of rooftops in Gaza.

In another year, the Palestinian Authority will hold elections. After the tumultuous response on the Palestinian street to the agreement “almost reached” by Abbas and Olmert, who would dare renew talks with Israel? Hamas, which won the last democratic election, is liable to repeat this accomplishment, and this time will gain control over the West Bank as well − just as those Israelis who support the reconciliation agreement are hoping. Free elections, after all, are the essence of liberty.

Obama might be able to promote a Palestinian state, but he cannot promise that it will respect civil liberties. The lamentations and eulogies heard in Gaza and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque after the killing of Osama Bin Laden make it quite clear what sort of liberty the Palestinians seek, and are able to deliver.