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Bigotry and the Road Map

Bigotry and the Road Map

Peace will only come when the world stops "the soft bigotry of low expectations" against the Palestinians.


A hole was torn last week in the international "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian peace when Mahmoud Abbas insisted that Yasser Arafat remains the unchallenged ruler of the Palestinian Authority.

"Arafat is at the top," Abbas, the PA's prime minister, told Egypt's al-Mussawar weekly, according to Reuters. "He's the man to whom we refer, regardless of the American or Israeli view of him. . . . We do not do anything without his approval."

Abbas's words should have ignited a firestorm. After all, a prerequisite of US support for the road map, spelled out clearly by President Bush last June, was an overhaul of Palestinian civil society, beginning with "new leaders, not compromised by terror" and committed to building "a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty." Abbas, an Arafat henchman of 40 years' standing, was scarcely such a leader. Nonetheless, the White House hailed his appointment as a harbinger of Palestinian democracy -- and as proof that its policy of freezing Arafat out was having the desired effect.

But now Abbas has made it clear that Arafat, far from frozen out, is as alone controls Palestinian negotiations with Israel. The Palestinians are no nearer to democracy today than they were a year ago -- and never will be so long as Arafat retains his grip on power.

Does anyone care?

If Bush truly believed that Abbas was the key to a democratic, tolerant, and Arafat-free Palestinian Authority, he ought to be fuming now. If he didn't believe it, or if he didn't really mean what he said about Palestinian democracy being essential to peace with Israel, the media should be lambasting him for having pretended otherwise. Either way, it should be clear to all that the road map, which is predicated on top-to-bottom Palestinian reform, is already at a dead end.

And yet the road map isn't being written off as a nonstarter. The absence of Palestinian democracy -- the lack of even the first stirrings of a democratic awakening -- is getting little if any press attention. No spotlight is being trained on the long list of measures the Palestinians are expected to undertake in the road map's first phase -- from drafting a democratic constitution to naming an independent election commission to holding "free, open, and fair elections."

It is as if nobody really believes the Palestinian Authority will become "a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty," so why waste time and breath talking about it?

And what is that attitude if not a kind of bigotry?

Let us be honest. How many Western journalists or politicians or diplomats could care less whether or not Palestinian society becomes a democracy? How many of them really think Palestinians are capable of replacing Arafat's corrupt and brutal despotism with enlightened self-rule? How many lose any sleep when Palestinians are deprived of political liberties and civil rights -- not by Israelis but by their fellow Arabs?

In another context, Bush has spoken of "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Isn't that a fair description of his own administration's attitude toward the Palestinians? True, his remarks last summer conditioned peace on democracy and tolerance. But has he done anything to make it clear that he meant it -- really meant it, the way he meant it when he said the Iraqi people would be liberated from Saddam Hussein's Baathist tyranny?

Bush was quick to embrace Abbas, a man with a long record of supporting terror and few credentials as a democrat. He has several times spoken of his "vision" of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. But where are Bush's strong words emphasizing that tolerance and democracy must come first? Where is his embrace of the few brave and beleaguered Palestinians who dare to openly criticize the corruption and ruthlessness of the Palestinian Authority? Where is his demand that the PA begin cleansing its public institutions -- that it stop broadcasting hate videos on its television stations, for example, and rewrite the schoolbooks that extol suicide bombers?

Much attention was devoted in recent days to whether Israel would accept the road map. Israelis, for their part, are focused on how the Palestinians will fulfill the roadmap's very first proviso -- crushing the terror groups that have murdered and maimed so many innocents. Both attitudes are understandable.

But in the long run, nothing is as indispensable to the rooting of peace than the transformation of Palestinian society into something more decent than the violent and backward thugocracy it is today. That will not happen without a lot of interest -- and pressure -- from outside. For anyone who cares about peace, for anyone who cares about the Palestinians, nothing in the road map is more important.

May 31, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 3

(3) Chava, June 12, 2003 12:00 AM

Response to "President Arafat"

The Palestinians may not approve of our leader; however, they do not support the US. The US gives financial aid to the Palestinians and what do we get in return? They dance in the street when our country is viciously attacked. In my opinion, the US should not concern itself with the PLA. Instead, we should encourage Israel to defend itself against terrorism as the US did after the 9-11 attack. Israel needs to be able to stand up for the lives of its citizens. It is their G-d given right to occupy the land of Israel and defend themselves against those who would harm them. Rather than looking to the "roadmap" we need to confer with the guide provided by G-d, the Torah.

(2) Erin, June 11, 2003 12:00 AM

President Arafat

Arafat is still in power because his people chose him. Did the people choose Abu Mazzen or did Bush and Sharon? Which part is the democracy then? the people electing Arafat or the US and Israel imposing a leader? And why should thePalestinian president be subject to US or Israeli approval when the presidents of these countries are certainly not subject to the approval of Palestine or any other country for that matter. How popular is George Bush in the world? But he was chosen by the American people, so he will remain the leader. Why shouldn't the Palestinian president receive this same right? He is chosen by his people, he remains the leader. If you doubt his support in Palestine and see him as a dictator, just spend a day or 2 in Gaza asking the people their thoughts. I'm sure he's more popular among Palestinians than Sharon is among Israelis or Bush among Americans!

(1) Charles Taylor, USA, June 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Don't do it!!

To agree to this "roadmap" would be a serious mistake. I'm a supporter of Bush, but this policy stinks to high Heaven. The only thing that those thugs understand is murder. Why not take the war to them? Make them submit and then they will gladly start a democracy. Is there any other feasable way? I wish someone would tell me. Some people do not seem to understand that we are in a global conflict and Israel is our only true friend in the Middle East. I hate to be a hawk, but how long is this mess going to continue before the supporters of Israel stand up to these terrorists? If this were done in the US again, we would destroy whoever was responsible. Why can't Israel?

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