Saturday, May 18, 2019

Israel and the United States on Palestinian Democracy

I contend that the furtherance of democracy in general and more specifically in the Middle East can be regarded as a strategic pathway toward regional peace. The philosopher Kant wrote a treatise on a global federation as a means toward achieving world peace. The founders of the United States reckoned that all the republics within that regional federation must be democratic for the Union itself to be sustained. A United States of the Middle East would also stand a better chance were it's states republics in form. It follows that especially when democratic bystanders put short-term tactical and strategic advantage above furthering or just permitting the development of a young, unstable democracy, the hypocrisy puts off rather than furthers peace. The reactions of Israel and the United States to a Palestinian achievement in 2011 are a case in point. 
The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, announced on April 27, 2011 “that they were putting aside years of bitter rivalry to create an interim unity government and hold elections within a year, a surprise move that promised to reshape the diplomatic landscape of the Middle East. The deal, brokered in secret talks by the caretaker Egyptian government, was announced at a news conference in Cairo where the two negotiators referred to each side as brothers and declared a new chapter in the Palestinian struggle for independence, hobbled in recent years by the split between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza. It was the first tangible sign that the upheaval across the Arab world, especially the Egyptian revolution, was having an impact on the Palestinians . . . Israel, feeling increasingly surrounded by unfriendly forces, denounced the unity deal as dooming future peace talks since Hamas seeks [Israel's] destruction. ‘The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in a televised statement. The Obama administration warned that Hamas was a terrorist organization unfit for peacemaking.”[1]
An agreement that puts aside years of bitter rivalry is in itself morally praiseworthy not only because of the heightened possibility for peace, but also because just achieving such an agreement is not easy; rather, this is the road less traveled. As reported at the time, “A desire for unity has been one goal that ordinary Palestinians in both areas have consistently said they sought. Until now it has proved elusive and leaders of the two factions have spoken of each other in vicious terms and jailed each other’s activists.”[2] Tit for tat much more conformable to human nature than putting faith in trust where none has existed.
More specifically, an agreement by rival parties in a young democracy to have common elections furthers the ideal of representative self-government. Putting an ideal before partisan advantage is also morally (and politically) laudable because such a priority is not easy given human nature (nature and nurture). 
This is not to say that the results of an election agreed to by rivals (assuming a fair and transparent one) are pleasing to interested bystanders nearby or halfway around the world who gave their own agendas. If such bystanders brandish themselves as beacons of democracy to the world and yet act on their own agendas, the charge of self-serving hypocrisy can stick. 
To be sure, both Israel and the United States had at the time a long-term interest in the furtherance of the democratic form of government, so assuming a stance of enlightened self-interest would have avoided the noxious cloud of hypocrisy. Unfortunately, the two bystanders, who still claimed to value representative democracy, held the furtherance of the form hostage to their hostility to an enemy. It can be said, in fact, that democratic governments that refuse an opportunity to permit a young and not yet stable democracy to strengthen are not themselves worthy of self-government, for they are not sufficiently mature, politically, in putting their respective partisan agendas first. 
Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams agreed in retirement after the American Revolution that a self-governing citizenry must be educated and virtuous to sustain a viable republic. I submit that both formal education and virtue require and strengthen self-discipline, as well as foster maturity. To skip class and not study for tests, for example, flaunt self-discipline, whereas to follow the rigors of a course of study requires (and builds) self-discipline and thus maturity. The relationship between self-discipline and virtue is more widely understood. 
To the Israeli government, the sheer possibility of unity among the Palestinians translated into having a more formidable opponent in bargaining. Surely, however, more was at stake than jostling for strategic advantage. As it turned out, such a concern dominated at the expense of peace. Even the increasing dominance of Israel itself over the Palestinian Authority did not bring peace any closer.  

1. Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, “Fatah and Hamas Announce Outline of Deal,” The New York Times, April 28, 2011, p. A1.
2. Ibid.