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Reprinted from Jewish Ideas Daily.
In his May 19 speech celebrating the Arab Spring, President Obama expressed enthusiasm for the “movements for change” that have been unseating tyrants previously supported or tolerated by the United States. In language echoing that of his despised rival George W. Bush, he adopted as his own the idea of promoting democracy in the Middle East, not only as a bedrock principle of American foreign policy but as an approach that will actually increase the chances for peace and stability.
In outlining his new vision, an abrupt if unacknowledged departure from his earlier policy, the President propounded six “principles” that will henceforth guide the American response to the region: opposition to repressive government combined with support for the rights of free speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, equality of men and women under the law, and “the right to choose your own leaders.” It “will be the policy of the United States,” he summed up, “to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.”
Among those commentators otherwise gratified by the President’s turnabout, some focused on conspicuous omissions from his list of regional problem areas, notably Saudi Arabia. Many more focused on the last third of his speech, where he illogically and unhelpfully pivoted from the issue of democracy to the stalled Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations. Less noticed but even more striking is that in doing so, he tossed overboard his own major theme: the transformative power of Arab democracy.
Do not the Palestinians themselves, at least as much as any of the other peoples of the Middle East, need a new beginning of consensual government? And might not a springtime of freedom among them blossom into a force for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land? Either the thought never occurred to the President or his advisers—a sign of criminal negligence—or it occurred and was, correctly, dismissed as fatal to their misbegotten plans for a rapid “solution” of the conflict with Israel.
Consider Gaza, where more than a million Palestinians suffer under a regime so repressive that Mubarak’s Egypt seems like a bastion of liberty by comparison. How did this regime come about? In August 2005, the Israeli government led by Ariel Sharon went beyond what the President is now pressuring Benjamin Netanyahu to do: namely, accept as a negotiating principle the return to the pre-June 1967 lines with “land swaps.”
Six years ago in Gaza, Israel voluntarily withdrew its forces all the way back to the pre-1967 lines, without even asking for land swaps that would have preserved the Jewish settlements there. Not only did the withdrawal from Gaza make possible the birth of a Palestinian mini-state, but, in an added bonus, Israel turned over to the Palestinians a thriving flower industry to help jumpstart the local economy. Their response: first they destroyed the donated greenhouses, then they systematically destroyed any semblance of democracy or civil rights in their “liberated” territory.
Following the practice of the Muslim Brotherhood, itself consciously modeled on the practice of 20th-century European fascism, the Hamas terrorist organization participated in one election, one time. In its lightning coup, leaders of the rival Fatah party were murdered in their offices and thrown from the roof of the parliament building.
Hamas’s official 1988 charter calls explicitly for the replacement of Israel by a Palestinian Islamic state. Through its indiscriminate rocketing of Israeli towns, Gaza’s ruling party has made clear that it means what it says. For Hamas, the 1967 line is of little interest; the struggle has always been, and remains, over the 1947 lines, set by the UN in the partition plan calling for a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian Arab one. To ensure that all Palestinians remain steadfast in that armed struggle, Hamas rapidly stamped out the last vestiges of freedom of speech, press, and religion, and consolidated its control over independent civic institutions.
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