Wednesday, February 15, 2006

We didn't mean to take democracy seriously

The New York Times yesterday reported that the Israeli and American governments were discussing something along the lines of "making life tougher for Palestinians", essentially as a punishment for electing Hamas. Sounds like a good plan, as always grounded in a solid perception of the Palestinian mindset.

[I would like to note that stories like this are frequently inaccurate or reflect the opinion of a certain segment, and don't end up influencing policy. I actually don't expect this as reported to fully become policy--generally the administration has been smarter than that. That's not to say that it won't become partly true.]

Let's see... Palestinians elected Hamas because they are irritated that Fatah was not able to make any progress and their living conditions are deteriorating as a result of Israeli action... so let's screw them over some more so that they reelect Fatah, who we would rather work with, thereby invalidating democracy, instead of doing anything to help Palestinians, boost civil society and increase the sway of alternative liberal and moderate left-nationalist groups that support democracy. Makes sense, in the whole picture of things.

But really, this is the same dilemma which continues to bite the U.S. The key is to strike the necessary bargain with Islamist groups, recognizing their authority and allowing them their turn, as long as they agree to participate in a democratic system. (The Palestinian territories present a more complicated situation, of course, given the lack of sovereignty coupled with mutual violence). Doing this incrementally, and increasing assistance as an Islamic party proves its commitment, is the best way to go.

Of course, as widely noted, this problem is the result of our past support for secular dictators, Saddam, the emirs, King Hussein, Mubarak, and so forth... and the strategy of cracking down on the secular pro-democracy opposition is a failed one. The question is whether American foreign policy will finally realize, as it should have at the beginning of the process, that democratization will lead to Islamist victories and act accordingly to encourage the maintenance of a intrasocietal dialogue and consensual institution building.

Doesn't really need a comment, but of course, Putin's invitation to Hamas is purely opportunistic and an attempt to reinsert himself in the process. Yep, Hamas is a terrorist group that won a democratic election. So are the Chechen rebels, who aren't worse than Hamas (and neither is the Israeli army particularly worse than the Russian army in terms of behavior). And the French backing for Putin was, of course, realpolitik as well. Not that anyone really acts differently, all talk of liberalism aside.

So what will actually happen with Hamas? Well, as I previously commented, little dialogue was occurring between the PA and Israel anyway. Any progress will wait until the new Knesset is in place and the composition of the Israeli government determined. At that point... well, there will still probably not be progress, although we will probably continue to see backchannel communication.

No comments: