The “Arab Spring” has already toppled autocracies in Tunisia and Egypt and threatens to do likewise to others, raising hope for a transition to democracy in North Africa and the Middle East. But the process could be pushed disastrously off track by the Palestinian plan for a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) of a state encompassing Gaza and the West Bank, to be followed in September by a UN General Assembly resolution recognizing that state.
The resolution is sure to be backed by a large majority, including all the Arab and Muslim states. Leaving aside the legal questions it raises, the likely disastrous consequences on the ground, and the precedent it sets for other irredentist movements elsewhere, the initiative itself casts grave doubt on the prospects for democracy in the Arab world.
One would logically expect emerging forces of Arab democracy to feel an affinity with the sole existing democracy in the region, the State of Israel, and at the very least to lower the decibel of anti-Israel rhetoric. Palestinians, if they seek to build a state on a democratic basis, should see democratic Israel as a partner and ally, and negotiate face-to-face with it. Israel, in 1947, accepted the UN partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, and in 2000–01, the Israeli government agreed at Camp David to evacuate land it had gained in a defensive war so that a Palestinian state might be set up there.
On both occasions Israel’s offers were rebuffed, the first time by an invasion of Arab armies and the second by Yasser Arafat’s last-minute refusal to accept a deal.
That pattern is now repeating itself. The Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate peace with Israel and has instead entered into alliance with Hamas, which rules Gaza with an iron fist; tramples on the freedom of religion, speech, and assembly that are essential to any true democracy; fires rockets across the border at Israeli civilians; denounced the killing of Osama bin Laden; and is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
It is this unified PA-Hamas front that is about to declare an independent Palestine and take its cause to the UN!
Hamas’s charter not only rejects a Jewish state in the Middle East, but even calls for the murder of Jews. As President Obama said, “Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.” While some wish to believe vague suggestions that Hamas may now be willing to accept a long-term truce with Israel, the opposite is closer to the truth: The PA will not be able to make the needed compromises with Hamas as its partner.
In a May 16 New York Times op-ed, Mahmoud Abbas — who heads the “moderate” PA — called for a “just solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem not in the hoped-for unilaterally declared state of Palestine, but in Israel proper. Flooding Israel with thousands of Palestinians would put an end to Israel as a Jewish state and create two Palestinian states, the antithesis of President Obama’s call for “two states for two peoples.” And neither Abbas nor Hamas is willing to commit to ending the conflict with Israel even if their demands are met. Surely Israelis are justified in suspecting that the Palestinian leadership’s current stance is aimed at the ultimate elimination of Israel.
One often hears that one of the most positive features of democracy is that no democratic state has ever made war on another. Those nations that support UDI in the General Assembly will be effectively trying to elevate to statehood an entity that has declared a long-term war of annihilation on a democratic member-state — the only one in the Middle East.
In doing so they will help to bury the democratic promise of the Arab Spring.