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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Palestinian Democracy as a Precursor to Peace

The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, announced on April 27, 2011, according to The New York Times, “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 its 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.”


Prime facie, an agreement that puts aside years of bitter rivalry is apt to give one a sentiment of moral approbation. Furthermore, an agreement by rival parties in a young democracy on having elections is along the lines of furthering or strengthening representative democracy itself—a political form that, while hardly perfect and susceptible perhaps to excessive democracy, looks like the best around. This is not to say that the results of an election (assuming a fair and transparent one) are pleasing to interested bystanders nearby or halfway around the world. However, if those who claim to value representative democracy hold the form hostage where it is young just because the victors of an election happen not to be the anointed party, the bystanders risk being viewed as hypocrites interested in political expediency.  To the Israelis who proffer the false (or artificial) choice, unity among the Palestinians simply means having a more formidable opponent in bargaining. Surely there is more at stake than jostling for strategic advantage.

                            Rita Castelnuovo of The New York Times

The Palestinian agreement represents real progress in terms of human rights and democracy. “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.”  Furthermore, contrary to the Israeli prime minister’s view, the agreement could provide the chance for negotiations to resume with Israel after being stalled in the context of Palestinian division and further Israeli settlements. Although the chances of an eventual peace treaty cannot be known at least as of April of 2011, the context going into the Palestinian agreement was certainly not amenable to a broader resolution.

Beyond Palestinian politics and Israeli reactions, the question of the impact of a gradually more democratic Middle East on Palestinian-Israeli peace is, in my opinion, more important. For besides the possible (though uncertain) prospect of democratic Arab states being more invested in such peace, a common political form could itself make possible an eventual Middle Eastern Union capable of relegating conflicts that seem today to involve such high stakes. That is to say, the stakes themselves might someday be relativized in importance by a process begun by the democratization of Arab states in the Middle East. If this is so—and it could admittedly be far-fetched—it is in the world’s interest not only to protect unarmed protesters from their betraying rulers, but also to do more to facilitate the transformation.  It would certainly be ironic were some of the world’s democratic players strategically against furthering democracy in the Middle East.


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