Israel, The Arab World – The Blessing and The Curse

By: David Singer

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

These two somewhat surprising statements by Winston Churchill – the savior of democracy in the Second World War – need to be revisited as civilian populations in the Arab world rise up to be allowed to exercise their right to determine their own futures – freed of the dictators and dictatorial rule that have dominated their lives for decades.

These people thirst for something better – but in doing so run the risk of ending up with something far worse than they have rejected.

No better example serves to illustrate Churchill’s viewpoint than the stark political differences between Israel‘s Government and the Government of Hamas in Gaza.

Elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza on 25 January 2006 and were generally acknowledged as being fair and free by international observers. These elections followed Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 and the evacuation of all 8000 Jewish civilians who had lived there for many decades.

The Gazan Arabs and 95% of the West Bank Arab population were then under the direct administrative control of the Palestinian Authority – which was responsible for conducting such elections.

Gaza and West Bank 2006 Electoral Voting Districts (green)

Edward McMillan-Scott, the British Conservative head of the European Parliament’s monitoring team described those elections as

“extremely professional, in line with international standards, free, transparent and without violence”.

That was the blessing. The curse was soon to follow.

Hamas had won the election with 74 seats to the ruling Fatah Party’s 45 – providing Hamas with the majority of the 132 available seats and the ability to form a majority government on its own.

The people had spoken but they had made a disastrous choice that has brought them nothing but suffering and misery for the last six years – with no subsequent free and transparent election yet in sight to give them the opportunity to either confirm or correct the wisdom of their choice in 2006.

Hamas has already made it clear it will refuse to take part in the well overdue elections promised for next September by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the past week.

Decisions have consequences – not only for those who make and have to live with them but also for those who are otherwise affected by them.

Many nations of the world were not prepared to deal with Hamas. These nations considered their own national interests as paramount when refusing to deal with this democratically elected Government.

Hamas – a declared terrorist organization openly calling for the destruction of Israel – was not everyone’s cup of tea. For others it was – as they hailed this unexpected victory.

Israel, the United States, the European Union and several Western states imposed sanctions suspending all foreign aid until Hamas fulfilled three demands,

* recognized Israel,
* accepted agreements made by the Palestinian Authority under the previous Fatah-led Administration, and
* denounced violence

These conditions still remain unmet.

Bitter internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah after the Hamas Government was stripped of its electoral win by Presidential decree without calling fresh elections – saw Hamas take control of Gaza in 2007 – leaving the West Bank and Gaza bereft of a single government since then with no prospects of reconciliation.

Instead of attempting to negotiate a peaceful resolution of its conflict with Israel – Hamas continues to indiscriminately target Israeli civilian population centres with rockets and missiles from Gaza. Israel has not sat idly by and allowed such attacks to continue.

Hamas has done nothing to stop the flow of terrorists and war materiel into Gaza nor to close the tunnels through which entry into Gaza is obtained.

Israel’s responses to these missile attacks and smuggling operations by taking military action and instituting a blockade have been denounced as “disproportionate” by a host of UN Resolutions, Commissions and Reports.

Israel has been the target of campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions – actively supported and encouraged by organizations, individuals and institutions in democratic societies – including Jews.

Large sections of the Israeli media and human rights organizations as well as Rabbis, lay leaders and politicians have condemned successive Israeli Governments for perceived policy failings.

Every world democracy – including the United States – has on occasion seen fit to single out Israeli Governments for condemnation whilst doing nothing to encourage the growth of democracy among the 300 million Arabs suffering oppression in the 21 States comprising the Arab League. These democracies have been part of the hounds baying for Israel’s blood rather than encouraging its neighbours to follow Israel’s democratic foundations.

Israeli Governments have had to deal with these criticisms and condemnations as they think will best serve the national and security interests of the electorate who voted it into power – not those who profess to know better than the average Israeli voter what is good for Israel and its citizens.

Israel enjoys the dubious reputation of being the only member state of the United Nations whose existence is threatened by a number of other member States. The Arab League has failed to recognize Israel for the past 63 years. Democratic countries anxious to preserve the free flow of oil in the national interests of their own burgeoning economies have allowed these dictators to grace the world stage.

Israel has survived – and will continue to survive – because it was founded on the ideal of regular free, fair and transparent elections..

The Israeli population – including its 20% minority Arab population – will again have its chance to express its view on whether the current Government’s response to the criticisms of its policies by the international community – and its own opposition parties – are justified when the electorate next votes in 2013 – or earlier if the Government is defeated on a no confidence motion or resigns.

There have been 18 free and fair elections in Israel since its establishment in 1948. Measure that against the record of any neighboring Arab country now currently in the midst of turbulence and upheaval.

When the inevitable triumph of the people over their dictators occurs in those Arab countries, one can only hope that those liberated ensure that their first vote is not their last vote.

Their struggle will then have truly proved to be a blessing for them – not a curse.

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