Conditional Democracy

By Joharah Baker

It seems to be business as usual for the Palestinians following the whirlwind resignation of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad last week. No major ripples in internal politics have taken shape even though his resignation effectively marks the demise of the West Bank government as we know it.

Fayyad’s resignation was expected given the internal Palestinian agreement to reconcile and form an interim national government by the end of March. Today, March 10, the five committees set up for this purpose have begun sessions in Cairo under Egyptian auspices. The element of surprise for many was the timing of Fayyad’s resignation and the haste in which he made it.

At least this is what it looks like to the naked eye, that is. Since then, rumors have been swirling as to what is behind his resignation, who is pushing for it and why. While none of these rumors can be confirmed as of yet, there are political pundits who say Fayyad is using his quit from the government to exercise pressure on Hamas and throw the ball in its court. Others are saying the resignation was spurred on by internal splits within Fatah. Still others say the opposite, that it was orchestrated between Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Whatever the reason or the manipulations that may be behind it, the fact remains that the Palestinians now have a task before them – to reconcile and form a government within the next few weeks.

As if this task was not daunting enough, what is even more frustrating is the fact that while Palestinians are trying their hardest to adhere to the principles of democracy set down by the West, they are just not being allowed to do it. Since Fayyad’s resignation, the United States and assumedly Europe will follow, have made it clear that the only way any new Palestinian government will get the bundles of greenbacks promised to them is if Fayyad is at the helm. This at least, was the message relayed to European and Arab leaders by new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Sharm Al Sheikh summit at the beginning of the month, just before Fayyad’s announcement.

European and American officials have reiterated their stance that regardless of what achievements the Palestinians make on their own in terms of internal reconciliation, no one that is anyone in the international community will recognize a government in which Hamas sits, as long as Hamas continues to reject the Quarter conditions of recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.

Come to think of it, the international community, the United States in particular, may as well handpick the members of the transitional government. They have expressed their desire for a government of technocrats, neither Hamas nor Fatah (aside from Fayyad of course) until elections are held in January 2010. Then, it is their hope that Fayyad will also be there right at the head (elected of course by the Palestinians themselves).

Something is definitely wrong with this picture. If the committees decide that Salaam Fayyad should be reappointed as Prime Minister or if in 2010 he is reelected as premier or even President that is just fine. It is the Palestinians who should decide. Isn’t that what democracy is all about? But if political and financial pressure is put on the Palestinians so the Americans can have their choice of a government, then that is not democracy at all.

It is not that the Americans in particular don’t know what true democracy entails. They have both practiced it and preached it to the letter. The election of Barack Obama is clear evidence that democratic principles are alive and well in the United States. The fact that George W. Bush was elected into office twice is also evidence that democracy – even when it is to the clear detriment of entire nations – can be embraced in its entirety.

What’s more, the United States holds these same democratic values equally as high when it comes to Israel. When it became clear that right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu would lead the next Israeli government most likely along with even more right winged parties and personalities such as Avigdor Lieberman, the US did not sway in their principled adherence to democracy. “We will work with any new government that is formed,” one State Department spokesman said on February 11, a day after Israel went to the polls. “Israel is a thriving democracy and we will work with anyone who heads it,” adding that the choice was up to the Israeli people.

Obviously, what goes for the goose does not go for the gander in America. The US will not so much as throw a glance at Hamas, which they have branded a terrorist organization. Why? Because they will not recognize Israel or renounce terror. Even if these were two very valid points, the double standard here is glaring. If the US is to boycott Hamas (and that is their choice), then why don’t they boycott Lieberman? This is a man who has made abhorrently racist comments in the past that would surely secure him a place in the list of “undemocratic” leaders. He has called for the transfer of Palestinians living inside Israel and for the drowning of Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea, even offering to provide the buses to transport them there. If violence is the bar at which we decide who is a terrorist or not, doesn’t calling for the execution of Arab Palestinian MK’s who communicate with Hamas qualify?

If nothing else, Lieberman was a member of Kach, the extremist right wing organization outlawed even by Israel for its violence and incitement. Kach was added to the US State Department’s list of terrorist organizations in 1994. While Kach members have carried out several terrorist attacks against Palestinians both in the Palestinian territories and inside Israel, the deadliest of these was the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron by Kach member Baruch Goldstein.

So, the question here is not whether Salam Fayyad is preferred or not by the United States or whether his resignation was some kind of bargaining chip for behind-the-scenes agendas. This is what politics is made of. Rather, the question is why the United States and Europe are holier than thou when it comes to Israel’s democratic choices but changes its tune when it comes to the Palestinians?

Maybe it is time that western democracy as we know it should be redefined.

– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)

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