NEWS ANALYSIS : Accord Puts New Pressure on Totalitarian Regimes : Change: From Baghdad to Beijing, nations that don’t meet evolving global standards could be left behind.
The historic signing of a foundation peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians Monday opened the way to profound change throughout the Middle East but also far beyond that long-troubled region.
From Baghdad to Beijing, the accord is almost certain to accelerate patterns of global change that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
For the Middle East, peace between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization could be a catalyst triggering other changes in leadership and systems of government, finally opening up a region that has obstinately held out against political pluralism.
For the world, the breakthrough--coming after the end of communism in Europe, apartheid and minority rule in much of southern Africa and military dictatorships in much of Latin America--adds intense pressure on holdouts around the globe.
The Mideast accord puts psychological and intangible political pressure on totalitarian states to consider change that will make their societies more compatible with evolving global standards, many analysts said.
“There’s now a sense that the 21st Century is around the corner and that you can either be part of it--which means being part of processes taking place globally--or you’ll be left behind with real crosses to be borne, as Bosnia is now bearing,” said William Quandt, a National Security Council staff member in the Jimmy Carter Administration.
“If your economy is going to boom, then you have to be part of the world economy,” Quandt said. “If your political system is going to be legitimate, then you have to allow participation. And if you’re not going to waste your resources, then you have to have peace with your neighbors.”
Augustus Richard Norton, Boston University political scientist and former United Nations observer in the Middle East, agreed: “Skeptics have argued that the end of the Cold War is back to the future, to a horrible period of internecine conflict and bloodshed. But today’s dramatic handshake on the White House lawn offered a very different conclusion, and that is that the rules have changed on the international scene.
“And while we may have tired of cliches like the New World Order, we really are living in a new age, when conflicts deemed long insoluble will yield to resolution, in an age when great-power adversaries will see the wisdom of stability and peace. . . .”
To be sure, a host of major obstacles remain ahead--some combination of which could dash Monday’s bright promise. Terrorism could increase, as moderates move to seize the balance of power from extremists. And Israelis and Palestinians must still work out such core issues as the future of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees.
“Unlike the fall of the Berlin Wall, this process is still reversible,” said Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to President George Bush.
As the peace process presses ahead, the most immediate regional impact is expected to be the marginalization of the remaining radicals, even among their supporters. The pact may, for example, do more to seal the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein than did military defeat in the Persian Gulf War or the three years of economic sanctions. The dominant political winds in the Middle East now leave virtually no room for those who reject peace with Israel.
“It will definitely have an effect on hard-liners like Saddam and (Libya’s Moammar) Kadafi and maybe also Islamic fundamentalism, which all fed off the Arab-Israeli dispute,” said Scowcroft. “If the dispute is ended, it could even make fundamentalism a more benign force.”
The region’s authoritarian rulers, whose legitimacy is built on fighting the so-called “Zionist enemy,” also may find themselves losing their footing.
“As peace blossoms,” Norton said, “problems both new and old are going to sprout, including the gross economic failure of many of these regimes, the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of government services and the general arrogance with which individuals are often treated.”
The Arab world’s hard-liners will probably be further challenged by the introduction of a nascent Palestinian government, which is considered likely to provide a new model for democracy. Many of the Palestinian institutions-in-exile are considered the most democratic in the region.
“I’m bullish about prospects for democratic institutions among Palestinians,” said Richard Haass, National Security Council director for the Mideast in the Bush Administration. “They’re highly literate, bourgeois people in the positive sense of that word. I’m confident that democracy can take hold.
“And if it does, it’ll have a powerful impact, by example but also because Palestinians are everywhere in the Arab world,” Haass said. “So it’s not an isolated example. And people throughout the Mideast are also going to be watching.”
Ironically, because they are the best educated Arab population, Palestinians have often been called the “Jews of the Arab world.” Because of education and the Palestinian Diaspora’s migratory patterns, Palestinians are also considered the most pro-Western Arab community.
The strengthening of the Palestinian community in the region could thus ease the tension between the Arabs and the West.
“If this (agreement) helps usher in greater cooperation with the West and a kind of de-demonization of Western ideas, then it could be important for reasons that go far beyond the already important Arab-Israeli dispute,” Haass said.
Beyond the Middle East, several of the world’s last ideological holdouts are likely to feel indirect pressure as a result of Monday’s agreement. Scowcroft said the accord, for example, “adds pressure on Cuba, which is increasingly an anomaly. It could also (add pressure) with North Korea.”
Countries as far away as China, the world’s last empire and the largest remaining Communist power, are also likely to feel squeezed by the economic spillover of the new Mideast accord, as peace diminishes the prospects for Beijing’s arms sales to anti-Israel groups and governments--until now a major source of income, jobs and foreign currency.
Middle East regimes have been leading buyers of Chinese weaponry. China was among the first governments to arm the PLO and train its guerrillas.
In the past, Beijing has been willing to defy Western pressure.
But as former Middle East foes come together to make peace, backed by the vast majority of the international community, China could find the cost-benefit ratio of its defiance increasingly steep.