Western fictions, Arab realities
I HAVE BEEN scouring EBay for the last couple of days, hoping to snag a one-of-a-kind item. But, alas, it hasn’t turned up yet. I’m looking for the late Yasser Arafat’s Nobel Peace Prize. It was looted from Arafat’s Gaza compound by the victorious forces of Hamas, a jihadist group backed by Iran and Syria that has routed the once-mighty forces of Fatah from power in Gaza. According to the Jerusalem Post, a Fatah spokesman said: “They stole all the widow’s clothes and shoes.”
The widow in question would be Suha Arafat, Arafat’s photo-op wife. Who can blame the looters for wanting to grab as much of her swag as possible? First of all, she wasn’t using it. Suha hasn’t been to Gaza for years. And her favorite shoe designer is Christian Louboutin, whose wares can fetch about $1,000 a pair, which is more than many Palestinians make in a year.
But it’s that peace prize, won by Arafat and Shimon Peres for agreeing to the 1993 Oslo accords, that really captures the lunacy of it all. It’s the perfect reminder for everyone, myself included, of the Arabs’ refusal to yield to idealism, hope or good intentions — and the West’s refusal to recognize reality.
“The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them which we are missing,” former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser once said. But from the U.S. point of view, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Maybe they just don’t want what we’re selling?
For example, in 2005, Israel simply gave Gaza to the Palestinians. According to the “international community’s” land-for-peace mantra, a peaceful society should have sprouted like a stalk from Jack’s magic beans. Instead, nearly 49% of the Palestinian people voted for a band of Islamic fanatics — even the European Union calls them terrorists, not that it matters much — dedicated to the destruction of Israel. But the diplomacy-uber-alles crowd has long been immune to contrary evidence. Remember when Arafat fanned the second intifada in spite of a generous peace offer from the Israelis and brokered by President Clinton? Members of the Nobel committee openly talked of revoking the peace prize — from Peres.
And now, the editors of the New York Times, President Bush and the leaders of the EU all say that this is the moment for Israel to offer more concessions to Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas. So much for the fresh-from-Iraq cliche that it’s pointless to choose sides in a civil war.
Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, lamented, “Once again, extremists carrying guns have prevented progress against the wishes of the majority who seek a peaceful two-state solution.” But how do you square this with the fact that Hamas, the party promising the destruction of Israel, won the Palestinian elections in 2005? Meanwhile, the leaders of Fatah — the “moderates” — had not long ago set the standard for Israel-hatred themselves.
The great irony is that Hamas now labels members of Fatah as Jewish “collaborators,” a designation that apparently justifies even the execution of wounded Fatah prisoners in hospitals.
The German foreign ministry went so far as to suggest that the triumph of Hamas — and the hardships it will cause civilians — are clear grounds for increasing aid to Gaza. It seems that if you choose terrorism, either at the ballot box or in the streets, the Europeans, like the good hands at Allstate, will be there to pay for the mess.
But there’s another, perhaps more important, lesson to be drawn from the Hamas ascendancy. The Bush administration pushed for democracy in the Palestinian territories, and it got what it wished for — in spades. The assumption behind the push for democracy in Gaza and in Iraq is that Arabs can be trusted to handle political freedom. The Democrats who demand an immediate pullout from Iraq also hope that with democracy, the Iraqis will be able to figure out their problems themselves via some euphemistic “political solution.” That is unless the antiwar Democrats are really advocating turning all of Mesopotamia into one giant Gaza Strip, the far more likely result of U.S. withdrawal.
For many disciples of the “international peace process,” it’s a matter of faith that the Palestinians just have to want peace, because how else can you have a peace process? For many supporters of the Bush Doctrine, Iraqis have to want democracy, because if they don’t, what’s the point of having a freedom agenda? But what if these are just beloved Western fictions? We see a well-lighted path to the good life: democracy, tolerance, rule of law, markets. But what if the Arab world just isn’t interested in our path? As a believer in the freedom agenda, that’s what scares me most.