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Jewish World Review June 5, 2002/ 24 Sivan, 5762

Don Feder

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Palestinian democracy won't make Israel safer | The latest buzzwords among Middle East policymakers are democracy and reform. But democracy will not reform hearts hardened by hatred. Representative government in the Palestinian Authority is no guarantee of Israel's security.

After extreme arm-twisting by Washington, late last week Yasser Arafat signed legislation theoretically granting his people a broad range of political rights. After almost a decade of autocratic rule, he's even promising elections.

On Monday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad rejected Arafat's offer to bring them into his government. Given their popular support, this would have been very much in keeping with the chairman's democratic reforms.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized that America must press Arafat "hard and publicly to hold the freest and fairest elections possible" -- as if this would make a big difference.

If we can only bring democracy to Ramallah, ensure accountability and secure civil liberties, Israel will have a real peace partner, the theory goes.

But Haiti's multiparty elections have done nothing to curb the reign of violence on the island. Democratic India and lurching-toward-democracy Pakistan are poised to go to war. Hitler came to power through the democratic process.

And who are the Palestinian democrats waiting in the wings to oust Arafat and bring the rule of law to the authority?

So far, the only declared challenger is Abdul Sattar Qassem, a professor of political science at An-Najah University in Nablus.

Qassem, the Journal breathlessly notes, was jailed for 14 months by Arafat -- as if this makes him the Andrei Sakharov of the West Bank. On closer inspection, however, Qassem bears little resemblance to the classic dissident confronting a totalitarian state.

The professor demands the so-called right of return: inundating pre-1967 Israel with 4 million Palestinians -- those who fled during the 1948 war and their descendants. That would give Arabs a majority in the Jewish state. Thus would democracy be used to destroy the region's only real democracy.

Qassem is a unabashed apologist for baby-killers. "I am not prepared to condemn anything that has to do with resisting the Israelis," he admits. "These bombings take place as a response to Israeli aggression. The Palestinian people have a right to use various means to regain their rights."

These means include sending fanatics hopped-up on holy war to public places with shrapnel-studded explosives strapped to their bodies.

While Qassem was getting exposure in the Journal, one of those he refuses to condemn, 18-year-old Jihad Titi, detonated himself at an outdoor mall in Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv.

Titi's "response to Israeli aggression" was murdering an elderly woman and her 15-month-old granddaughter. (The lady was buying an ice cream cone for the child.) The blast left the toddler with half a face. Perhaps Qassem will use a photo on his campaign poster.

Titi's family was bursting with pride.

His father said he wished the lad had been carrying a nuclear device. When the killer phoned home before the attack, his mother told him, "Oh son, I hope your operation will succeed." Is this the authentic voice of the Palestinian people that democracy would empower?

Also last week, a gunman invaded a Jewish village near Ramallah, and shot and killed three teen-age boys playing basketball. The Palestinians are so creative at devising various ways to regain their rights.

In a May 15-18 poll, 52 percent of Palestinians said they supported atrocities like the Petah Tikva bombing. Approval for suicide attacks has run much higher in the past. The decline may be due to the realization that the tactics aren't working, rather than revulsion over the slaughter of innocents.

Palestinian democracy will not combat this evil (cultivated over the course of almost a century). It won't keep an independent Palestine from arming to the teeth. With Arabs occupying the strategic high ground of the West Bank, it will do nothing to enhance Israel's security.

The Palestinians should seek democracy in their homeland, Jordan. The West Bank already has a democratic government. It's called Israel, which should reassert its authority over territory it has never surrendered.

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JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate