Leon Wieseltier has been the New Republic’s literary editor for over two decades. Frankly, I’ve always felt him to be a cold, supercilious intellectual in both demeanor and analysis. I’ve strongly disagreed with most of what he’s said about the Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians over the years. In fact, he maintains impressive affiliations with neocon groups like Bill Kristol’s Project for the New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. But perhaps “somethin’s happenin’ here, Mr. Jones.”
But he has written a refreshing piece (Must Peace Wait for Democracy?) in the Sunday Times Magazine about U.S. policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oddly, I see his essay as an attack on the neocon dogma that democracy is the panacea to all the world’s ills (cf. Iraq). President Bush himself called on the Palestinians in June, 2002 “to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty.” Wieseltier notes that those like Bush propounding the “democracy now” proposition “believe, wrongly, that the cause of Palestinian misery, and therefore of Palestinian radicalism, has been the absence of open and pluralistic institutions.. The author counters “it is…perverse to suggest that Palestinian opposition to Israel is based primarily on something other than Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands that Israel captured in a war of self-defense in 1967.” He continues: “For the cynics, the insistence that Palestinian democracy must precede Palestinian statehood was just a method of impeding progress toward a compromise that would require Israeli concessions.” So take that Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle!
In his conclusion, he speaks remarkably powerfully about the urgency of peace for Israel: “Israel cannot wait for the vision’s [democracy’s] appointed hour: it must preserve its equilibrium as a democratic state and a Jewish state whatever the political proclivities of the Palestinians. After so much savagery, coexistence must be pursued even in the absence of perfect democracy.”
Well said, Leon.
My only quarrel with this piece is that it confines itself to refuting the notion that Israel cannot make a lasting peace with another nation that is not a democracy. But to my mind an even more pernicious and delusional belief held by Sharon and the Israeli right wing political establishment is that peace cannot be made until Palestinian terror ceases and Hamas is destroyed. You will note that Wieseltier glosses over this issue completely. In fact, he states slightly awkwardly “about the disqualification of terrorists from politics and diplomacy, the president was correct.” In other words, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa fighters are automatically disbarred from participating in any political or diplomatic process leading up to a future peace agreement. This to my mind is the same type of “idealistic and cynical” notion that he disputes in his article.
In order for there to be peace, Abu Mazen must encourage or force the transformation of these terror groups from military into political entities. And the only way he can succeed in doing this is if the Israelis prove to the Palestinians through real deeds that they are willing to end the Occupation and recognize a viable, independent Palestinian state. I’d like to think that this COULD happen, even under Sharon. But those of us who’ve dedicated ourselves to Israeli-Palestinian peace have been smacked in the face too many times by cold, hard Mideast reality to believe that it is likely.