Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Will the Palis miss yet another opportunity?

Its been said that the Palestinians, and the Arab world at large for that matter, never "miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity".

Now with the election of Abbas, the question is what opportunity do they now have an opportunity to miss?

Will Abbas keep up the good cop / bad cop charade that Arafat had going?

Will he maintain the practice of saying one thing in English to the Europeans and Americans and quite anotherin Arabic?

Will he maintain the autocratic, corrupt style of government of Arafat or make real strides towards a free society?

The Arab track record for peace, democracy, and reform thus far hasn't been very promising.

Natan Sharansky in Our Test for Abu Mazen , coutesy of the Wall Street Journal, lays out for areas of critical reform if there is to be peace:

• Dissent. Under Arafat, the only freedom of speech or press was the freedom to criticize Israel. Abu Mazen must understand that the days of crushing democratic dissent are over. If Palestinian democrats know that the Free World will not allow the PA to act toward them with impunity, then an increasing number of democratic voices will be heard.

• Education and Incitement. In any society, what is taught in public schools and broadcast on public airwaves is a good indication of the values that are being inculcated in its people. PA-run schools and the PA-controlled media have been used to poison a generation of Palestinians against Jews and Israel. The Free World must demand that this end immediately.

• Refugee Camps. A PA dedicated to bettering the lives of its citizens will immediately seek to address the miserable conditions of Palestinians who have been living in refugee camps for four generations. A PA interested only in controlling its subjects will prefer to continue to use these Palestinians as pawns in a political struggle against the Jewish State by feeding fantasies that they will return to pre-1967 Israel. The Free World should express its willingness to fund a program that provides decent housing for those living in the camps. A PA leadership that rejects such a plan is not interested in the welfare of its own people and hence not a partner for peace.

• Economic Independence. In a fear society, people are cogs of the regime. That is why one of the anchors of a free society is a middle class not dependent on government largess. With a monopoly over basic industries, and the power to decide who receives work permits to Israel and who receives international assistance, the PA has a stranglehold over the Palestinian economy. Money sent is used to fund terrorism and corruption rather than to improve lives. While I have long advocated a new Marshall Plan for the Palestinians, the success of such a plan will depend on ensuring that money is invested only in projects that directly benefit the Palestinians. That will help them re-establish the middle class that is so essential for their future.

We'll see if Abbas will make or lose this, the latest, in a long line of "historic opportunities". MK Sharansky's areas of reform, combined with a real ending to terrorism against Israelis, should be a good measure as to where Abbas lies on the road to opportunity.

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