Sunday, January 26, 2003

What does a society that is not ready for democracy look like? Amira Hass, in Ha'aretz, paints a vivid portrait of one. The Palestinians she writes about are all fervently hopeful for a Labor Party victory in the upcoming Israeli elections, because they believe that Labor's leader, Amram Mitzna, will loosen the tight military control that the current Israeli PM, Ariel Sharon, has imposed on the occupied territories. This unrealistic hope, writes Hass, "shows, in particular, just how much people need to hold on to their illusions and outside factors, and do not believe that any change can come from within Palestinian society, Palestinian politics or the ways in which the Palestinian Authority is contending with the Israeli occupation." Says a Palestinian journalist quoted by Hass: "The Palestinians know that they have no influence at all on the Palestinian leadership....all they have left is to dream."

To be fair, the creation of a civil polity capable of standing up to the armed thugs that wield power in one's neighborhood is no easy task. On the other hand, recent public opinion polls show strong support for the current leadership, with Arafat, imprisoned Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and Hamas leader Ahmed Yasin garnering, between them, the endorsement of seventy percent of the population. Apparently, the poll respondents felt safe enough to offer a wide variety of choices from amongst a diverse list of (mutually somewhat hostile) leaders, including some relatively democratic ones. Yet they still mostly endorsed the current collection of terrorists, who are immiserating them, and over whom they recognize that they have absolutely no control. While nothing is impossible, it's hard to be optimistic about a democratic renaissance being in the offing for them under those circumstances.

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