On October 30, 2000, I clipped an article by Natan Sharansky from the Wall Street Journal, thinking it might one day come in handy. Sharansky may not exactly be identified with the peace camp in Israeli politics (he was a minister under Ehud Barak, and he is now a minister under Ariel Sharon), but in his days as a Soviet Jewish refusenik he was trained in the school of Andrei Sakharov, and he does have a conception of the relationship between human rights and diplomacy, or perhaps I should say he has a conception of a relationship between these two things. The key paragraph is this one:
The pervasive assumption among nearly all of Oslo’s proponents was that the undemocratic nature of Yasser Arafat’s regime, far from being an obstacle to peace, was actually a strategic asset. Repeatedly told that Arafat was the only man who could "deliver," we were also informed that he would be even more effective than Israel in fighting terror. Yitzhak Rabin used reasoning that chillingly summed up the government’s approach. Mr. Arafat would deal with terrorists, he said, "without a Supreme Court, without human rights organizations and without all kinds of bleeding-heart liberals." In light of such an understanding of our "peace partner," do we have anyone to blame but ourselves for what Mr. Arafat’s authoritarianism has brought upon us?
It occurred to me to revisit this article after a recent conversation I had with a leading Palestinian human rights campaigner. This man has been imprisoned by Arafat several times for advocating an end to censorship and for criticizing the lack of democracy in "the Authority." (On one occasion, when Arafat’s police could think of no other charge, they accused him of peddling hashish. The "war on drugs" in action.) He told me that the worst moment of all was when Vice President Al Gore made an official visit to the region in order to present Arafat with a tranche of money earmarked for the setting up of special courts for Palestinians–known colloquially as "midnight courts," for reasons as easily imagined as described. It would be difficult to find a more clear and contemptuous illustration of the system of "separate and unequal." And, of course, these tribunals were not used for the suppression of violence but for the suppression of dissent.
One reason for believing in the authenticity of the recently "captured documents" from Ramallah, presented by Israel to the CIA, is that they do not all confirm Ariel Sharon’s propaganda. They show Arafat giving in to the suicide-assassin factions, rather than inciting them; this tends to confirm what we already know about his endless and futile balancing act. They also show an awareness on Arafat’s part that there exists a Saudi-financed bid to depose such secularists and leftists as remain in the leadership of the PLO, and to replace them with zealous Islamists who, if not Wahhabi themselves, are content to be in Wahhabi pay.
There is, I believe, a connection between these observations. In attacking those who made excuses for suicide-murders a few weeks ago (excuses that incidentally undermine those Palestinians who are genuinely opposed to such deeds), I said that such atrocities would increase rather than decrease if the prospect of a two-state agreement became more immediate. A reader has now accused me [see "Letters," June 10] of echoing Sharon’s rhetoric by making this point. Perhaps I was not being plain enough. The Islamist elements that sponsor suicide attacks in Israel itself are (a) opposed to any Jewish presence in Palestine and (b) in favor of a theocratic state for Palestinians. A two-state solution is bound to favor, in the long run, those Palestinians who believe in coexistence, who tend to be the same as those who believe in political democracy and civil society. (You can do the same thought-experiment the other way around: Any move to dismantle settlements or to abandon the fantasy of Eretz Israel will very probably arouse a rejectionist or OAS-type violence among some of the armed zealots, who are also those who want to impose Orthodox laws on all Jews.)
Thus there is a good case for considering a mutual-recognition policy, and a policy of democratic reform, as being two aspects of the same thing. It is a certainty that those Palestinians who call for a civil-society solution and for more transparency within Palestinian institutions will also run the risk of being accused of "treachery" on the national question. This is not, as that Gore visit shows, a question Americans can avoid. The Bush Administration’s reliance on the worst of the Clinton-Oslo legacy–namely, the collusion of secretive police forces under the chairmanship of George Tenet–is the least-criticized aspect of the current nightmare, and should be much more steadily opposed than it is.
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Perhaps I gave the wrong title to my critique of Blinded by the Right ["The Real David Brock," May 27]. A few days later the East Bay Express published a lengthy exposé titled "The Unreal David Brock." Written by Will Harper, this article interviewed nineteen of Brock’s former contemporaries at Berkeley and also checked the files of all the student papers he said he had written for. It turns out that none of the claims he makes about his university days are true. This isn’t a small matter, because Berkeley was the supposed scene of Brock’s first–but not last–conversion experience. See, if you will, www.eastbayexpress.com. A few days after this, the Los Angeles Times reported a reunion between Bill Clinton and his former aides, in the course of which he advised them to read the Brock book and discover "what unhappy people their counterparts on the right are." And a few days after that, the Washington Post reported that Brock had to finish his book after committing himself to an institution. It seems he thought people were after him. Actually, and indeed sadly, the reverse would seem to be the case. Nobody wants poor David at all. I should say that the market has now fallen out of his bottom.