February 16, 2006
Our love affair with
democracy is here and there unrequited. Some sixty years ago,
the essayist Albert Jay Nock remarked that if you freeze a frame
on a member of the American clerisy, you will find his mouth open,
having uttered the syllables "demo." In the second frame,
he'll have closed his mouth on the syllables "cracy."
In a desperate attempt
retroactively to challenge the Palestinian election of Jan. 25,
we are now contending that it was not really pure democracy, because
voters were confused by the presence of third-party candidates
and partnerships, all of which had the effect of augmenting the
Hamas vote, etc. etc.
But the hard fact
of the matter is that next Saturday, the new government of Palestine
will take charge, and the majority of votes in that authority's
legislature will be those of Hamas. This is an event of colossal
importance in the sinuous path toward livable arrangements in
the Near East. Something has to happen. Either Hamas has to be
castrated, or it has to be stopped. By military action? God save
us, the United States and Israel have come up with a military
solution in drag.
The idea is to starve
the Palestine Authority into undoing the results of its election
by declining frontier payments to Palestine from Israel (they
yield about $55 million a month). Simultaneously, you suspend
all U.S. contributions to Palestine, leaving the authority with
a mere $100,000 in monthly cash from supporters abroad. This is
nickels and dimes, and in a matter of weeks, Palestine would not
be able to pay the salaries of 140,000 employees critical to the
maintenance of civil order.
Where do we go from
Well, it just happens
that the French and the Russians hove in over the weekend. The
rule had been, since the January election, that Hamas would need
to reform its charter, which calls for the elimination of Israel.
Something less than that, say the French and the Russians: If
Hamas will just agree to enter into conversation with the West,
without exactly renouncing its pledge to destroy Israel, that
will be enough for a start. What we need is jaw jaw, to avert
wah wah, as Churchill counseled in 1954.
The hulking monster
in the background of all this is Iran. The mullahs there could
finance the basic requirements of a Hamas-dominated Palestine
with one's day's pumping of oil. This development truly horrifies
the diplomats. The annexation of Hamas' program by the implacably
hell-bent Iran would be a long step toward the realization of
Then, on the other
side of Israel, we are in Egypt. And there, lively in the political
womb, is a bumptious child bursting to celebrate the birth of
democracy in Egypt.
We are dealing with
a movement that decades ago was illegalized by the Egyptian government.
But the Muslim Brotherhood persisted, and in the parliamentary
election last fall showed its gathering strength. Accordingly,
on the same weekend in which Hamas faced economic ostracism, Mubarak
announced a postponement by two years of scheduled local elections.
This was a visible sign of fright -- that democracy was on the
move, and that a religious organization which has engaged in violent
activities threatens the plans of Mubarak, which were to hand
Egypt over to his son.
Observers with minimal
liberal sensibilities welcome most moves against Mubarak, but
not every move against him, because he has stayed outside the
clutches of the Islamic totalists and because his country was
the first Mideast power to acknowledge and to respect Israeli
independence. The prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood overwhelming
Egypt and collaborating with the mullahs' Iran reminds us of the
risks that democracy can bring.
It is a bitter pill
to swallow, to see the United States and Israel forthrightly attempting
to subvert democracy in Palestine. But the first law in this sermon
is that democracy's fruits sometimes need either to be stillborn
or else to be resisted.
2006 Universal Press Syndicate