President George W. Bush has once again demonstrated his irrelevance to the Middle East ‘peace’ process by suggesting that Palestinians "embrace" new leaders in his speech to the United Nations (U.N.). This is an ominous sign, coming directly after threats to the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s life from the highest level of the Israeli government and on the heels of a United States veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding Israel refrain from harming Arafat. And it is also a declaration of pure condescension and ignorance.
Any intelligent observer, after witnessing the outpouring of support for Arafat coming from all levels of Palestinian society following the latest round of criminal threats by the Israeli regime, would be forced to conclude that the Palestinian people have made their choice. They have already "embraced" the leader that they believe deserves to represent them. If threats against Arafat from United States presidents or Israeli prime ministers were going to change Palestinians’ minds they would’ve done so decades ago, when the same tactics of intimidation were first employed.
Instead it is clear that these sternly worded but empty warnings designed to force the Palestinian people to choose only who the U.S. and Israel want them to choose, do absolutely nothing but increase Palestinian support of Arafat and help him secure his hold on power. Why then would President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon keep making these threats? They only look ineffective when the Palestinian people reject them or weak when a threat of drastic action is not carried through. For Bush it might be a simple case of total ignorance of the situation and a reliance on the caliber of intelligence information that assured him Iraq was buying uranium from Niger or concealing huge quantities of deadly chemicals.
Sharon, however, should know better. Most likely he and the Israeli cabinet are simply continuously testing the attitude – and the steadfastness – of the Palestinian people in a manner much more accurate than any Gallup poll. Sharon is pursuing a strategy of grinding down the Palestinians – attacking, killing, destroying and humiliating without reprieve – and then threatening Arafat and gauging the public reaction. He undoubtedly believes that one of these days he will threaten but there will no longer be an outpouring of popular sentiment or any more young men willing to put their blood and their souls on the line for Abu Ammar. Eventually the Palestinians will be too weak, exhausted or fed up to resist a regime change courtesy of Israel. Since this scenario has clearly not yet developed, we will see a return to the type of constant attacks and harassment – daily killings of Palestinians and destruction of homes and property – that Sharon and his administration specialize in, at least until the next declaration that Arafat is "irrelevant" and an "obstacle to peace" or however else they choose to describe him.
Bush began his U.N. harangue against Palestinian democracy and self-determination by referring to an imaginary "advance of democratic institutions" in Iraq and warning the Palestinian people that they would be wise to follow this example. In putting forward what might seem at first to be a questionable proposition Bush reveals all that one needs to know about his concepts of democracy and his ‘vision’ for the Palestinian people.
When he suggests – and it should be noted that a suggestion from a rogue superpower who has shown itself capable of implementing a regime change at its whim should be read more like a threat – that Palestinians follow the example of Iraq he means that they should produce a mirror of the developments in Iraq, but without the U.S. having to commit more troops to an intractable Middle Eastern conflict. The Palestinians themselves should get rid of the leader that Washington and Tel Aviv want gone, or at least drive him into hiding. The United States will pick perfectly reasonable, ‘representative’ leaders for the Palestinians, like the Iraqi legislative council. These leaders will presumably do whatever it takes to stamp out resistance to them and to U.S. and Israeli dictates. This seems to be the Bush administration version of democracy. It is tempting to remark that this attitude smacks of the proverbial "white man’s burden:" the idea that democracy is not for brown or black people. These races and nations must be provided with the leadership and the direction that they are judged incapable of producing, but that the Western ‘guardians of civilization’ specialize in. However, the policymakers behind the Bush administration have no more regard for democracy or popular participation in government in the United States than in Iraq or Palestine. They are, at the least, consistent in their disregard for public opinion, independent action and any deviation from their worldwide imperial program.
Since the early 1970s, by which time independent polling began to show that Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization were consistently chosen by vast majorities of Palestinians as their representatives, the Israelis, and later the United States, have been trying to ignore public opinion and force their own hand-picked Palestinian leaders onto the disenfranchised masses. Ironically, this has always been done in the name of democracy. But until the world’s superpower and its Middle Eastern proxy really understand the meaning of the word, democracy will remain an unreachable goal for the people of the region and peace a destination that won’t be found on any ‘road map.’