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Op-Ed: PA Backtracking Begins and Democracy Dies

American Arab Organization head blames Sharansky for suggesting that PA needs to be democratic before attaining statehood...
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013 2:00 AM


Arab attempts to undermine and trash the Bush Roadmap and end any hopes of a negotiated peace between Israel and the PLO were flagged with some remarkable comments made by James Zogby in his article published this week headlined "Putting the Blame on "Palestine's Democratic Deficit"

James Zogby's opinions need to be taken seriously - because what he says has clout - given the powerful position he holds.

Dr. Zogby is founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization which serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community

In his article Dr Zogby makes this amazing claim:

The rather bizarre notion that the Palestinians must first build a "practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty" before they can have a state was first articulated by George W. Bush in June of 2002. Back then, with Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a high point, the world waited for two months while Bush was framing his approach to restoring peace-making efforts. A speech had been written by State Department Middle East experts, but at the last minute the White House inserted its "democracy first" demand which, instead of restarting the peace process, proved to be the "nail in its coffin."

Dr Zogby then discloses who managed to get the "democratic demand" slipped into the President's speech at the last moment - effectively guaranteeing that the peace process would eventually be scuttled - as has now become so apparent in 2013.

State Department officials who had worked on the initial drafts of the speech were floored by the Bush insertions, which we later learned had come directly from the President after he had read a treatise on democracy by Natan Sharansky. Sharansky, the famed Soviet refusenik, had left the Soviet Union for Israel in 1986.

A Jewish Zionist - Natan Sharansky - had been able to influence an American President to take a decision that had floored the experts at the State Department.

How accurate are Dr Zogby's revelations and the inferences he wants readers to draw?

Firstly Sharansky had not merely "left the Soviet Union for Israel in 1986"

Wikipedia tells his story in more detail:

Sharansky was denied an exit visa to Israel in 1973. The reason given for denial of the visa was that he had been given access, at some point in his career, to information vital to Soviet national security and could not now be allowed to leave. After that Sharansky became a human rights activist and spokesperson for the Moscow Helsinki Group. Sharansky was one of the founders of the Refusenik movement in Moscow.

In 1977 Sharansky was arrested on charges of spying for the United States and treason and sentenced to 13 years of forced labor in Perm 35, a Siberian labor camp (Gulag).

How did Sharansky leave the Soviet Union for Israel in 1986?

As a result of an international campaign led by his wife, Avital Sharansky (including assistance from East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel, New York Congressman Benjamin Gilman and Rabbi Ronald Greenwald) Sharansky and three low-level Western spies (Czech citizen Jaroslav Javorský and West German citizens Wolf-Georg Frohn and Dietrich Nistroy) were exchanged for Czech spies Karl Koecher and Hana Koecher held in the USA, Soviet spy Yevgeni Zemlyakov, Polish spy Jerzy Kaczmarek and East German spy Detlef Scharfenorth (the latter three held in West Germany) in 1986 on Glienicke Bridge. Sharansky was released in February 1986

Sharansky was indeed well qualified to write a treatise on the virtues of democracy as opposed to totalitarian regimes.

But President Bush as head of the world's leading democracy needed no treatise on democracy to make his democracy demand an essential plank of his peace plan.

Do Dr Zogby's claims have any relevance apart from telling us the State Department spat the proverbial dummy and had a hissy fit of somewhat monumental proportions because the President did not like what they had drafted?

Consider what President Bush actually said on 24 June 2002:

"I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence."

The President's statement was the basis for the actual text of the Roadmap presented nine months later on 30 April 2003 to Palestinian and Israeli mediators by Quartet mediators - the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia.

The other members of the Quartet were well aware that the text they all approved contained this statement:

"A settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours."

Clearly an international consensus had emerged on what was essential to end the long running Arab-Jewish conflict.

Whilst Israel had expressed 14 reservations in accepting the Roadmap - the PLO accepted it without amendment as PLO leader made clear on 30 April 2003:

"Israel is attempting to alter the road map as we know it by entering into complicated negotiations and imposing its own interpretation.We will not negotiate the road map. The road map must be implemented."

Dr Zogby seeks to blame Israel's settlement policies for the lack of democratic reforms in the areas of the West Bank under full Arab administrative control.

It is time to end the blame game whilst perennially claiming victimhood status.

It is time to face up to the reality that only the fundamentals of  a democratic state - free and fair elections, freedom of expression and the media - can lead to a negotiated end to this long running conflict.

The sooner elections are held to end the seven year drought since the last election was held  - the sooner the hope of peace will become a flickering light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Dr Zogby has done the Arab residents of the "West Bank" and Gaza a grave disservice by dashing the hope of democracy ever coming to change their lives - as it changed the lives of Sharansky and the million Soviet Jews who eventually made it to Israel.

 Jew haters and Israel bashers must be salivating at Dr Zogby's "disclosures".

Such is the manner by which the Arab narrative has been created out of nothing - to a story that soon assumes a momentum of its own.