indice generale








Arab democracy and progress require justice for Palestinians


Lamis Andoni


The Daily Star, Beirut, Nov 10, 03

Democratic Arab governments will mean governments that are more responsive to public opinion. And Arab public opinion unequivocally opposes collaboration with Israel, submission to US policies and conditions placed on them by international financial institutions

   Despite increased talk about the need to make economic development and democratization in the Arab world the major priority of intellectual discourse and government policy, the Palestinian cause remains the single most influential factor in the Arabs’ political psyche and life. It is not that most Arabs don’t view progress and the alleviation of poverty as relevant issues, but that the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict (particularly the Palestinian issue) on the political, economic and even routine existence of Arabs underscores, to varying degrees, the extent to which the conflict is an obstacle to development and political progress.  It is true that many Arab leaders have used “commitment to the Palestinian cause” to justify measures ranging from martial law to stifling dissent and press freedoms. However, these leaders’ acquiescence toward Washington or fear of popular anger against Israel have been used more often to justify repression. In other words, while public opinion in most Arab countries has always favored increased support for the Palestinians and stronger Arab governmental positions vis-a-vis Israel, Arab leaders ­ their bombastic rhetoric not withstanding ­ have sought to undermine political parties and all forms of popular opposition to their weak policies in addressing the Palestinian plight.  One should remember that Israel’s establishment in 1948, which involved the dispossession of Palestinians and the cutting off of an important part of the Arab world from its environment, instilled a deep awareness of a residual colonial legacy, despite the nominal or practical independence of most Arab governments from French and British rule after World War II. Therefore, the presence of Israel, with its policies of displacement of the Palestinians, confiscation of Arab land and alliance with the United States, has become a daily reminder of foreign influence and a challenge to Arab identity.  The peace treaties between Israel and both Egypt and Jordan have not succeeded in changing the perception of Israel as an occupier and an instrument for American control over the region. On the contrary, the treaties, while weakening the strategic Arab posture against Israel, confirmed to many Egyptians and Jordanians that Israel was demanding and receiving unconditional acceptance for its ideology of expansion and its racist policies toward the Palestinians.  Moreover, the treaties are still seen as resulting from an unequal balance of power that gave Israel the upper hand through the imposition of agreements that did not address the primary cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This popular sentiment is reflected in the failure of all political, economic and cultural normalization efforts between Egypt and Jordan on the one hand, and Israel on the other. Economic incentives, such as tying the relationship with Israel to the apportioning of US aid and setting up a special free zone that exempts joint Jordanian and Israeli-made products from American tariffs, have done little to change Jordanian popular attitudes toward Israel. The economic dividend promised by the late King Hussein and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres did not bear fruit for most Jordanians, even as Israel’s continued occupation and collective punishment of Palestinians has reinforced Israel’s image as an enemy and aggressor.  There is no doubt that the Oslo Accords of 1993 dampened popular support for the Palestinians in Arab countries. It was difficult to demand a better arrangement from Israel than one the Palestine Liberation Organization would settle for. But as it became clear that the accords and subsequent agreements were not leading to the end of Israeli occupation, movements expressing their solidarity with the Palestinians started regaining their influence and were able to mobilize new generations when the Palestinians themselves launched their second intifada in September 2000.  It is interesting that American decision-makers and some conservative and even liberal pundits argue, often with condescension, that if only the Arabs were to abandon their confrontational mentality toward Israel and focus on developing democracy, they might reassert their political weight. This is a very twisted argument since a democratic Arab world with more advanced economies would also be more capable of supporting the Palestinians and demanding legitimate Arab rights ­ though not necessarily through war. Many in Israel and the United States know, even if they remain in complete denial on this, that democratic Arab governments will mean governments that are more responsive to public opinion. And Arab public opinion unequivocally opposes collaboration with Israel, submission to US policies and conditions placed on them by international financial institutions that have so far only increased the gap between the haves and have-nots.  Democracy and the search for justice are intertwined. US efforts to divorce “plans to democratize the Arab world” from a genuine solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that recognizes Palestinian national rights and freedom (and now an end to the US occupation in Iraq) is either an act of deception or at best a futile exercise.  * Lamis Andoni is an independent Palestinian journalist who has covered the region for 20 years and who lectures at the University of California, Berkeley. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on, an online newsletter that publishes Arab and Israeli opinions