The Magazine

Israel After Sharon . . .

And Palestine after Fatah.

Feb 6, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 20 • By PETER BERKOWITZ
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The Government of Israel will not be deterred by the threats of a minority of lawbreakers. The unauthorized outposts will be dismantled, and I have already given the appropriate instructions in this regard to our security forces and those entrusted with upholding the law. We will forcefully defend the values of the rule of law, even when attacked from within.

The third clearly connected Israel's national security to the achievement of liberty and democracy among Palestinians:

We are interested in neighborly relations which are good, productive and progressive. We support the establishment of a modern, democratic Palestinian state which respects civil rights, and is economically prosperous. Their welfare is our welfare, their well-being is our well-being, their stability is our stability.

Together, these statements--even the last, which is in no way inconsistent with acting forcefully to defend Israel's welfare and security from a terrorist state on its border--show an acting prime minister capable of articulating a clear-eyed pragmatic politics for a state that is both Jewish and a liberal democracy.

WILL IT BE ENOUGH? Particularly with a neighbor government run by Muslim extremists pledged to Israel's destruction? President Bush's statement at his Thursday morning Washington news conference--if your party has an armed wing and your platform calls for the destruction of Israel, you can't be a partner in peace--was welcome. Meanwhile, Netanyahu was quick to blame disengagement for creating what he called "Hamastan . . . a representative of Iran and in the image of the Taliban." And critics will treat Hamas's victory as further confirmation of the collapse of Bush's policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

In fact, Hamas's victory may strengthen Olmert's hand, and it can paradoxically but plausibly be seen as a vindication of the Bush liberty doctrine. Those Kadima voters who, like my friend, migrated to the party from the left will find in the Palestinian election results irrefutable confirmation of what drove them away from their old party in the first place: the conviction that in the short term Israel is unlikely to find a viable negotiating partner representing the Palestinian people and therefore must act unilaterally to establish defensible borders and separate from the Palestinian people. The danger that Kadima faces is that those who came to its ranks from the Likud may be tempted to return. But, in addition to Olmert, Kadima is led by Foreign and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, both ex-Likudniks and familiar faces. Furthermore, there is no good reason to suppose that Likud voters who broke with their party to endorse a two-state solution, based if necessary on unilateral disengagement, will think, as the Likud today does, that the solution to the problem of Hamas involves exercising administrative control over the Palestinian people.

As for the Bush liberty doctrine, central to its application to the Middle East was the administration's crucial post-9/11 conclusion that, as the president put it, 50 years of coddling dictators in the region had produced neither stability nor security. However, the Bush administration declined to apply, or failed to effectively apply, this principle to Yasser Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas. Since 1995, Washington, the E.U., and the international community have given many billions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority. But what do the Palestinian people have to show for it? Alas, not homes, schools, hospitals, factories, or roads, the material infrastructure of democracy and peace. A huge proportion of the foreign aid has been stolen or frittered away by the Palestinian leadership. And experts in Israel are convinced that a huge proportion of those who voted Fatah out and Hamas in did so not because they favored war to the death with Israel but because they were sick and tired of being lied to and impoverished by their leaders. Nevertheless, for the time being the Palestinians and Israelis are stuck with committed terrorists at the helm of the Palestinian Authority. So Bush was right: Coddling Arafat and Abbas has heightened instability and insecurity in the Middle East.

Israel's next step depends in significant measure on what Hamas does with its newfound political power. Some are speculating that participation in the democratic process and shouldering the responsibilities of governing will soften Hamas. Several senior members of the Israeli national security community I spoke with are doubtful. Even though most of their electoral support may have come from people angry at Fatah about poverty, unemployment, and lack of social services, the defeat and destruction of Israel are not mere policy preferences for Hamas but cornerstones of its Islamist faith.

Nor of course is Hamas's resounding electoral success Israel's sole urgent national security threat. Ever since disengagement from Gaza was completed in the summer of 2005, increasing numbers of increasingly dangerous weapons have flowed across the border from Egypt and into the hands of a variety of terrorist groups that took up residence in Gaza on Fatah's watch. On Israel's northern border, Syria looks more and more like a failed state. On the threshold of producing a nuclear weapon in defiance of the international community and already possessing missiles capable of delivering them, Iran has an elected president who has declared the need to obliterate Israel from the map of the Middle East.

In these harsh circumstances, the least one can say is that a clear-eyed, pragmatic politics, shared by its acting prime minister and a plurality of the population, has arrived in Israel in the nick of time.

Peter Berkowitz teaches at George Mason University School of Law and is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. His writings are posted at