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Palestine a democracy?

By Taya Fabijanic - posted Friday, 10 March 2006

Last week Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer confirmed the West’s approach to democracy in Palestine. It is one of double standards, one for the Israeli Government and one for the Palestinian Administration.

In the midst of moving towards democracy, the West has demanded Palestine renounces violence while Israel remains unchallenged.

In January this year, Palestinian people freely elected the political party, Hamas, to administer their affairs. It took the United States a begrudging three weeks to acknowledge this milestone as a democratic event.


And as Hamas entered talks with Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even the Palestinian opposition political party, Fatah, US President George W. Bush attempted to meet these discussions by transforming the Road Map peace process into a list of demands:

“If [Hamas] wants the help of America and the international community to build a prosperous, independent Palestinian state, they must recognise Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace,” he said.

Mirroring the parameters set by the US, in an opinion piece appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 2, Mr Downer congratulated a “peaceful change of government”; demanded Hamas to “renounce violence”; and conveniently reminded Australians that it is illegal under Australian law to release assets to Hamas because it is a terrorist organisation. His central message was, “to exercise power, Hamas will need to change its position”.

Noble advice. But one wonders if the US is not but a little irked that the Palestinian Administration is following a different ally within the Road Map “quartet” than the US: Russia.

During talks with Russia, Hamas agreed to enter a one-year ceasefire with Israel.

It seems that the US is irked. While Hamas is building a democracy out of frustration, anger, poverty and fear, the US and Australia are conveniently reminding Hamas that it is up to them - and only them - to be responsible for changing their party structure, cutting off their para-military branch and renouncing violence.


With or without US encouragement, if Hamas manages to successfully enter negotiations through the second phase of the Road Map peace plan, they may alleviate some of the gross inequalities faced by the Palestinian people and acquire sovereignty of the Palestinian territories.

But if Hamas falls too much into the US’ form of “nation building” they will emerge into a “second-rate” form of democracy. Where the oppressed are asked to “let-up” on the oppressors, while no such request is made on the oppressors. While Israeli violence is assumed as a given, Palestinians are asked to negotiate with a state who has formally squeezed an indigenous group of people out of their native territories for nearly the last 60 years, and whose predecessors had informally started the impulse 100 years ago.

And such a demand is accepted because Israeli violence is not considered to be violence in polite circles such as the Israeli elite.

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About the Author

Taya Fabijanic is a freelance journalist. She recently completed a Masters paper on the media representation of nation building in Afghanistan.

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