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Learning the Right Lesson from the Palestinian Election of 2006

Posted on February 4 2011 8:00 am
Carl in Jerusalem runs the popular Web site
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In Friday’s edition, the Wall Street Journal suggests that the lesson that ought to be learned from the Palestinian election of 2006 was that Hamas should not have been allowed to run without accepting past agreements and Israel’s right to exist, and eschewing violence. Instead, Hamas was allowed to run in that election without meeting those preconditions, and won the election, leading to the eventual split between Hamas and Fatah which leaves us with two de facto Palestinian polities to this day.

The Journal also hints that the Palestinian election of 2006 should have been postponed, arguing that the “proper groundwork” should first have been laid. It argues that it was a mistake to allow “an armed Hamas to participate in a political process whose very legitimacy Hamas rejects…” because “[A]nti-democratic parties cannot be a part of a democratic system, a lesson the world might have learned as far back as 1933.”

The Journal then goes on to attempt to apply that lesson to the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in an upcoming election in Egypt suggesting that

If the Brotherhood wants to participate in elections, it should have to promise to play by democratic rules, respect religious and social pluralism, and honor Egypt’s treaty commitments, especially to Israel. And because promises can be broken by those in power, Egypt needs a constitutional system of checks and balances to withstand any attempt to impose one man, one vote, once. Egypt can have a viable democratic future, provided that the democracy is for democrats.

These would all be excellent suggestions but for one small catch. In 2006, Israel had troops in the administered territories who could have prevented the elections from taking place or Hamas’ participation in them, but for American pressure to hold the elections and to allow Hamas to participate.

But the U.S. has no troops on the ground in Egypt, and given President Obama’s reluctance to commit American troops anywhere, it is not likely to have troops on the ground in Egypt in the foreseeable future.  Thus the U.S. has no power to stop the elections from taking place whenever whoever ends up in charge decides to hold them, nor does it have the power to impose conditions on the Muslim Brotherhood’s running in those elections. What the US should be doing instead is to (a) help non-Islamist democratic parties behind the scenes by using political consultants to ensure that the “good guys” win, and (b) to pressure what remains of the Egyptian government to accept strong international monitoring of the future elections to ensure that the Brotherhood cannot steal them through violence or deception.

These conditions are far more important to Egypt’s future than whether President Mubarak departs today, tomorrow, next week, next month or in September. But no one in the U.S. government seems to have focused on them.

What could go wrong?

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