soon and very soon

Friday, September 23, 2005

After the Israelis' recent pullout from the Gaza Strip, chaos broke out. Greenhouses that had been purchased by international agencies for future Palestinian use were ransacked by the beneficiaries. Violent fights over looted equipment escalated among squatters, the government and terrorists.

Empty synagogues were burned. Gangs and criminals smuggled weapons and drugs across the unguarded Egyptian border. An apparent bomb-making factory in a Gaza building blew up. Warlords from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed victory over the Israelis and promised to set up rocket bases for envisioned new offensives against Israel. Gunmen immediately threw up their own new checkpoints to shake down and intimidate civilians.

Our politicians sound even more at odds over the future of both the West Bank and Gaza. Some conservatives — who believe that democracy will emerge in Iraq even amid suicide bombing and assassination — strangely seem to rule out any such optimism for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' elected government in a similarly violence-prone region. But are the Iraqis any more experienced in, or eager for, parliamentary politics than the Palestinians? And how can one be for the idea of democracy in the more pro-American Iraq, but not so in an apparently anti-American Palestine?

Some liberals are just as inconsistent. How can they argue that the American effort to build democracy in Iraq is either wrong, naive or doomed while they have confidence in the emerging Palestinian experiment in self-rule and wish to resume American aid to it? Why should we believe that Abbas is a legitimate leader while Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the veteran Kurdish foe of Saddam Hussein, is not?

But here again is the key difference so far between Iraq and Palestine. Abbas' cabinet is not galvanizing popular support for fighting the terrorists, whose thuggery against Palestinians is tolerated as unfortunate blowback from their anti-Israeli jihad. Yet for Palestine to become a sovereign state that conducts normal relations with its friends and negotiates differences with the Israelis, the elected government, like Iraq's, must assume a monopoly on the use of force and put down warlords and gangs.

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