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The problem with democracy


Saturday 28 January 2006 And now, horror of horrors, the Palestinians have elected the wrong party to power.

Oh no, not more democracy again! Didn’t we award this to those Algerians on 1990? And didn’t they reward us with that nice gift of an Islamist government – and then they so benevolently cancelled the second round of elections? Thank goodness for that!

True, the Afghans elected a round of representatives, albeit that they included some warlords and murderers. But then the Iraqis last year elected the Dawa party to power in Baghdad, which was responsible – let us not speak this in Washington – for most of the kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut in the 1980s, the car bombing of the (late) Emir and the US and French embassies in Kuwait.

And now, horror of horrors, the Palestinians have elected the wrong party to power. They were supposed to have given their support to the friendly, pro-Western, corrupt, absolutely pro-American Fatah, which had promised to “control” them, rather than to Hamas, which said they would represent them. And, bingo, they have chosen the wrong party again.

Result: 76 out of 132 seats. That just about does it. God damn that democracy. What are we to do with people who don’t vote the way they should?

Way back in the 1930s, the British would lock up the Egyptians who turned against the government of King Farouk. Thus they began to set the structure of anti- democratic governance that was to follow. The French imprisoned the Lebanese government which demanded the same. Then the French left Lebanon. But we have always expected the Arab governments to do what they were told.

Sotoday, we are expecting the Syrians to behave, the Iranians to kowtow to our nuclear desires (though they have done nothing illegal), and the North Koreans to surrender their weapons (though they actually do have them, and therefore cannot be attacked).

Now let the burdens of power lie heavy on the shoulders of the party. Now let the responsibilities of people lie upon them. We British would never talk to the IRA, or to Eoka, or to the Mao Mao. But in due course, Gerry Adams, Archbishop Makarios and Jomo Kenyatta came to take tea with the Queen. The Americans would never speak to their enemies in North Vietnam. But they did. In Paris.

No, al-Qa’ida will not do that. But the Iraqi leaders of the insurgency in Mesopotamia will. They talked to the British in 1920, and they will talk to the Americans in 2006.

Back in 1993, Hamas talked to the Israelis. They spoke directly to them about thespread of mosques and religious teaching. The Israeli army boasted about this on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. At that time, it looked like the PLO was not going to abide by the Oslo resolutions. There seemed nothing wrong, therefore, with continuing talks with Hamas. So how come talks with Hamas now seem so impossible?

Not long after the Hamas leadership had been hurled into southern Lebanon, a leading member of its organization heard me say that I was en route to Israel.

“You’d better call Shimon Peres,” he told me. “Here’s his home number.”

The phone number was correct. Here was proof that members of the hierarchy of the most extremist movements among the Palestinians were talking to senior Israeli politicians.

The Israelis know well the Hamas leadership. And the Hamas leadership know well the Israelis. There is no point in journalists like ussuggesting otherwise. Our enemies invariably turn out to be our greatest friends, and our friends turn out, sadly, to be our enemies.

A terrible equation – except that we must understand our fathers’ history. My father, who was a soldier in the First World War, bequeathed to me a map in which the British and French ruled the Middle East. The Americans have tried, vainly, to rule that map since the Second World War. They have all failed. And it remains our curse to rule it since.

How terrible it is to speak with those who have killed our sons. How unspeakable it is to converse with those who have our brothers’ blood on their hands. No doubt that is how Americans who believed in independence felt about the Englishmen who fired upon them.

It will be for the Iraqis to deal with al-Qa’ida. This is their burden. Not ours. Yet throughout history, we have ended up talking to our enemies. We talkedto the representatives of the Emperor of Japan. In the end, we had to accept the surrender of the German Reich from the successor to Adolf Hitler. And today, we trade happily with the Japanese, the Germans and the Italians.

The Middle East was never a successor to Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, despite the rubbish talked by Messrs Bush and Blair. How long will it be before we can throw away the burden of this most titanic of wars and see our future, not as our past, but as a reality?

Surely, in an age when our governments no longer contain men or women who have experienced war, we must now lead a people with the understanding of what war means. Not Hollywood. Not documentary films. Democracy means real freedom, not just for the people we choose to have voted into power.

And that is the problem in the Middle East.

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