Thursday, February 20, 2003

I've been asked what I meant by “So why is it that so many westerners believe that this is not possible for their former neighbors?”

What I meant is that based on the Israeli experience, Arabs, Muslims and, I suppose, other peoples who haven't had the good fortune to been born in a western democracy, have the capacity to handle a more participatory style of governance, even if it turns out to be very different from the European interpretation.

It is true that second and third (not to mention fourth and fifth) generation Israelis are very different from their parents and grandparents, wherever they came from. The truly amazing thing about Israel is that its democratic foundations were laid by Eastern Europeans long before there was any sort of democratic tradition in their countries of origin. And it was further built up by people from many corners of the earth, the great majority of whom were not the immigrants or descendants of immigrants from established democracies. People here are such a diverse mixture, but still, God knows how, IT WORKS. We are the best proof you can get that democracy is possible even in the most improbable of places and situations, with the most problematic of people. The question, with regard to Israeli society, is not why there are so many deep and seemingly insoluble rifts, but why there are not more, and how is it we have not yet all killed each other. I know, I know, some are trying, but the rest of us are managing to work together long enough to fight off those who would have us all dead.

I accept that we had a problem with the fact that non-Israeli Arabs in our midst, the Palestinians in the territories, did not participate in the democratic process here (as opposed to Israeli Arabs who do participate fully in Israeli democratic process). Oslo, as I saw it, and I think many other Israelis did too, was to be the solution of that problem. The creation of a State of Palestine, alongside the State of Israel, which I naively believed would be democratic, was to give the Palestinians an opportunity to shape their own destiny at last. That this did not happen is not the fault of the Israelis. The Palestinians had seven long years to lay the foundations for such an entity and they chose not to.

I hope some day they will come to their senses and make an effort to persuade us that they mean to live with us here in peace, and then maybe they will get another chance to build such a state.