August 8, 2008; Page A13
A tragic peace process turned to farce last weekend. After bloody clashes between Hamas and Fatah loyalists in the Gaza strip killed 11 Palestinians and injured 120 more, nearly 200 Palestinians associated with Fatah sought asylum in Israel. Some have been transferred to the West Bank cities of Jericho and Ramallah, where they are now under the jurisdiction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Dozens more who were considered unwelcome by Mr. Abbas's office were anxiously awaiting possible deportation back to Gaza. The only thing that saved them from this fate was an appeal by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent the government from sending the Fatah refugees back to Gaza.
The irony of the present situation boggles the mind. In 1993, then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin defended the Oslo accords he signed with Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organization to a somewhat skeptical Israeli public by arguing that Arafat would fight Hamas much better than Israel, since he had "no Supreme Court and no Betselem" (an Israeli human-rights organization).
Oslo proponents believed a strong Arafat, unconstrained by the inherent checks of democratic rule, would be able to fight Hamas and forge a final peace with Israel. A weak Palestinian democracy, the logic went, actually served the interest of peace by creating a stronger peace partner.
Yet 15 years later, another Israeli human-rights organization successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to save the remnants of Israel's erstwhile peace partners from being deported back into the murderous hands of Hamas. In other words, a peace process that undermined Palestinian democracy created a "peace partner" so hated by its own people that the Israeli Army must now protect them.
Israel, America and the free world share much of the blame for this fiasco. As Arafat and his Fatah party were busy hollowing out Palestinian civil society and turning control of the Palestinian economy over to corrupt cronies, the world showered them with money and diplomatic support. Hundreds of millions of dollars were transferred to Arafat's private slush fund so that he could "strengthen" his standing among the Palestinians.
But the corrupt dictatorship he built would win him and his party only the lasting scorn of his people. The Hamas victory two years ago in the Palestinian legislative elections was as much about Fatah's misrule as it was about a resurgent Islamism, or Israel's short-sighted disengagement from Gaza. Rather than link this concession to a positive change on the Palestinian side -- such as, for example, dismantling refugee camps where a fourth generation of Palestinian still shamefully reside -- Israel's unilateral concession further empowered extremists.
Last November's Annapolis "peace" conference continued this misguided approach. Once again the focus is primarily on who is ruling and not on how they rule. Mr. Abbas has replaced Arafat as the recipient of international largess, but the emphasis remains on empowering a particular leader, rather than empowering Palestinian civil society and creating democratic institutions.
Palestinians have suffered greatly for this neglect of democracy. Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, internecine violence has reached unprecedented heights. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, the death toll includes: 122 killed in the streets (suspected collaborators), 41 by capital punishment, 34 honor killings, 48 stabbed to death, seven beaten to death, 258 killed under mysterious circumstances and 818 cases of gunfire. So far no one has been charged let alone tried for any of these unlawful killings.
Where is the money that was supposedly spent on reforming the judicial system? Where is the international outrage as Palestinian leaders drag their own society further into the abyss?
When one of us [Bassem Eid] worked for Israel's Betselem cataloging Israel's human-rights violations, the international community embraced every report. But when intellectual honesty demanded that he monitor Palestinian human-rights violations according to the same standards, no one was interested. Those reports were dismissed as undermining the Palestinian leaders -- first Arafat and now Mr. Abbas -- who would make peace with Israel.
If Israelis and Palestinians are to pave a path toward peace, they must pursue a radically different course. The peace process must be linked to building and strengthening Palestinian civil society. In June 2002, President Bush boldly declared a vision based on such a course and took some steps to implement it -- such as refusing to deal with corrupt leaders (Arafat), and meeting Palestinian democratic dissidents. But in the final analysis, his administration did not fundamentally change direction. It is now pursuing a course that essentially resuscitates the failed policies of the past.
It is high time that Palestinian civil society be fully recognized by the international community as a prerequisite to peace, not as an obstacle to it. If Palestinian civil society is not empowered, the Fatah-controlled West Bank may soon be ruled by Hamas, and Fatah leaders there may find themselves one day having to rely on Israel's Supreme Court to save them.
Mr. Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident and Israeli politician, is chairman of the Adelson Institute of Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Mr. Eid is the founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, based in East Jerusalem, and has been its director since 1996.