04 February 2011

Why Israel should support democracy for its neighbours

That Israel should be suspicious of democracy for its Arab neighbours is not surprising. The Arab peoples harbour a deep hostility toward Israel, both for its colonial imposition on the area and its treatment of the Palestinians. Consequently, any Arab government that legitimately represented its people, i.e. a democratically-elected government, could be expected to reflect that hostility. Israel, therefore, prefers to deal with tyrants.

Former Israeli foreign minister Moshe Arens once said, "Peace you make with dictators," believing that only strongmen could end conflict and guarantee security. This may work in the short term, but if Israel wants security in the long term, it will have to come to terms with 80 million Egyptians, or at least a solid majority of them, not just with one man, no matter how powerful he is. Relying on a dictator just identifies him with Israel, increasing hostility toward both. One of the chants heard on the streets of Cairo this past week has been, "Mubarak, go back home to Tel Aviv."

Living with a democratic Egypt would present a challenge for Israel but, on the other hand, democracies are much more stable and much less likely to invade their neighbours than dictatorships. Israel and its friends crushed the result of the 2006 election in Palestine, and that has hardly brought greater security to Israel or peace to the region. All it did was expose the hypocrisy of Israel's friend's claims to want democracy in the Middle East.

Israel has itself been a model of democracy. Its oppression of the Palestinians and its antipathy toward democracy for its neighbours does it no credit. Both its principles and its long-term security demand better. A good start would be welcoming democracy in Egypt.

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