Sharansky in Minneapolis

Natan Sharansky is one of the great men of our time, and his visit today to Minneapolis should be noted. The Minneapolis Star Tribune met with him this afternoon, and its reporter has posted his story on the Strib Web site: “Palestinians’ lack of democracy fatal flaw, Israeli says.” The Strib makes its stories unavailable after 14 days, and I’m pasting the story in below so that we can refer to it in the future.
“The greatest barrier to Israeli-Palestinian peace is the lack of freedom and democracy on the Palestinian side, and any peace plan that overlooks that deficit is doomed, Natan Sharansky said Monday in Minneapolis. Sharansky, 55, famous in the 1980s as a Soviet prisoner of conscience, is now an Israeli Cabinet minister in charge of Jerusalem and diaspora affairs. He doesn’t speak for the Israeli government on the current U.S.-backed road map for peace. It was adopted by the Cabinet over Sharansky’s objections.
“Sharansky was in the Twin Cities to address an audience at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka Monday evening. He was interviewed Monday afternoon. Sharansky argues that Palestinian political reform is the key to peace. Until recently, he said, this view was rejected by the left in Israel — which argued that Israel cannot dictate to the Palestinians how they should organize their society — and by the right — which feared that the Palestinians might democratize enough to force territorial concessions from Israel.
“After the 1993 Oslo accord was signed, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin claimed that Israel should be glad that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had no Supreme Court or other democratic institutions that might restrict him from cracking down on terrorists. It struck Sharansky wrong then, and he returns to that comment in explaining his position. ‘The only way a dictator can survive is to give his people an enemy to hate,’ he said Monday. In the case of Arafat and the Palestinians, the enemy would always be Israel.
“By perpetuating anti-semitic and anti-Israel messages through Palestinian schools and media, Arafat guarantees more generations of hatred and bloodshed. ‘Every dollar we give him, every concession we make, will be used to increase hatred toward Israel,’ Sharansky said. ‘I want Palestinians to have every right in the world except the right to destroy me.’
“To Ziad Amra of Minneapolis, a Palestinian-American and frequent spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Minnesota, Sharansky’s argument is hypocritical and ignores the fact that it is the Israeli occupation that is depriving Palestinians of the basic human rights. ‘I don’t know of any situation in history where an occupied people have been told to develop a democracy under threat of veto power by the occupying power,’ he said. ‘It’s just a ruse. It’s one excuse after another for keeping the occupation going. The Israelis wouldn’t care if the Palestinians had Gandhi as prime minister, they would find another condition that the Palestinians had to meet because they view it [the occupied territory] as theirs and they want to keep it.’
“Sharansky grew up in the Soviet Union and was imprisoned for nine years after insisting of his right to emigrate to Israel, which was finally allowed in 1986 under international pressure. From 1995 to 2002, he led a party that represented Soviet Jews. The party fared badly in this year’s election and merged into Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud.
“Since 1996, Sharansky has been a member of the Israeli Cabinet, except for a brief period in 2000 when he resigned to protest concessions that Prime Minister Ehud Barak was offering the Palestinians. The recent high point for Sharansky’s point of view was President Bush’s June 24, 2002 speech in which he called for the Palestinians to replace Arafat and urged that democratic reform be built into any renewal of the quest for peace. Sharansky met with Vice President Dick Cheney a few days before Bush’s speech and believes his advocacy had an effect.
“The road map is limping forward, over Sharansky’s skepticism, and he said it may yet produce a breakthrough if Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas could meet the two conditions: full, forceful cooperation in ‘dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism,’ and steady progress toward democratization — which Sharansky says has less to do with holding elections than with allowing freedom of dissent. He said Abbas instead gives excuses about why he can’t try to disarm the violent groups, and they use the truce to rearm until circumstances favor a return to attacks on Israel.”

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