Israel, “the world’s most vibrant democracy”

Like the American left, Palestinians aren’t pleased about Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory. But some Palestinian opinion leaders are taking the news more graciously than David Axelrod and, I would argue, President Obama.

Evelyn Gordon reports:

A veteran Palestinian journalist from Ramallah summed up the prevailing sentiment [among Palestinians] succinctly. “We say all these bad things about Israel, but at least the people there have the right to vote and enjoy democracy,” he told Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh. “We really envy the Israelis. Our leaders don’t want elections. They want to remain in office forever.”

Ghanem Nuseibeh, an East Jerusalem Palestinian now living in Britain, expressed the same view:

[Nuseibeh] put out an illuminating series of tweets throughout Election Day, including, “Over a million Arabs take part in Middle East’s most democratic elections today”; “The Arabs in Israel are the only Middle East Arab group that practices true democracy”; and “Israel is secure not because it will elect Bibi or Buji, but because of what it is doing today.”

He was rooting for Isaac Herzog (“Buji”) and deplored Benjamin Netanyahu, but after acknowledging that his candidate had lost, he nevertheless tweeted, “Israel is the world’s most vibrant democracy.”

(Emphasis added)

Even Hamas issued numerous tweets urging Israeli Arabs to vote for the Arab parties’ Joint List. As Gordon says, “one can only imagine what Gaza residents must have felt at seeing Hamas urge Palestinian Israelis to exercise a right Palestinians in Gaza are denied by their own Hamas-run government.”

Palestinians were able to vote in 2006. But since then, Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza both have refused to call new elections for fear of losing power.

Gordon notes that Abbas’ refusal to hold elections has implications for the peace process. It means that he lacks the democratic legitimacy needed to make the kind of concessions any peace agreement would entail. Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid made this point when he stated that Abbas will never be able to make peace with Israel, because he currently represents nobody except himself, his wife and his two sons.

This is not to say that a majority of Palestinians, whether on the West Bank or in Gaza, want to make peace with Israel. It appears that they do not. Palestinian elections aren’t a sufficient condition for meaningful peace negotiations, but they are, or should be, a necessary condition.

In any event, it’s telling that leading Palestinians recognize and envy the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy.