"We are stumped by the failure of our democratic concepts to gain a foothold in the Arab world," wrote Michael Bell, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel, in the Globe and Mail last week.
I wonder which "democratic concepts" Bell had in mind — apparently not the concept that people are free to elect the government they choose.
This is the most basic democratic concept of all. And it’s clearly gained a foothold among Palestinian Arabs, who last month exercised their democratic rights by rejecting a corrupt government that had failed to advance the peace process, and electing the militant Hamas party.
Obviously the Palestinians failed to understand the subtle nuances of Western "democratic concepts." Just because the West urges them to elect a government doesn’t mean they’re free to elect a government the West considers unacceptable.
The New York Times reported last week that the "United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again." If only the Palestinians would get it right the first time, it wouldn’t be necessary for the West to intervene in their democratic process. Ottawa also made clear last week that Canada would withdraw financial support — unless Hamas renounced violence, recognized Israel and accepted previous Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.
At first glance, this seems reasonable. But why are these demands placed only on Palestinians? Shouldn’t Israel also have to renounce violence? As the World Council of Churches recently argued: "If violence is incompatible with democracy and with peace, it is incompatible for both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities."
As for recognizing Israel, Hamas has implicitly indicated a willingness do this — if Israel ends its occupation. Hamas official Khaled Mishaal told a Russian journal last week that Hamas would halt its armed struggle if Israel withdrew from Palestinian land it has occupied since 1967.
The lopsided nature of Ottawa’s demands is striking, particularly since Israel already exists as a country, with secure borders and the unwavering support of the most powerful nation on Earth. Meanwhile, Palestinians, after 40 years living under military occupation, are essentially powerless.
This context is so often missing from mainstream commentaries like Bell’s.
Bell purports to be urging moderation on both sides, but his notion of moderation consists of demanding the Palestinians renounce their resistance to Israeli occupation, while making no demand that Israel end its occupation.
He doesn’t even mention that Israel continues to build settlements on Palestinian land and to construct a massive wall incorporating large chunks of Palestinian territory inside Israel.
Aren’t these aggressive actions part of the problem?
If Palestinians are going to be required to renounce violence — as they should be — shouldn’t Israel also be required to renounce violence, and to stop building settlements and walls on Palestinian territory?
Rather than belittling others for allegedly failing to grasp our "democratic concepts," we could begin by showing we grasp these concepts ourselves.
Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator