In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offered a parting statement under the title “Rethinking the National Interest: American Realism for a New World.” The section on the Middle East includes an elusive passage that would seem to acquiesce in the political inclusion of violent groups. The Rice quote appears in green. beneath her photo. MESH has invited a number of responses. Robert Satloff begins, followed in the comments by Martin Indyk, Michael Mandelbaum, Joshua Muravchik, Matthew Levitt, and Harvey Sicherman.
“The participation of armed groups in elections is problematic. But the lesson is not that there should not be elections. Rather, there should be standards, like the ones to which the international community has held Hamas after the fact: you can be a terrorist group or you can be a political party, but you cannot be both. As difficult as this problem is, it cannot be the case that people are denied the right to vote just because the outcome might be unpleasant to us. Although we cannot know whether politics will ultimately deradicalize violent groups, we do know that excluding them from the political process grants them power without responsibility. This is yet another challenge that the leaders and the peoples of the broader Middle East must resolve as the region turns to democratic processes and institutions to resolve differences peacefully and without repression.”
|Condoleezza Rice, “Rethinking the National Interest: American Realism for a New World,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008.|
From Robert Satloff
Secretary Rice is a powerful intellect with an impressive grasp of a broad range of issues, but on the question of providing access to the democratic process for armed groups that refuse to renounce their violent goals and their violence means, she has a blind spot. In this passage, for example, she mischaracterizes the situation with respect to the Palestinian election of January 2006 and the U.S. decision to press for Hamas’ inclusion.
The facts of the situation were as follows:
• The West Bank and Gaza have been, since 1967, under Israel’s military occupation. While one can debate certain aspects of that occupation, including settlement policy, one cannot debate the fact that Israel is under no requirement to permit political activity of terrorist groups committed to its destruction.
• The Palestinian Authority and all its relevant institutions, including the Palestinian Legislative Council, were established by virtue of agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Their existence and their legitimacy derive solely from those agreements.
• Annex II, article III, paragraph 2 of the Israeli-Palestinian Agreement of 1995 states the following: “The nomination of any candidates, parties or coalitions will be refused, and such nomination or registration once made will be canceled, if such candidates, parties or coalitions: commit or advocate racism; or pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful or non-democratic means.”
• Whatever ancillary social welfare activities Hamas may undertake, its raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel and the principal means it has chosen to achieve that objective is terrorism.
Given the above, it is a mischaracterization of the situation to suggest that excluding Hamas from the election would have meant that, as Secretary Rice argues, “people are denied the right to vote just because the outcome might be unpleasant to us.” That was never the issue. The issue was that the Bush Administration pressed Israel and the Palestinian Authority to disregard their agreed legal framework for holding elections and to permit Hamas’ participation. Indeed, there were rules—and we flouted them.
Scholars, experts and policymakers are engaged in a legitimate debate over whether Islamist parties—i.e., parties whose main objective is the imposition of Shariah law—can evolve into democratic parties. By that I mean not just parties “willing to play by democratic rules” but parties that embrace democracy, which by its very nature means that men and women, not divinity, determine the law of the land. This is the debate surrounding the PJD in Morocco, the AK Party in Turkey and other Islamist parties. A subset of that debate is whether the same evolutionary process applies to Islamist terrorist groups, such as Hamas.
However, that debate, I repeat, was never the issue in the Bush Administration’s decision to compel Hamas’ inclusion in the Palestinian elections of January 2006. At issue was whether the Administration recognized the supremacy of (to recall Al Gore’s famous words) the “controlling legal authority”—the Oslo Accords—or to urge its local partners to disregard the law. It chose the latter. To suggest otherwise is revisionist history.
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