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Unpleasant Choices: Islamists vs. the Corrupt

19 July 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Nowadays the West is facing a very unpleasant decision concerning support for Middle Eastern and Moslem regimes world wide. The choice is whether to support a full democratic electoral process knowing radical Islamists will come to power or to back corrupt pro-Western secular rulers who at best allow for partially rigged elections but assure their own continued terms in office. The most prominent example is Egypt where Hosni Mubarak won the recent contest and parliamentary vote but it is an open secret that the Moslem Brotherhood (despite certain gains) would have polled a much better outcome provided the elections had been totally honest.

The Palestinians and the Hamas victory are a case in point for the free and open democratic process when they swept to power in January 2006. Since then they physically captured the Gaza Strip, have increased illegal weapons procurements through the highway of tunnels originating in Egypt through Sinai and in essence are installing an Islamic dictatorship. What remains is the West Bank, still under control of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his emergency Fatah government led by PM Salam Fayad. The Hamas leadership in Gaza claims Fayad’s government to be illegal while the Abbas/Fayad government equally declare Hamas rule in Gaza to be illegitimate. In order to “ensure” legality Abbas has announced elections for both the parliament and presidency. Hamas announced that polling will only be held in Gaza on the backs of American or Israeli tanks. Let us recall the Hamas election victory of a year and a half ago where they took 72 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament representing both Gaza and the West Bank.

Abbas has enormous Western support for his election scheme. Hamas has announced its refusal to participate in the West Bank elections but that may not be final unless they are sure Fatah will be the formal winner (Egyptian style). Simultaneously the Bush administration is pushing for a Middle East peace conference for Israel and the Palestinians accompanied by the “moderate” Arab states, the US, Europe and others. The preference is for corrupt secular pro-Western regimes since they can supposedly ensure conflict resolution – at least for the moment.

These regimes will only survive the Islamic challenge should they change their ways through economic development and a smooth, honest functioning of the system meaning a new beginning for the Arab Middle East. This demands cooperation with the West and a peace agreement with Israel since the conflict accentuates radicalism and in this case bolsters the Islamist cause. Accepting Israel’s right to exist is a major obstacle for the “moderates”, this being seen by many (secular as well) as a betrayal of the Arab/Moslem cause. Instituting a western style regime with checks, balances, financial audits and accountability is even more difficult for the Abbas/Fayad regime and Fatah. If anything, their predecessors led by Yasir Arafat encouraged graft, corruption and mafia style techniques to guarantee their own power.

For the West to “win” Fatah and Abbas will first have to triumph in a rigged election. The US and EU will need to invest billions of dollars (or euros) to build infrastructure, encourage investment and create jobs. In the next step they must secure a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel based on the principle of “Israeli security for Palestinian sovereignty” (much better than the undefined “Land for Peace”). Assuming such a long shot scenario succeeds, Fatah must win the next elections, but this time free, open and not rigged. Step Three involves repeating the process throughout the Moslem/Arab world. Such an outcome is virtually impossible in light of the continuing Islamic Revolution led by Khomenist Iran, the Moslem Brotherhood and Al Qaeda.

All of this brings us to the much heralded international peace conference spoken of by US President Bush this past week. Such a conference is a first step in the political-diplomatic counter offensive against the Islamists, in this case in the Palestinian arena.

The West does not believe that freely elected extremist Islamist regimes provide any hope for peaceful international relations nor for an open electoral process in the aftermath. The only possibility left is to work with corrupt secular regimes in the hope of instituting western reforms. The chance of success with the Palestinians is miniscule but it is the only reasonable existing option if Israel does not want the West Bank to fall to the Hamas as did Gaza. But no one should get too hopeful.