From Publishers Weekly
Drawing on his autobiography—from Soviet refusenik to Israeli cabinet minister – Sharansky distinguishes between "fear" and "free" societies. He spends a significant amount of time taking on conservative "realists" who prize stability in international relations, as well as liberals who he says fail to distinguish between flawed democracies that struggle to implement human rights and authoritarian or totalitarian states that flout human rights as a matter of course. Sharansky criticizes those who argue that democracy is culturally contingent and therefore unsuited for Muslim societies. Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he mentions documented Israeli human rights abuses, but places the bulk of the blame for the conflict on the dictatorial systems prevalent in Arab societies. He also weighs in on the vexing subject of how to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from the "new anti-Semitism." Such criticism must pass the "3D" test of "[no] demonization, double standards, or delegitimation." Sharansky does not grapple deeply with the current situation in Iraq, but his opinions throughout, honed through years in a Soviet prison and in the corridors of power, feel earned.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié.
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
In Natan Sharansky's new book, the renowned Soviet dissident turned Israeli cabinet minister makes the tough-love case for Palestinian democracy. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will prevail, he argues, if and only if the Palestinian Authority is transformed into a truly free society where the Palestinian people's natural inclination toward peace can prevail over the manipulations of their hatemongering leaders. Sharansky does not expect that this paradise will arrive overnight as a result of electing a new head of the Palestinian Authority on Jan. 9, 2005. It will take time to extirpate Yasser Arafat's entrenched legacy of hatred, he writes. Elections should be deferred for at least three years; the whole process of true democratization might take "many years, even decades." In the meantime, Israel should avoid what Sharansky sees as the fatal mistake of the Oslo peace process: making one-sided territorial concessions in the illusory hope of shoring up pseudo-moderate Palestinian leaders who rule by undemocratic means.Skeptics have quipped that Sharansky and his allies are "demanding that Palestine become Sweden before it can become Palestine." Cynics might think that a formula of "no concessions until a free society rises" is a rationalization to justify a policy of "no concessions until hell freezes." The cynic would be wrong, but the skeptic would be right. Sharansky, a former refusenik and Soviet political prisoner, comes off as a man of conviction who brings his own past as a human rights and democracy advocate to today's debates about the Middle East's future. ("The great debate of my youth has returned," he writes.) But for all his sincerity, it is unlikely that Palestine can become a stable, mature democracy with an electorate clamoring for peace anytime soon. This goal will be especially hard to reach if Israel defers making the meaningful concessions on territory and settlements that any democratically elected Palestinian leader will need in order to survive, let alone succeed. Otherwise, it will be impossible to break the iron grip of hatred that Sharansky himself says is choking off the breath of Palestinian freedom.Sharansky bases his case on two central arguments, both of them dubious. The first is that free societies are always peaceful. "Since all democratic societies strive for peace," he writes, "there is no such thing as a belligerent democracy." Open public debate, he continues, provides the average voter with good information about the unnecessary costs of reckless warmongering. In contrast, the leaders of what Sharansky calls "fear societies," such as the Soviet Union and the Palestinian Authority, exaggerate foreign threats to justify repression at home. Outsiders may fall prey to the illusion that the people in "fear societies" (read: Hamas supporters) are more warlike than their leaders (read: Arafat), and therefore conclude that concessions must be made to keep in power the embattled "moderates" who can resist violent demands from their angry "street." In fact, Sharansky contends, the people get whipped into a frenzy only because of the doubletalk of their leaders, and the only antidote is to promote free speech and democracy.The reality is far less tidy. True, no two democracies have ever fought a war against each other, but democracies are hardly pacifist: They are just as likely to fight wars as non-democracies, they often start them, and when they do, they win nine times out of 10. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that fully democratic Israel would stay at peace with a partially democratic Palestine, which is the only kind of democracy Palestine is likely to have in the near future. Partially democratic Iraq held the most extreme rejectionist views in the Arab coalition that went to war to try to prevent Israeli statehood in 1948. Partially democratic Pakistan regularly fights democratic India. Indeed, during the 19th and 20th centuries, states in the process of democratizing have been, by various measures, between four and 15 times more war-prone than other countries. Finally, while autocracies do sometimes fight democracies, they often live side by side in peace; Sharansky, however, chafes at acknowledging even the obvious national security benefits Israel won by signing the 1978 Camp David peace accords with the Egyptian autocrat Anwar Sadat. Sharansky's second core argument is just as shaky as his assertion that democracies are consistently peaceful. Like President Bush, Sharansky insists that any nation can become democratic, even if the lack of favorable preconditions makes it seem a long shot. But in fact, preconditions do matter. Statistical research suggests that transitions to democracy normally fail in countries as poor as Palestine, though the Palestinians' relatively high literacy level may partially counterbalance this. Sharansky denies that Arab culture is inherently anti-democratic, arguing rather that it lacks democratic institutions. This is probably correct, but it does not necessarily make the problem any easier to solve. Sharansky also argues that the vast majority of Arabs, including Palestinians, want to live in freedom. Polls of the Iraqi public suggest that this is also probably correct, but if the 70 percent of the population that wants democracy remains unorganized, the Iraqi experience suggests that the 30 percent who want something else will prevail by default. Sharansky's most egregious blind spot is failing to see how the indignities of occupation and the expansion of Israeli settlements play into the hands of the undemocratic Palestinian hatemongers he abhors. He dwells on Palestinian demagogues' use of double standards in their criticisms of Israel, yet seems unaware that he does much the same thing. Without the slightest sense of either irony or empathy for the Palestinians, he asserts that "If other peoples have a right to live securely in their homelands, then the Jewish people have a right to live securely in their homeland as well." Even following a successful Palestinian transition to full democracy, Sharansky would not unambiguously recommend an Israeli withdrawal, saying only that the final status of the West Bank "must be determined through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians." President Bush and U.S. neoconservatives have proved a receptive audience for Sharansky's arguments, which dovetail with their hope of countering terrorism by spreading democracy throughout the Middle East. After Sharansky lobbied National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the spring of 2002, the goal of fostering Palestinian democracy was placed front and center in Bush's major June 24 speech, which laid the groundwork for the so-called road map back to renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks. And as Arafat lay dying, Sharansky, book in hand, pitched his ideas in person to the president. The affinity seems to run deep; Bush's address spoke of letting liberty "blossom in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza," and Sharansky ends his last chapter by echoing the same phrase. But these enthusiasts for spreading democracy have cut corners on their homework, skipping over what political scientists have recently learned about democratizing states. President Bush needs to expand his reading list beyond this book to find a good answer to Israelis' and Palestinians' problems -- let alone those of Iraq and the larger Middle East. Reviewed by Jack Snyder
Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié.