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A strategy for freedom and democracy: The Palestinian case

By Walid Salem (for Safe Democracy)

Walid Salem states that in Palestine, separation between freedom and democracy was witnessed during the peace process, in two, contradictory experiences: the first occurred during 1996-2000, with the implementation of a strategy to obtain more freedom to the Palestinians was practiced within the Oslo peace process, yet this process was practiced without democratization. In the second experience (2000-2006), the Palestinians were asked to promote democracy as a precondition to obtain more freedom from Israel. According to Salem, now is the time to build a process of democratization – freedom for the Palestinians without separation. Moreover, he states there are two ways to reach this objective: negotiations resulting in two states solutions, or two, unilateral Israeli and Palestinian tracks, leading in the same direction.


Walid Salem is the director of Panorama, the Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development, East Jerusalem office.

FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY ARE intertwined. Freedom in this case includes both an external aspect (getting rid of occupation), and internal one (transforming the patrimonial and neopatrimonial structures into new ones built on the concept of citizenship, and the right of free option for all individuals and collectivities), while democracy here refers to the build up of participatory processes between and among all the diverse groups in the society (governmental and non-governmental), within the context or rule of law, periodical rotation of authority, pluralism, and the respect of individual and collective rights of the citizens. Democracy, in this sense, has to be based on democratic, transparent, and accountable institutions, as well as on the democratic values of freedom, equality and tolerance.

In Palestine, separation between freedom and democracy was witnessed during the peace process, in two contradicting experiences:

THE FIRST EXPERIENCE (1996-2000)
A strategy to get more freedom to the Palestinians was practiced within the Oslo peace process, yet this process was practiced without democratization. In this period, democratization was abbreviated to elections that were held in 1996 and followed thereafter, promoting Yasser Arafat’s authoritarianism and corruption. Also, Arafat created the so-called “strong police”, supported by international funding. In this sense, Arafat used the additional legitimacy that he attained in the 1996 elections in order to obtain more legitimacy, in addition to the previous legitimacy that he had received from previous PLO work, and upon that he extended his authoritarian rule, leading to more restrictions on the people’s internal freedom in the end. On the other hand, the absence of the Israeli commitment to withdraw from Palestinian territories, within the agreed upon time frame, had led to restrictions of Palestinian external freedom, and therefore to a collapse of the peace process, and the re-eruption of violence in the year 2000.

THE SECOND EXPERIENCE (2000-2006)
During this time period the opposite was witnessed, in which the Palestinians were asked to promote democracy as a precondition for obtaining more freedom from Israel. The Road Map of 2003 is built on the assumption that Palestinians should succeed first in building the security, financial, legal and administrative reforms in order to obtain more freedom from the Israeli occupation. The outcomes of such a process were a Palestinian success in building legal, administrative and financial structures, but a failure in delivering the security reforms, in the context of failing to move forward towards more freedom. With that conclusion, it has become evident that security reform, including the disarmament of militant groups, is the only possibility within the process leading to freedom, and not as a condition to the latter.

DEMOCRACY WITHOUT SEPARATION
In both experiences (1996-2000 and 2000-2006), democracy was excluded from the elections, and furthermore freedom was abbreviated to a partial freedom of movement, while the Israeli dominance over the land continued either directly or indirectly.

Now it is time to build a process of democratization/freedom for the Palestinians without separation. The two ways to do that are: negotiations resulting in two states’ salutations, or two, unilateral Israeli and Palestinian tracks, leading in the same direction.

Walid Salem is the director of Panorama, the Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development, East Jerusalem office.