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Thursday July 22, 2010 9:21 AM (EST+7)
Barghouti: Slow death of Palestinian democracy

Read more: Mustafa Barghouthi, elections, democracy, negotiations, peace, human rights, civil rights

RAMALLAH, July 22, 2010 (JMCC) - Politician Mustafa Barghouthi argues in Foreign Policy magazine that Palestinian democracy is gradually dying out, hindered by Western interference and Palestinian division. This week marked the cancellation of Palestinian local elections, a harbinger of the state of Palestinian rights, he says.

The cancellation of this election was an unjustified, unlawful, and unacceptable act. It damages democratic rights and makes a mockery of the interests of the Palestinian people.

But this is far more than an internal Palestinian issue. The only lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be based on a settlement negotiated between two democracies -- this was the case in Europe, and it will be the case in the Middle East.

The Palestinian struggle for democracy has been long and painstaking. Against long odds, we succeeded in constructing a remarkable civil society in order to survive the oppression of the Israeli occupation and to fill the void left by the lack of a central government. We developed parallel nongovernmental health and educational systems, built 17 universities, and established thousands of local community organizations. We even developed grassroots, community-based rehabilitation programs for disabled citizens, which received worldwide recognition.

The Israeli government has long paid lip service to Palestinian democracy while simultaneously crushing initiatives that produced results it didn't like. In 1976, then Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres offered the illusion of local leadership by launching municipal elections, which were meant to dilute the authority of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

To Peres's great surprise, 90 percent of Palestinians voted for pro-PLO, pro-independence electoral lists. Within two years, the Israeli government -- that self-proclaimed paragon of democracy -- deported the election's victors and dismissed the councils.

With the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s, we hoped to have a true democracy. However, we were forced to endure wild swings between successful popular elections and efforts -- both self-inflicted and foreign -- to crush our fragile democratic institutions. Palestinians waited until 1996 to cast their votes in Palestine's first-ever parliamentary election for seats in the newly created Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). I still remember the smile of one woman, a septuagenarian named Fatema, when she told me, This is the first time in my life I can vote.

Read the opinion piece at Foreign Policy...







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