Once a year the President of the United States stands before Congress to deliver the "State of The Union Address". Often that speech contains the phrase "our democracy is strong". This is a given - whatever challenges the United States faces from economic downturn to war, whatever political arguments split the electors, the American democracy is truly strong. The same can be said for Israel! A much younger country, whose electoral system certainly needs tweaking, but nobody can argue that the Israeli democracy is not strong: regular, fair and legal elections, with the entire citizenship, regardless of gender, race or religion, enfranchised; Israel has a vociferous and active judiciary, that often shows its independence with decisions that cause the government of Israel to lose sleep over; and last but by no means least, a free, open media.
The Palestinians argue with some justification, that they are an occupied people, denied basic rights . However when you get past the polemic and easily dismissed propaganda lies they aim at Israel (apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, holocaust, etc), their lives under Israeli control (at least prior to the Palestinian Authority taking autonomous control over the majority of West Bank Palestinians in the 1990s) were far better than Palestinians enjoyed in almost any other country in the Middle East: Life expectancy soared from 48 years in 1967 to 72 years by 2000 while infant mortality plummeted from 60 per thousand live births to 15 per 1000 and childhood diseases disappeared due to systematic Israeli programs to eradicate them; Israel fostered educational development, building 7 universities and 20 community colleges for the Palestinians, where not one existed under Jordan. Israeli educational standards meant that Palestinian illiteracy dropped from 50% to 30% just between 1967 and 1980. By 1990, only 14% of Palestinian adults over age 15 were illiterate; and Israel offered political and civil freedoms, including freedom of association, trade unions, civic organizations and opposition parties, none of which had been allowed under Jordan, and still aren't allowed for Palestinians in countries such as Lebanon or Syria. It also established freedom of the press, even for newspapers hostile to Israel, giving the Palestinians of the West Bank the freest press in the Arab world.
The truth is that the one thing that Palestinians do not have under Israel is the democratic right to elect a government, to have their say in the running of their lives, to be citizens of a state they feel is their own. I understand that urge and desire for self determination. I could argue with much justification and proof that the Palestinians did not exist as an entity, people or nation prior to the formation of the State of Israel, but were and in truth remain, merely southern Syrians, which is how the historical records show they saw themselves in 1948. However, it is clear since then that through the processes and events of history, they have formed a separate national identity. To a great extent it has been forced on them by most of the arab states treating them as worse than second class citizens, denying them basic civil rights for 3 generations, but nevertheless a people they have become. It can also be said, and is true, that if the PA represents the beginnings of a future democracy, it is a failure, with elections many years overdue and results of elections that did occur being ignored, or overturned, sometimes violently
The hypocrisy of international pro-Palestinian movements is that they promote the right of self determination for Palestinians whilst denying it to the Jewish people. If you say you are not antisemitic, that you "have nothing against the Jewish people" but that you "hate zionism" and that "zionism isn't Jewish", you are in fact saying that you deny the Jews the right of self determination, which is at its root what zionism is. Zionism is merely the practical application of the right of Jewish self determination.
Let is for arguments sake, say that you are not against Zionism, that you believe there should be a Jewish state, but that the Palestinians deserve the same - they deserve their own state. I'm not arguing against that idea, but we must ask ourselves if this Palestinian state is a goal in and of itself, or do we want a state so that Palestinian lives will be better than they are now? If that is the case, can we really see any evidence that a Palestinian state will enjoy successes similar to Israel, creating a beacon of economic growth, freedoms and innovation that Zionism created in Israel? In all likelihood it will be a corrupt regime, where ordinary citizens lives will be far worse than they are under Israel control.
The truth is, if we look across the Arab world, there are no democracies and rights are given little more than lip-service. Yes, the people sense what is missing, they try every few decades to change things, hope arises with events such as The Arab Spring, only to be quashed when the candidate of democratic reform becomes the next generation of dictator. Democracy becomes "One man, One vote, One time"! Egypt is a perfect example, with democratically elected Morsi attempting to grant himself the power to be above the law and the constitution...to be the next Mubarak. When we compare the arab world, despite its resources, to Asia or the Indian subcontinent, it is an abject failure: it fails to innovate, to manufacture, indeed the Arab / Islamic world fails in every evaluation - no freedoms, no elections, no representations; no production; little contribution to thought or ideas - Islam tries hard, and often succeeds, to drag the Arab world back to the violence and crude injustice of the Middle Ages - can one imagine in Japan, Korea, or India, political prisoners being summarily executed and their dead bodies dragged through the streets behind motor bikes driven by AK47 brandishing members of the ruling party?
If we want the Palestinians to have a state that is more than another corrupt Middle East dictatorship, viewing its people as cattle to be prodded in whatever direction benefits the small elite, then the international community has to work toward that end: Aid cannot be delivered unconditionally, but needs to have clear objectives and achievement goals, it must be targeted, monitored, assessed and when necessary withdrawn. If the Palestinian Authority chooses to spend EU aid on paying convicted terrorists large wages, while PA employees fail to be paid month after month, then the aid giver has to redirect the money, bypass the PA and put in place local NGOs to drive education and an economic engine, let people feel the benefit of growth, engage them in local projects that empower them, and cultivates a new generation of genuine leaders. If an independent Palestinian government, such as the Hamas regime in Gaza, chooses to treat its people as human shields, spending its money and energy on weapons rather than schools and growth, then no money should reach Hamas - nobody should give them support. People who say "Free Gaza", should think about what freedoms they are talking about, and who is the obstacle to these things. A Gaza that develops a vibrant economy could (and should have been since 2005) a beacon of hope - an example of what could be across the Palestinians and wider Arab world! What pressure would Israel have been under if post withdraw Gaza had gone in that direction? How could Israel not look at the West Bank differently had the Palestinians shown what their state would look like in Gaza. The reality is that many of us believe Gaza is view of what a future Palestine will look like - can you tell me why it should not be seen that way?
Its very easy to say "well, if Israel hadn't come along everything would be ok", "if Israel stopped settlement building, Palestinians would be in utopia" - stuff and nonsense - look at the arab world - Israel is the excuse, not the problem! Palestinians could have had a state in '48, 67, and several times since, but they chose not to! 40,000 people are not dead in Syria because of Israel; President Morsi is not trying to become a dictator because of Israel; bombs are not exploding in Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Lebanon etc because of Israel - its truly time to stop the absurd scapegoating that says Zionism is root of all the myriad of problems and failures in the Middle East, and see Israel for what it is - a potential engine for being the solution. If Israel were the model for a future Palestine, Lebanon, Syria etc - providing not only the example of a state's development but a partnership in growth and democratic change, what would the Middle East look like? It sounds like a dream, but what's holding it back? I'd argue only the vested interests of highly violent people and lets be frank, deeply rooted Islamic hatred for all things not Islam, and a related antisemitism of almost Hitler-like proportions. Eliminate those problems, and the Middle East could become an economic engine - a vast area of states with 130,000,000 people that innovate in the way tiny Israel with just seven million inhabitants innovates. A dream? Yes, but seriously - why is it a dream?