I guess I didn't expect much of a response to my post yesterday and I wasn't disappointed. But I am not the first to make this case. Back when democracy-building in the Arab world was a major neoconservative theme, my current boss, James Bennet, then NYT's correspondent in Jerusalem, wrote two pieces. From May 2002:
It is perhaps Pollyannaish even to conjure the scenario, at such a dark moment in Israeli-Palestinian relations. But imagine the effect on Israeli fears about Palestinian intentions, and on Arab-Israeli diplomacy, if a democratic Palestinian government sought a peace accord guaranteeing a two-state solution with Israel. Imagine the effect on Palestinian life ...
Among the Arabs, Palestinians are uniquely suited for such a democratic experiment, because of their bitter, close relationship with Israel, their stateless years and the intense international focus on their cause.
Nader Said, a sociologist at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, said that the Israeli occupation had instilled in Palestinians ''their defiance of authority in general, and this sort of tendency for freedom -- wanting personal freedom, and to not be controlled.'' At the same time, he said, ''even under the worst of circumstances, Palestinians have admired Israeli democracy.'' These are experiences that Mr. Arafat and his closest associates, in exile for so many years, did not have.
He followed up a year later. I recall Paul Wolfowitz once making this point, but now that Arafat is dead and even Israelis are remarking on the solid economic and political progress on the West Bank, why are there so few neocons eager to support this emphasis? Their silence does not help them convince others that they are genuine about Arab and Muslim democracy, rather than deploying these memes as a cynical way to advance what they foolishly think are the interests of Israel in the region.
But I remain hopeful, if only because the alternative is so bloody depressing. Imagine what the $8 billion thrown into corrupt hands in Iraq could accomplish in Palestine.