- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

NEW WORLD ORDER / Arnold Beichman

The Italian historian Gaetano Salvemini wrote more than half a century ago: "The history of all mixed territories in Europe, with the exception of Switzerland, is the history of hatreds and brutality." This readable book, Direct Democracy in Switzerland (Transaction Press, $39.95, 287 pages) by Gregory A. Fossedal with a preface by former Amb. Richard Holbrooke, documents the Swiss achievement, extraordinary as one looks around at the death and destruction in the Balkans, let alone in Africa.
Switzerland is a miracle. With few physical resources, pervasive religious, cultural and linguistic divisions, it is a model of social tranquility, probably the world's most successful economies, and an enterprising democracy with startlingly high voter participation. Asked to define a nation, Ernest Renan the French philosopher, replied tersely: "A daily plebiscite" (or, as he put it, "un plebiscite de tous les jours"). Switzerland exemplifies that definition.
As the author points out, Switzerland lives under a system of direct democracy in which the voters, by referendum and initiative, vote directly on a large number ofpolicies. Under this system of federalism, the last legislative word is that of small units of government cantons, communities rather than the legislature or city council. And to ensure national security, every male is a member of the Swiss army until age 48.
Mr. Fossedal, chairman of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, has done a remarkable study of Swiss direct democracy and its possibilities as a model for the United States as well as newly emerging countries.

It has always puzzled me that otherwise highly intelligent, hard-headed Israeli statesmen could believe, as they did at Oslo in 1993 right through the year 2000, that they could engineer a durable peace agreement with Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. One could have applied the Law of Anticipated Consequences to everything that has happened since Oslo right up to the present ongoing two-year-old war against Israel. Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Barak really thought that after almost five decades of armed conflict they could satisfy the Arab world, let alone the PLO, with their "land for peace" formula and a Yasser arafat handshake on the White House lawn.
In The Mideast Peace Process: An Autopsy (Encounter Books, $16.95, 300 pages) edited by Neal Kozodoy, there is a collection of highly informed essays from the pages of Commentary magazine which focus on why Israeli governments have been so wrong in their assessment of the PLO and its Arab alliance for so many years . The essayists Daniel Pipes, Norman Podhoretz, Douglas Feith, Mark Helprin among others presumably subscribe to the book's subtitle, which is arguably mistaken since the concept of autopsy presupposes life. And Oslo was still-born.
The Commentary writers, in a brilliant display of prescience, dissented from the very beginning of Oslo. They warned about the illusions and deceptions inherent in the so-called peace process. And now they talk about Israel's very survival. What the writers do not, however, consider in depth is the unthinkable: that the Muslim states surrounding Israel will simply not give up the fight to oust what they call the "Zionist entity" from its midst. If what the PLO could have gotten from Ehud Barak wasn't enough then we have to wonder whether there will ever be enough, short of Israel's destruction, for a permanent peace in he Middle East.

For a country which is supposedly Eurocentric, the United States has for so long been involved in Asian affairs that we should also be called Pacificentric (soft "cee"): World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and now the war in Afghanistan. Plus our guarantee of Taiwan's security, our alliances with Japan, the Philippines and Pakistan. And since the Middle East is part of Asia, we could add the Gulf War, the imminent attack on Iraq.
No book could be more timely than Through Asian Eyes: U.S. Policy in the Asian Century (University Press of America, $63, 289 pages.) This collection of essays is ably edited by Sol Sanders, veteran journalist-scholar, one of our leading observers of the Asian scene. Its comes on the eve of a big event in Asia the coming transition in Communist China's leadership. The essays are informed speculations by Asian scholars which ought to be studied by the Bush administration.
"We enter a period," writes Mr. Sanders, "which has every indication of being even more volatile than the past fifty years of Asian history American involvement even more intense and complex."

Bernard Wasserstein is professor of history at the University of Glasgow with a significant scholarly publishing record. Divided Jerusalem: The Struggle for the Holy City (Yale University Press, $29.95, 412 pages), his latest book, is a heavily footnoted, multi-archived study of a city which Jews, Christians and Muslims over the centuries have claimed as their own. Between its founding and its capture, or one might say, its re-possession by Israel in 1967, it has been conquered at least 37 times. Arthur Koestler in 1948 wrote: "No other town has caused such continuous waves of killing, rape and unholy misery … as the Holy City."
I read Mr. Wasserstein's book with interest until I came to this startling sentence which I read with even greater interest:
"Both Israel and Palestine are seriously flawed democracies."
Wide-eyed, I re-read the sentence finding it difficult to believe that a scholar of Mr. Wasserstein's reputation would put Israel, a genuine democracy, and the PLO, a pseudo-pseudo-democracy, into the same category.
Since governments are created by human beings not angels, there are bound to be flaws, but are there no differences in quality and quantity of flaws? Would the author also write that, "Both Canada and Palestine are seriously flawed democracies"? In PLO territory, men are hung without an open trial as "collaborators" while in Israel "collaborators" write op-eds and Israeli soldiers write open letters indicating an unwillingness to serve in certain PLO areas. Jonathan Swift observed in "Gulliver's Travels" that- and this could apply to some historians "there is nothing so extravagant and irrational which some philosophers have not maintained for truth."

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.


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