- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

Four elections, spanning just three months in three regions of the world, will shape events in this new year and probably for many years to come.

The American election in November returned George W. Bush to the presidency for another four years, ensuring his policy of liberating Iraq will continue.

The Ukrainian “re-election,” necessitated by massive fraud in the first, produced a majority for Viktor Yushchenko as Ukraine’s next president. Eleven years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Ukraine can now look forward to real freedom. As Mr. Yushchenko said during his campaign, Ukraine was “independent, but not free.”

The Iraq election, scheduled for Jan. 30, is part of a Middle East double feature with significant implications, not only for Iraqis, but the entire region. If the election can be held with assurance that most who want to vote are able to do so and that whoever wins the presidency can survive political intrigues and assassination attempts, the effect will be profound and possibly transforming for Iraq and its neighbors. Millions will be given hope only freedom brings.

That leaves the election for a new Palestinian leader to replace Yasser Arafat. Unlike the other three elections, which have been, or will be, based on a principle that people should be free to select the leaders of their choice, the Palestinian election will be quite different.

Yoram Ettinger, a consultant on Middle East and U.S. affairs to Israeli Cabinet ministers, writes, “Elections do not become free through rhetoric, even when the rhetoric is uttered by leaders of respectable nations and by media and academia stars.”

What does he mean? He elaborates: “Free elections are the byproduct of a society where citizens accord certain rights to their government. Free elections cannot be a byproduct of societies where regimes accord certain rights to their subjects, eliminate their opponents and brainwash their population with hate education.”

Those Palestinians who truly wish to live in peace with Israel and have something they can call a state of their own are about to be disappointed again. No matter who is elected to replace Arafat, the Palestinian objective of eliminating Israel and exterminating the Jewish people will not change.

During his recent Iraq visit, British Prime Minister Tony Blair linked progress toward a Palestinian state to the PLO leaders renouncing terror. President Bush has said the same thing. But it will not happen as long as the current regime remains in power, no matter who is elected.

Much of the “Free World” is likely to pronounce the Palestinian election legitimate, because the world wants a “peace partner” it can use to badger Israel into further concessions. The world has ignored all Israel’s previous concessions, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s new pledge to pull “settlers” out of Gaza by February, instead of later this summer as he earlier said.

A preview of the coming Palestinian election can be found by flashing back to a previous vote in 1996. That election was supervised by international and Israeli observers. It was labeled “free and democratic” by such global figures as then-President Bill Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter, and then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, as well as the United Nations, European leaders, the New York Times, CNN and the three major American broadcast networks.

Thus, the terrorists got not only an extreme makeover in much of the world’s eyes, but a diplomatic status upgrade That vote changed nothing. The 11-year-old terror campaign continues.

As Mr. Ettinger writes, a prerequisite to free elections and coexistence “is the uprooting of the regime, which has been responsible for the deterioration of the Palestinian society.”

No one running for Palestinian leader, indeed, no one in the Palestinian leadership, has indicated repudiating Arafat’s terror strategy before achieving the singular goal of eliminating Israel.

Freedom is celebrated in U.S. elections and it seems on the march in Ukraine and possibly Iraq, but the Palestinian election will produce more of the same. Three out of four good elections would still be good, but the world should not deceive itself that the Palestinian vote will change policy or direction.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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