- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Israelis go to the polls today, and most likely a victory by Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party will make Ehud Olmert the prime minister. Mr. Olmert is expected to continue Mr. Sharon’s unilateral disengagement policy from Gaza and the West Bank. But the victory in the Palestinian Authority election by Hamas — which still refuses to recognize Israel, renounce violence or accept peace agreements — makes everyone less hopeful for a peace settlement soon.

On Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the Hamas leadership they are giving Israel an excuse to unilaterally decide the borders. “I will exercise my mandate and authority where and when needed to protect the higher interests of the Palestinian people,” he said. No one expects him to use this power to denounce a Hamas government. But does that really matter?

Mr. Abbas convinced the Israelis to allow Hamas to campaign in East Jerusalem by threatening to cancel the election. At the same time, Israelis protested Hamas’ candidacy to the Bush administration. But to give “democracy” a chance, the United States and the European Union stayed silent — and seemed to remember only after the election that the group that won such a convincing victory is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction.

One Western source told me the White House expected Hamas to get less than 45 percent of the votes, which is why they took the chance. But does that really matter?

It would be wrong to assume that Palestinians voted for Hamas because they want to “bring an end” to the state of Israel. Israelis who live in Israel know that to achieve peace, they will have to give back almost all the territories they acquired in 1967. On the other hand, Palestinians unilaterally accepted the state of Israel in 1988. But Hamas did not accept the PLO as the sole voice of the Palestinian people, even after the Oslo accord. Now, in the post-Arafat era, the PLO and Hamas are colliding sharply. But does that really matter?

What matters is why Palestinians elected Hamas. They are fed up with corruption, and with living under occupation with no hope. Not that that’s an excuse for bad governance.

What matters is that no Arab Muslim state is industrially or technologically on par with the West or Israel. The 2002 UNDP Arab Human Development Report found almost the same per capita incomes in Egypt and South Korea in 1950. Today, average earnings in Egypt are barely 20 percent of those in South Korea.

Unfortunately, the Middle East markets are not getting significant foreign direct investment because of the lack of infrastructure, underdeveloped human resources and naive economic policies.

“The wave of democracy that transformed governance in most of [the world] has barely reached the Arab states,” the 2002 report noted. “The freedom deficit undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development.”

The UNDP’s second Arab Human Development Report in 2003 emphasized the importance of education to creating opportunities for future generations. It stated that with democracy comes the responsibility to strive for educational, economic, legal and political reform, and to push economic growth through higher productivity. In some ways, Arabs seem jealous of how the Jews created a country capable of competing with the world’s leading developed countries and producing high-tech industries. Arab American psychologist Wafa Sultan said on al Jazeera, “The Jews have come from the tragedy of Holocaust and forced the world to respect them with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not with their crying and yelling.”

What matters is why the oil-rich Arab countries are unable to successfully govern and equally distribute wealth and education to their people. Everyone must stop blaming others for their own failures. Israel will remain in the heart of the Middle East. And as long as it does, and as long as it does not accept the return of all the refugees, should Arabs continue blaming Israelis for everything that goes against their will in the region? Should the Israelis continue to be accused of conspiring to hold these countries back?

Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit, former first coordinator of government operations in the administered territories and head of military intelligence, said Israelis mainly worry about keeping Israel as a Jewish state. That is to say, Israelis chose isolation as their destiny.

Palestinians and Muslim Arabs resent the Israeli economy, and continue to accuse Jews of hijacking U.S. foreign policy. And until the United States can help broker peace between the Israelis and the Muslim Arabs, anti-Americanism will continue to flourish in the Arab street.

When Ben Gurion established the state of Israel, he did not intend for its people to live with terrorism. It is time for everyone to decide what kind of future we want. The blame game should end and the Arab Muslims need to start standing up — not against Israel — but for their rights, and working hard to build more prosperous futures.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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