Sharansky’s right-liberal delusions
Writing in Opinion Journal, Natan Sharansky lays out his democratist approach to Israeli-Palestinian “peace.” In order to get Israel’s cooperation in creating a Palestinian state, the Palestinians have got to carry out democratizing measures A, B, C, and D.
To my way of thinking this is all wrong. It is expecting the Palestinians to do something that they have neither the desire nor the capacity to do. Thus it sets up an endless process of self-delusion. For example, if the Palestinians do some little gesture in the direction of step B, then the Israelis (and the Americans) will go, “Oh, we’re so pleased, this is a step in the right direction, now we’ll help you.” But a week later the Palestinians will inevitably revert. Just look at the events of the last couple of weeks, how the Americans and Israelis have been falling all over themselves in their eagerness to deal with the “moderate” Abbas who repeatedly shows himself to be anything but a moderate.
The way to understand Sharansky is that he is a right-liberal, as distinct from left-liberals such as Rabin, Peres, and Barak. Left-liberals, to use Allan Bloom’s useful terminology, are “openness” liberals; they have no standards and require nothing of the Other; their agenda is simply to include and embrace the Other, no matter how alien, hostile, and dangerous the Other happens to be. By contrast, right-liberals are “natural-rights” liberals. They have democratic standards based in natural rights, and require that the Other show an allegiance to those standards as the price of admission into the liberal system. The right-liberal Sharansky is certainly less deluded and utopian than the left-liberals, since he requires that the Palestinians conform to certain objective democratic standards before they receive Israel’s cooperation. But he is deluded and utopian nevertheless, because he still imagines that the Palestinians are desirous and capable of achieving those standards. As a result, no matter how often the “peace process” is shown to be a total fraud, right-liberals such as Sharansky will keep trying again, because the only peaceful solution they can envision is through the Palestinians’ acceptance of democratic principles by which the Palestinians will become essentially like the Israelis.
The approach I would advocate for Israel is to expect nothing of the Palestinians, not to try to cajole or bribe them into believing in some political idea that they don’t believe in, not to try to change them or to social-engineer them at all, but rather to act in Israel’s own behalf to create the external conditions that will serve Israel’s safety and interests. And that is also what America and the West must do with regard to Muslims generally.