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For Palestinians, human rights begin at home

Without real democratic reform in the Palestinian Authority there will be no peace for the ordinary Palestinian

Democracies do not go to war with each other. This was the revolutionary conclusion of the Israeli-American sociologist, Amitai Etzioni, which helped explain why democratic societies are not only stable societies, but also less inclined to go to war. The opposite is true of countries which lack democracy and the rule of law.

What is true for the rest of the world is also true for the Middle East and the Israeli-Arab conflict. If we want to promote peace and stability in the region, we need to pay more attention to the true benchmarks of democracy, rule of law and respect for basic human rights, and less on forming new states. To put it bluntly – creating a new repressive Islamic state in the region will do no good. So long as there is no real democratic reform in the Palestinian Authority, there will be no peace, nor will quality of life improve for the ordinary Palestinian.

Why is it then, that the international community continues to pour in billions in financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, without any real system of accountability, nor any demand for respect for human rights? I have been asked the same question over and over again. Not by angry European taxpayers who are struggling with their own private economies, but by Palestinian taxi drivers and students who are unhappy with development in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian territories not only lack an economy of their own, but are completly dependent on international aid. More importantly, the Palestinian people lack the most basic human rights under their own governing authorities. Since the beginning of this year, two Palestinians have been given jail sentences simply for criticising PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas on their private Facebook walls. This is just one indicator that respect for human rights and freedom is nowhere near what should be expected of a regime which is entirely dependent on Western aid. But those to blame are not only to be found in Ramallah and Gaza, but also in Brussels and Washington D.C.

As long ago as 2005, our organisation, European Coalition for Israel, began to have concerns about the serious mismanagement of EU funds given to the Palestinian Authority. Our demands were reasonable. Let there be an independent inquiry, and if the money was well spent, let the amount be increased. If not, let the funding be frozen. Whilst the EU tried to sort out its own mismanagement, Fatah lost the elections in Gaza as the terrorist organisation, Hamas, came to power on a election ticket promising to stamp out corruption. Overnight, the EU agreed that corruption had been the major problem in Gaza, although they had done absolutely nothing to correct it. Today, the EU is on course to repeat the same mistakes.

Last week, we began a new campaign in Europe to raise awareness of Palestinian suffering under their own governmental authorities, in Gaza and in the West Bank.

In our Palestinian Human Rights Week, we aimed to make the case that being a friend of the Jewish state does not prevent us from also caring for the Palestinian people. The more democratic the Palestinian Authority becomes, the better chance there is that they will also become peaceful neighbours with Israel.

As soon as we mention human rights violations, we Europeans instinctively think of the Israeli Government. However a recent study by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, called ”Hidden Injustices,” shows that it is the Palestinian governing bodies, not the Israeli Government, who are the greatest abusers of the human rights of the Palestinian people. Only when we have managed to address this issue successfully, can we expect real progress in the peace proccess. Forming another suppressive Islamic state will solve nothing for those Palestinians who are today denied the very basic rights and freedoms that we who are financing their governing authorities take for granted.

If we want to promote true peace in the Middle East, we need to learn the lessons of Amitai Etzioni. Democracies do not go to war with each other. Only by establishing an adequate separation of powers within the PA and by preventing corrupt internal practices such as nepotism and misappropriation of funds, can we strengthen their fragile democracy.

Only when this happens, can we begin to dream about peace in the region.

About the Author
Tomas Sandell is a Finnish journalist who has been accredited by the European Union. He is today the Founding Director of European Coalition for Israel.