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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Don't Bother, They're Here

O Joy! There will finally be peace in the Mideast. How do I know? Because Hollywood is on the job.

[N]ow a team of Hollywood film stars is about to visit the Middle East on a private peace mission, in the belief that their charms will work magic on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Brad Pitt, his wife, Jennifer Aniston, and Danny DeVito are among the stars who aim to succeed where world statesmen have stumbled.

"The past few years of conflict mean that yet another generation of Israelis and Palestinians will grow up in hatred," reads a statement from Pitt and Aniston. "We cannot allow that to happen."

Wow! So, how are they going to accomplish this? Well, it's part of a 4 million pound peace initiative (So says the Telegraph---I don't know how you put a monetary value on that. Is there a bond market of some sort?) called "One Voice", brain child of American businessman Daniel Lubetzky.

Near the end of this AP article, One Voice is described as a plan "backed by academics, former U.S. officials and actors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman." (Gosh! Academics, former officials, and short, annoying actors! It can't fail!) The article further says:

The plan has brought together experts to create 20 secret pillars to solving the conflict. Those are now being put to focus groups of Palestinians and Israelis.

The 20 secret pillars of peace. Wasn't that by T.E. Lawrence? Well, he should know all about it. But I don't see how they're going to work if they're kept a secret.

This article is kind of vague too. Does One Voice have a website? But of course.

Here at last we get some details. I like the description on this article from Global Democracy (whatever that is) best.

A sidebar explains that:

The One Voice initiative is based on the premise that there is a silent majority among Israelis and Palestinians who want a negotiated settlement to their conflict and an end to the cycle of violence.

So far, so good. And then:

"The aim of this project is to awaken the voice of the silent majority on both sides and involve people in helping to solve the main issues by getting their input," [Mohammad] Darawshe [regional director and co-founder], explained.

"The first stage will be to collect signatures on a proclamation of principles, which will be the gateway for engaging in a dialogue on the way to drafting proposals for overcoming obstacles on the path to peace.

Friends, I have seldom in my life seen a finer example of ActivistSpeak: The signatures are a gateway for engaging in a dialog which will result in proposals for overcoming obstacles. Why just do something, when you can discuss the tactics for approaching the strategies of the protocols for implementing the instrumentalities which...

The article goes on:

"Those who sign the proclamation will then be eligible to participate in a truly public referendum, via e-mail, phone, and traditional door-to-door canvassing that we hope will reach hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. They will be asked to give their views on proposals formulated by experts to resolving the 10 key issues."

In other words, they're going to take a detailed poll to find out what people want. Although at this point is sounds as if the only people who count will be those who signed the petition in the first place. That's sort of what it sounds like here, in the group's FAQ. Only those people who signed in the first place get to discuss the actual issues. When (or if) the issues have been resolved:

Once we have consensus and have established the People's Mandate, we will partner with local grassroots organizations for them to deliver the mandate to the leaders in the region. Politicians will be confronted by the clear will of the majority and will face the need to listen and act accordingly or face replacement by future leaders, who will gain a mantle of legitimacy by adopting the People's Mandate.

Firstly, this won't be the People's Mandate, but the People Who Were Semi-Sane and Literate and Unintimidated's Mandate. Secondly, I invite you to consider the likely outcome of "confronting" the leaders of the PA by the "clear will" of the majority (assuming, of course, that it's different from what they're doing now), and their reaction upon being threatened with removal in favor of other leaders which will carry out the (putative) will of the majority.

I'm guessing a few executions would swiftly bring things back to the status quo.

I can only imagine that the founders of One Voice:

A) Are completely delusional about the mechanisms of "leadership" among the Palestinians, or

B) Think that the Israelis are the real stumbling block to peace. After all, it is only among the Israelis that the People's Mandate has the remotest chance of influencing the leaders.

The FAQ makes a very interesting read, addressing concerns like "Isn't One Voice a liberal dream?" with answers amounting to long-winded versions of "No." For example, one question asks whether democracy isn't foreign to Palestinians. The answer:

  • Palestinians have one of the most developed civil societies in the Arab world. Non-Governmental Organizations serve as a buffer between the government and society, and have been very active for decades. In 1996, the Palestinian Authority held elections for President and a Palestinian Legislative Council, with universal suffrage.

  • Palestinians have more democratic tendencies than most of their Arab neighbors, including Egypt, which has a peace agreement with Israel. Besides the fact that the majority of Palestinians crave democracy because they have been exposed to it, the democratic process is natural to all people with free will and does not require prior institutional expertise or structure.

  • Regular Palestinians have already started to participate and have helped design the platform of OneVoice; hundreds of Palestinians have been extremely supportive and encouraging and are eager to participate in the initiative.

I am astonished to find that the existence of NGOs (such as? the ICRC? UNRWA? Hamas?) serving as "buffers" between government and society is somehow indicative of democracy. If it's democratic, why do you need a buffer? I am not astonished, but instead disgusted, at those who would hold up Arafat's 1996 farce as a genuine election.

The second point is telling: "...the democratic process is natural to all people with free will and does not require prior institutional expertise or structure." This must be why every human society has organized itself as a democracy, beginning with the ancient Sumerians and continuing on until the present day.

Wait, that's in an alternate universe. In the real world, societies are still often ruled by whoever is the strongest, or whoever can buy protection, or whoever has the largest tribe. While the dream of democracy may come easily, the actual implementation is a bit trickier. And many people who get the short end of their society's stick dream of revenge, and only call it democracy.

Those who overlook these facts are doomed to failure (and worse, ridicule).