Does Democracy Blvd. Lead to Islamism?

The neoconservatives who dreamed up the Bush Doctrine — promoting "democracy" would be the U.S. mission in the Middle East — may be about to hold yet another "Seconds Thoughts" conference.

Certainly, Israel must be having second thoughts on the folly of having yielded to U.S. pressure and allowed Hamas to participate in elections. For Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and employs suicide-bomb attacks on civilians, has just won a sweeping political and moral victory in Palestine.

Freedom and democracy are on the march, says President Bush. Perhaps. But there is no doubt Islamism is on the march.

Not only is Hamas now the voice of Palestinian nationalism, Hezbollah used elections to establish itself as the political power in south Lebanon. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood swept over half the parliamentary seats it was allowed to contest and appears the probable beneficiary to the political estate of President Mubarak.

In the Iraqi elections, Shia militants wiped up the floor with secularists like ex-Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Ahmed Chalabi. In Iran, the dark horse who stormed to victory in the 2005 elections is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose commentaries on the Holocaust and wiping Israel "off the map" have even the Ayatollah nervous. In the two provinces of Pakistan that border Afghanistan, pro-Taliban fundamentalists swept the boards in recent elections.

That Zogby poll of 3,900 people in six Arab nations which revealed rampant distrust of U.S. motives and widespread detestation of Bush and Sharon appears to have been on the mark.

But what do we do now?

For Israel, it is an uncomplicated question. Both the "peace process" and the "roadmap," agreed to by the European Union, United Nations, Russia and the United States, have long been, as Sharon aide Dov Weinglass put it, in "formaldehyde."

Israel will not negotiate with a government that includes Hamas and will proceed on the course set by Sharon after Bush gave him a green light in April 2004. Having pulled out of Gaza, Israel will wall in all Jewish settlements surrounding Jerusalem and the city itself, deny Palestinians any right of return, annex the choicest cuts of the West Bank and leave the shank to the Palestinians.

No one — not the Palestinians, not the Arab world, not the EU — will accept this Bantustan solution, except the Americans. But that is all that counts with Israelis — be it Labor, Likud or Kadima.

What will Bush do? Nothing. Any attempt to force Israel to negotiate on settlements or East Jerusalem would put the White House in a withering crossfire. The Christian right and neocons would accuse him of a "Munich," while Democrats and the Israeli lobby savage him for forcing Israel to "negotiate with terrorists."

Down deep, Bush probably agrees with them.

But if Israel’s course seems clear — proceed to a separation of the two peoples, wall herself in and rely on U.S. moral, military and materiel support indefinitely — what should U.S. policy be?

Having touted elections as America’s roadmap to peace, Bush cannot credibly say we will only accept elected leaders who share our views and values. But he should demand, as we did after the Oslo Accords, that every party to any negotiation renounce terror.

As for negotiating with terrorists like Hamas, is this not just what Bush did when he agreed to lift sanctions on Khadafi, who had been behind the air massacre of Pan Am 103? In return, Bush got a commitment from Khadafi to compensate the victims’ families, surrender his weapons of mass destruction and forego any right to build such weapons.

During the presidential campaign, Bush’s men touted the Libya agreement as a diplomatic triumph that proved the mailed fist in Iraq had induced moderation in the Arab world.

As the situation is evolving in the Middle East, Bush is going to have to modify or abandon his democracy crusade, or eat some crow and start talking to the Islamists who get elected. As for Israel, she may believe isolationism and reliance on America is a winning strategy. Demography says otherwise.

Here are the latest UN population projections for mid-century for Israel’s neighbors, friend and foe.

Nation —- Population in 2050

Lebanon —- 5 million

West Bank, Gaza —- 10 million

Jordan —- 10 million

Syria —- 36 million

Saudi Arabia —- 49 million

Iraq —- 64 million

Iran —- 102 million

Egypt —- 126 million

 Of Jordan’s 10 million, 6 million will be Palestinians. Of Israel’s estimated population of 10 million, 2.5 million to 3 million will be Arabs.

What recent elections tell us is that Arab peoples believe they have been misruled by corrupt leaders, with U.S. support, and the Palestinians have been brutalized, with U.S. support, and their only hope lies in Islamic militants who understand this.

Whether Israel talks to these folks, or slams the door in their faces, is her call. But if we do not wish to be as isolated, we have to talk to them. For, in the Middle East, time does not appear to be on our side.