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Arabs will travel democratic road when U.S. and Israel practice what they preach


Arab News:


Countless opinion polls and surveys conducted in the Middle East have indicated that Arabs have a great thirst for freedom and respect for the principles of democracy.

Like all people of the world, Arabs want freedom and good governance based on the rule of law. But the same opinion polls indicate that Arabs view U.S. President George W. Bush, the self-proclaimed "champion of democracy" in the region, with stark disapproval. Why wouldn't Arabs, who so desperately long for freedom, support President Bush's foreign policy agenda, which has lately placed so much emphasis on spreading democracy in the Middle East?

One of the primary reasons for the Arabs' less-than-rosy view of Bush - and indeed of U.S. foreign policy in general - has been the American president's tacit (and sometimes blatant) approval of Israel's policies of conquest. While it is true that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has recently come to be viewed by the international media as a "man of peace," most Arabs bitterly recall the prime minister's life-long support for Israeli settlement expansion. Naturally, this gives Arabs cause for skepticism about the premier's current motives. Even in recent months, with so much attention on Sharon's plans to withdraw from Gaza, Arabs have been suspicious that he has maintained his vision of expanding settlements in the West Bank.

But today, from a quiet ranch deep in the heart of Texas, Bush spoke loudly and clearly against illegal outposts and settlement expansion in the West Bank. For the first time in his presidency, Bush has started to apply the kind of pressure on Israel that was once reserved only for Palestinians.

Bush's approach is a necessary step toward building Arab confidence in America's role as an honest peace broker. Furthermore, the president's insistence that Israel abide by the requirements of the "road map" to peace is the best way that he can promote the prosperity of the Jewish state. An expansionist policy is an obstacle to peace and will therefore not serve Israel's long-term interests.

At this historic juncture, change is evident in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, and a unique opportunity for democracy-building is in the making. By halting settlement expansion, Israel can make a tangible commitment to this environment. This will go a long way toward building the peace and stability in which democracy can flourish and will allow Arabs to get on with the business of constructing free and democratic societies.

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