Thursday, October 6, 2011

How Not To Help Palestinian Democracy


This week the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) admitted the Palestine National Council to a new status, as a “Partner for Democracy.”
As a news story explained,
The new “Partner for Democracy,” which was given until now only to the Moroccan parliament in June of this year, is intended, PACE said, for parliaments from regions neighboring the Council of Europe who wish to benefit from the Assembly’s experience of democracy-building and to debate common challenges.
Now, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe consists of people elected to their national parliaments. The Council of Europe, with 47 member countries, claims that it “seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of individuals.”
So it is fair to ask whether the Palestine National Council (PNC) deserves to be honored by the PACE, and is similarly reflective of or devoted to democracy.
What is the PNC? It is not the Palestinian parliament; that is called the PLC or Palestinian Legislative Council, and is in theory elected by the people living in Gaza and the West Bank. One has to add “in theory” because elections haven’t been held since 2006 and the terms of all members have expired. The PNC is instead part of the PLO.
As Al Jazeera helpfully explains,
“The PNC is the highest authority in the PLO and is considered to be the parliament of all Palestinians inside and outside of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem…. it should be mentioned that the functioning of the PNC is irregular, and is constrained by regional developments and political climates.”
Irregular is a polite way of putting it. The members of the PNC are not and have never been elected. No one is quite sure who is a member and who is not, nor how many members there are right now. It last met two years ago.
No need to belabor the point: it is simply scandalous that the PNC was admitted to any form of relationship with the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. No doubt the PACE members thought they were doing something nice, friendly, and pro-Palestinian, in the immediate aftermath of the Palestinian effort at UN membership in New York. But in honoring the PNC this way they have in fact done what Western democrats have so often done over the decades, when Arafat was alive and since: they have not been willing to apply normal democratic standards to Palestinian political life. Once again they have engaged in what George W. Bush in a wholly different context called “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and in so doing have abandoned those Palestinians truly engaged in a struggle for democracy.
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