About a week before Arafat, I visited Jericho to see how “the autonomy” (as my Israeli friends call it) was faring. It was, that week, faring well. The city, bedecked in Palestinian flags, was quiet; the old police and new security forces seemed to be effective and, for the moment, popular; the joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols were the surprising success story of the autonomy’s first stage. The one sign of future trouble was that every official I met came from outside, from Tunis, Lebanon, or Iraq; the locals seem to have been displaced—though perhaps they have only retreated into temporary invisibility. In any case, the new civil administration was not yet at work, and elections were still months away, on the most optimistic schedule. Virtually everything remains to be done; still, there I was, walking peacefully around a square in . . . Palestine.
This is peacemaking on the ground, and though it can turn very sour very fast, it is a remarkable achievement—made possible, we should remember, by the victory of the Israeli left in a democratic vote two years ago. But this close link between democracy and peace is by no means guaranteed. Labor could have lost the last election, could still lose the next one. Jericho was a popular festival but probably not a budding democracy. In countries like Serbia and Croatia, nationalist politicians with maximal programs easily win elections and fight wars. And in much of the world, civil war and anarchy, desperate poverty and famine, masses of people in flight make any kind of democratic politics impossible. Democracy remains, should remain, the central goal of the left, but insofar as we think about state policy, we need to lower our sights. What is necessary today is minimal decency: peace on the ground if not in the heart, subsistence and
shelter, security for minority populations.
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