Ms. Hawthorne's Opening Comments
The current focus on political reform, both among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and within the Bush administration, is a product of the Intifada, the collapse of the peace process, and the impasse between Israel and the Palestinian leadership.
Many Palestinians have long demanded reforms to increase their leaders' accountability, decrease corruption within the Palestinian Authority (PA), and lay the groundwork for a democratic Palestinian state. Such demands intensified during the Intifada and gained urgency after the major Israeli incursion into the West Bank in March-April 2002. These experiences weakened Palestinian institutions and leadership and sharpened public discontent. Now, limited Palestinian reforms are underway, but it is unclear how far they will go under the current circumstances and the stewardship of Yasser Arafat.
On the U.S. side, demands for a rapid democratization process, as articulated in President Bush's June 24 speech, mark a dramatic policy shift. Although the U.S. has spent some $75 million on democracy-promotion programs in the West Bank and Gaza since 1994, during the Oslo era senior U.S. officials considered PA democratization irrelevant, even inimical, to the peace process. Now, the U.S. hopes that reform will bring a new leadership and end the violence. The U.S. has made democratic reform the pre-condition for U.S. support of Palestinian statehood and a negotiated final settlement with Israel.
President Bush's June 24th speech laid out ambitious demands for the Palestinians: a new leadership; a constitution that guarantees separation of powers; an effective parliament; fair, multi-party elections; transparency in Palestinian government finances; and a fully independent judiciary. These are lofty goals for any society, let alone one in the difficult circumstances of the West Bank and Gaza. To understand better what we can reasonably expect from a reform process, it is important to apply lessons learned from previous attempts by the U.S. and the international community to support democratization elsewhere, and to consider the specific challenges of the West Bank and Gaza. In today's session, Mr. Carothers and Ms. Ottaway will raise questions based on democracy-promotion experiences elsewhere, after which Messrs. Shikaki and Al-Sayyid will offer comments on the basis of their knowledge of Palestinian issues and the Middle East conflict.
Mr. Carothers' Comments
The sudden infusion of democracy language into the debate over the future of the Palestinian territories is problematic in at least two general ways:
1) There is currently only one popularly, fairly elected leader in the Arab world-Yasser Arafat. Initiating a greater concern for democracy in the Arab world but mounting an effort to remove that one elected leader from power is odd. This observation is not a plea for Mr. Arafat's case, of course. It is instead aimed at highlighting the complexities of trying to shift to a democracy framework.
2) It is a novel proposition to make fully functioning democracy a prerequisite for statehood. Traditionally, a territory becomes a state, then tries to democratize. The Bush approach reverses that. Many countries around the world-including China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia-are not democratic, and yet the U.S. still maintain relations with them as sovereign states. The current policy might be setting the bar too high for the Palestinians to achieve statehood, particularly within the three years suggested by the Bush administration.
Four general issues regarding a U.S. policy of promoting Palestinian democratization include:
1) U.S. credibility: In various other regions, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia, the U.S. has in the past abruptly changed from support for dictators to support for democracy, particularly as geo-strategic interests shift. Citizens in those regions are inevitably very skeptical of U.S. democracy-promotion efforts. The only apparent way of overcoming this skepticism is through many years of steady commitment to democracy promotion, as experiences in Guatemala and Peru have demonstrated. The question here is how can the U.S. build credibility as a pro-democratic actor in this context?
2) U.S. partisanship: As many observers have noted, there is a powerful built-in contradiction in the Bush effort to support free and fair elections in the West Bank/Gaza while also trying to direct the outcome of those elections. Yet such a contradiction is hardly new in U.S. democracy-promotion efforts. The first major case of U.S. democracy promotion in the 1980s, El Salvador, entailed the same problem: the Reagan administration invested heavily in efforts to ensure a well-administered presidential election in 1984 but simultaneously steered covert funds to Napoleon Duarte's campaign to ensure that he won. In the intervening years, the U.S. has managed to develop democracy-promotion efforts in many countries that are not directed at producing particular electoral results. Nevertheless in some cases, the practice has continued. In some open elections - such as in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania - the U.S. government has favored particular candidates or parties against others. In various situations of strongman rule - such as in Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Belarus, and Zimbabwe - the U.S. has mobilized efforts to defeat disfavored leaders through elections. These partisan efforts involve a variety of tools, both of high policy and low policy, and are risky and uncertain. It seems likely that the U.S. government will be drawn into similar efforts in the West Bank/Gaza. How are Palestinians likely to react to U.S. partisan efforts?
3) Gradual reform vs. upheaval: Such regimes are experts at playing along with internationally sponsored reform efforts while quietly sabotaging the possibility of real reform. It is not clear that deep change in the core systems can occur without more drastic processes, including mass mobilization and the complete collapse of the regime. Given that Palestinian politics has been built on a core of personalism, anti-institutional governance, and corruption, will gradual, technocratic reforms really be enough to create genuine democracy there?
4) Rule of law: There is no example of the U.S. or the international community being able to help a country that has a very problematic rule of law rapidly construct a working rule-of-law system. Failures are many, such as Haiti, Rwanda and Cambodia, and even success stories, such as El Salvador, are only very partial. The type of independent judiciary that the Bush administration is advocating for the Palestinians is difficult to achieve even in more developed countries, as the examples of China, Russia, Argentina, and Mexico demonstrate. Rule-of-law reforms cannot be separated from deep-reaching political reforms; if patronage, personalism, and anti-institutionalism are still pervasive, then an independent judiciary will be extremely unlikely.
Ms. Ottaway's Comments
Besides the issue of whether the U.S. can be a credible promoter of democracy in the West Bank and Gaza, another key question facing democracy-promotion efforts in the Palestinian territories is whether the U.S. can promote a credible democratization process. While democratization is always a difficult process anywhere, it will be particularly nettlesome in the West Bank/Gaza, where technical issues will likely become deeply contentious and politicized. Such issues include:
1) Timing of elections: Democracy does not start with elections; a certain degree of political openness must exist before truly free and fair elections can take place. It is unclear, however, how much of this openness currently exists in the Palestinian territories. In any event, it will now be very difficult to postpone elections until political conditions are more optimal, since elections have become such a prerequisite for a reform process, which the U.S. now states is a condition for progress in the peace process with Israel.
2) Constitution: Experience has shown that the formulation of a constitution must be an indigenous, consensus-building process. The U.S. has demonstrated that it has very specific ideas for what it wants in a new Palestinian constitution or basic law, but such a document must be constructed by internal actors for it to have legitimacy and for it to balance competing interests adequately.
3) "Technical" isues: Again, technical issues will likely become deeply politicized in the Palestinian context. For example, deciding who will have the right to vote is usually a relatively simple matter of citizenship, but there is no Palestinian state, and thus there are no Palestinian citizenship laws. Also, party laws are necessary to determine which organizations can compete in elections. However, the U.S. and Israel are likely to object to a political party sponsored by Hamas or other organizations that have undertaken acts of terrorism.
4) Free, fair elections: Many rules and norms need to be in place before truly free and fair elections can take place. There must be guarantees for freedom of speech, assembly, movement, access to the media (for candidates), and access to information (for voters). Also, conditions need to allow for election monitoring by domestic and international groups.
Mr. Shikaki's Comments
Many Palestinians have supported greater political openness for years, and it is crucial to include their perspectives in any discussion of democratization in the West Bank/Gaza. Most agree that elections are not a panacea and, although there is broad support for holding them, most call for a number of other important reforms, including:
1) Unification of security services under transparent, civilian control;
2) Financial reform, and transparent management of revenues and expenditures, with oversight from the legislature;
3) Streamlined ministries, implementation of civil service laws, reductions in the size of the public sector, and improvements in service delivery;
4) Separation of powers, with an independent judiciary and legislative oversight of the executive branch.
Holding elections too early will likely maintain the existing power structure, thereby hampering progress on the aforementioned issues.
The Bush administration is focusing too heavily on regime change, while Palestinians are more concerned with changes in political processes. Most predict that Mr. Arafat would win any upcoming elections, despite a poll taken before President Bush's June 24th speech that showed that only 35% of Palestinian respondents would actually cast their ballots for him.
There is a core conundrum, in that Palestinian politics can only democratize once the Palestinian Liberation Organization legacy is essentially retired from the political scene. However, that can only occur once the Palestinians get a state. Yet the Bush administration is saying that they get a state only once they democratize. This appears to be a stalemate.
Additionally, there is a danger to U.S. democracy promoters working on the ground in the West Bank/Gaza of the Bush administration's new approach. In the past, Palestinians were happy to work with U.S. democracy promoters because they believed that these people were there out of a genuine interest in democracy. Now they will wonder if the purpose of democracy promotion is not just to produce a regime that will agree to an outcome in the peace process that is less favorable for the Palestinians. In other words, by linking the peace process and democratization, President Bush has made it inevitable that U.S. democracy-promotion efforts in the West Bank/Gaza will be judged, with suspicion, as serving a very different agenda.
A Palestinian democracy would operate best under a parliamentary system similar to Israel's, with a strong prime minister and a weak president. For its part, Israel must assure Palestinians greater freedom of movement, and Palestinian democracy cannot survive if the Israeli army periodically arrests candidates. Israel and the U.S. must be prepared to allow for free campaigning and agree to accept any outcome, even one that results in the re-election of Mr. Arafat. In fact, many believe that the peace process would not be able to go forward if Mr. Arafat were marginalized early, given that many Palestinians view him as the only leader with the legitimacy to make the concessions that would be inevitable in peace negotiations.
Finally, it is unlikely that real political reforms can be achieved without greater security, for both Palestinians and Israelis. The PA is not currently able to provide such security, Jordan is extremely unlikely to send in forces of its own to stabilize the situation, and Israel has refused to accept an international force. One wonders, of course, what Washington's real priorities are in pushing for Palestinian reforms. Will the U.S. continue to push for democratization if security matters are suddenly resolved? And what will be Washington's position if reform efforts necessitate steps, such as greater judicial independence, that will likely undermine security?
Mr. Al-Sayyid's Comments
Palestinians have been advocating for reforms within the PA for years; in 1997, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council called for the resignation of the full cabinet, citing extreme corruption. Additionally, Palestinian human-rights organizations have long been calling for democratic change. A U.S.-driven process would actually limit some of these reforms, while also excluding certain actors from the process.
It is important to recognize that, compared to a place such as Iraq, the political situation in the West Bank/Gaza is relatively pluralistic, with freedoms of association and expression, and the 1996 election of Mr. Arafat as president. The PA has already taken important steps, including the implementation of a judiciary law and much-needed financial reforms. Therefore, U.S.-proposed efforts should be seen as steps in an already ongoing process of liberalization. This process will take years, and the timetable set by the Bush administration is certainly too truncated. Additionally, the process will go nowhere unless Israel allows for freer movement
A parliamentary system is currently undesirable for the Palestinian context. The French alternative of both a strong president and a strong prime minister would be a better choice. Such a situation would allow Mr. Arafat to operate alongside a possible successor.
Next, all interested parties should be allowed to participate in elections and the political process, with the exception of groups that have purposely targeted Israeli civilians. However, groups targeting Israeli occupying soldiers and the settlements, which have been internationally condemned as illegal, must be allowed to participate in the process; excluding such groups would create divisions and undermine the entire political process. Palestinians in East Jerusalem should have full political rights, as well.
Establishing the rule of law in the Palestinian territories would certainly be a long-term task, yet one that would be a vital component of reforms. The Palestinian basic law (or a new constitution) should establish an entity similar to Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court that would have the power to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by the executive and legislative branches. Of course, the participation of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Jordanian and Egyptian security forces in Palestinian reforms does not augur well for the establishment of the rule of law. The participation of the Egyptian forces, at least, has been limited to technical issues to make Palestinian security services more efficient, however.
Finally, it is unlikely that a democratized PA will be a panacea to the problem of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It will take much more than Palestinian democracy for the Israelis to pull out of the West Bank and Gaza.
In response to a question regarding what further clarifying statements President Bush should make on the issue of Palestinian democracy, Mr. Shikaki said that most Palestinians believe that Washington's efforts are primarily attempts to help Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meet his goals of eliminating Mr. Arafat and retaining control over the West Bank and Gaza. President Bush must firmly commit to the establishment of a genuine Palestinian state, Mr. Shikaki said, and elaborate a vision for peace. Finally, the public demand for Mr. Arafat's ouster has only made many in the Palestinian leadership even more paranoid of U.S. intentions.
Mr. Shikaki next agreed with a participant's suggestion that the Bush administration's pro-democracy push is more about outcome than process. Many in the administration are convinced that Mr. Arafat is responsible for the current Intifada, and they view political reforms as the best way to marginalize or eliminate him.
In response to a question regarding the tensions between promoting openness in places where security concerns are paramount, Ms. Ottaway said that rule-of-law reforms in the Palestinian territories will likely mimic the same methods that the U.S. and other democracy promoters have been using for years in other places. As elsewhere, these reforms will indeed clash with attempts to improve security, she said, because reforms of security apparatuses have rarely been democratic anywhere.
Mr. Carothers pointed out that the U.S. democracy-promotion community grew mainly in the 1990s, when resolving intrastate conflict was a primary concern. In the Arab-Israeli case, however, the conflict is more analogous to an interstate one, a context in which the democracy-promotion community has little, if any, real experience. He repeated his contention that placing such high thresholds for the achievement of Palestinian democracy in such a short time will prove counterproductive. Ms. Ottaway agreed, adding that the unreachable standards and vague conditions could also undermine U.S. democracy-promotion and conflict-resolution efforts elsewhere.
In response to a participant's contention that the many so-called half measures at reform have not worked elsewhere in the Arab world, and that Palestinians could follow this example, Mr. Al-Sayyid said that rule-of-law reforms, if properly implemented, could have dramatic effects in promoting Palestinian democracy. Mr. Shikaki added that elections alone will indeed not transform the system and that reform efforts need to take place in tandem with peace negotiations.