Events since PLO Chairman Arafat’s demise—the unexpectedly smooth transfer of business to a pragmatic leader committed to negotiations and reform, Palestinian security forces’ efforts to stop militant attacks, and the Israeli-Palestinian truce announced at the February 8 Sharm Al Sheikh summit—have brought a wave of optimism to analyses of Palestinian affairs.
On July 17, 2005, Palestinians are scheduled to elect a new parliament. The stakes are enormously high, especially as groups that sat out the 1996 parliamentary election—notably Hamas but also smaller factions—will field candidates. Various parties have been squabbling over the electoral rules.
Tunisians took to the streets in February protesting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's scheduled visit to their country in November 2005 to attend the World Information Summit. Inviting Sharon, seen as a war criminal by many Tunisians and other Arabs, was an undemocratic decision by the Tunisian regime exercised against the popular will of the Tunisian people.
In the few weeks that have passed since Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the urgent challenges facing President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have become clear but whether Abbas will succeed has not. The stakes are high.
Even murkier than the cause of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death is the question of who will fill the gaping political hole left by his passing. True to his penchant for avoiding definitive decisions, Arafat did not name a successor.
Will Hamas and Sharon sit at the same negotiating table in the near future? Yesterday's inconceivable fantasies may become tomorrow's realities, regarding developments in the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
The eruption of popular violence against Palestinian Authority (PA) officials in the Gaza Strip in July reflected both popular discontent with the PA and a power struggle between "young guard" nationalists and their "old guard" rivals who dominate the Palestinian leadership.
The second of June marked the second anniversary of the assassination of Lebanese writer Samir Qasir, with no indication of who ordered the car bombing that silenced one of the loudest Arab voices criticizing autocratic Arab regimes, particularly the Assad family in Syria.
In recent decades a number of democratic transitions began when an authoritarian government agreed to elections under rules it had designed to ensure its continued hold on power—and then lost. In the Philippines in 1985, Chile in 1988, Poland in 1989, and Yugoslavia in 2000, rulers ceded power, gracefully or not, after a surprising defeat at the polls.
Until recently Western assistance programs aimed at strengthening political parties were less present in the Arab world than in almost all other areas of the developing world. As part of the heightened U.S. and European interest in promoting Arab political reform, however, such programs are multiplying in the region.
As much as Hamas's landslide victory in the January 25 Palestinian legislative elections was a triumph for the Islamist movement, it was also a crushing defeat for the younger generation of Fatah leaders who had hoped the election would facilitate a leadership transition in the long-ruling Palestinian national liberation movement.
Palestinians have been hoping that Hamas and Fatah will live up to their announced agreement that the government of national unity under formation would not concern itself with negotiations with Israel, which were supposed to remain the purview of President Mahmoud Abbas in his capacity as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The European Union approach towards the government led by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) formed in March 2006 has been one of isolation; the EU and its member states have refused dialogue, at least on an official level, and have withdrawn budget support.
Since 2002, U.S. diplomacy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been constrained by Israel's doctrine that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. According to this concept—accepted by the United States—until Palestinians halt violence toward Israel and reform their internal politics, there can be no peace talks.
Negotiations for a unity government between Fatah and Hamas are the fruit of international pressure, which has forced Hamas to consider sacrificing some of its formal authority within the Palestinian Authority (PA) despite the fact that the Islamic movement and its allies hold 77 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
The changing political balance in Palestine —from domination by the secular nationalist Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to effective challenge for leadership by the Islamist Resistance Movement (Hamas)—can be seen not only at the ballot box, but also in the daily lives of Palestinians.
Foreign democracy assistance organizations working directly with political parties have come into the line of fire as some Arab governments have pushed back against democratization initiatives over the past two years. In Algeria, Bahrain, and Egypt in particular, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) have been among the first to feel pressure.
The Palestinian economy has been in an ever-deepening crisis since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, a crisis rooted in and perpetuated by an extremely inauspicious political setting. The record of economic decline is staggering: domestic output and per capita income have plunged; poverty and unemployment have ballooned; private investment has plummeted.
Since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip on June 15, governance has barely functioned. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya in a November 4 speech expressed his dissatisfaction with the paralysis afflicting the executive, judicial, and legislative institutions, accusing the Ramallah government of responsibility.
Shortly after the split between Fatah and Hamas in June 2007, Dianna Buttu, the astute young advisor to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, said that watching the rival factions joust for control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) was like watching bald men fight over a comb.