A Democratic Palestine

(Weekly Standard) Robert Satloff - Traditionally, Arab states have had coups and assassinations but rarely revolutions or civil wars. When faced with the prospect of radical change that could bring down an entire ruling system, elites have more often than not found a way to produce suitable (or at least sustainable) successors. There is no example of an Arab state disintegrating when the leader, even the paramount leader, leaves the scene. Arafat's collective heirs will leaven his legacy with pragmatism. While offering no political concessions that Arafat was unwilling to countenance, they are also likely to go further than Arafat toward meeting Israel's immediate security concerns. Optimists believe that Arafat's passing will unleash centrifugal forces that will send Palestinians in different directions: West Bankers and Gazans asserting their own "insider" interests, refugees asserting refugees' interests, and Palestinian citizens of the two key neighboring states - Jordan and Israel - asserting their own interests apart from the larger nationalist cause. A possible negative side effect of this process is that the assertion of a post-Arafat Palestinian identity within Jordan and Israel may very well complicate politics in those countries. Along with that, the Palestinian cause in general will lose some international visibility, though it may eventually gain more in terms of legitimacy without Arafat as its symbol. According to a more pessimistic scenario, Arafat's failure will leave secular nationalism leaderless and deflated. After an interregnum, the vacuum could be filled by the Islamist alternative, which appears more responsive to popular needs and unburdened with the failed strategies of the past. With Palestinian politics inwardly focused in the immediate aftermath of Arafat's death, promoting an early resumption of high-level Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy is the wrong approach.

2004-11-15 00:00:00

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