Thursday, December 15, 2005

Palestinian Developments

An interesting story emerging that puts into sharp relief the choices and trade-offs in advancing democracy.

Palestinian President Abbas is threatening to resign his post and call new elections if young Fatah activists bolt the party and run a separate slate of candidates for the legislature. The activists, in turn, claim that Abbas has stacked the Fatah list with two many of the corrupt oldtimers and that their slate can win popular suppoirt by putting candidates with real credibility forward. Meanwhile, Hamas is hoping to capitalize if there is a split in the ruling Fatah party (by dividing Fatah voters) and is also trying to cultivate a wider spectrum of the electorate by putting forward more moderate candidates.

As we saw in the Iranian elections earlier this year, voters chose the "clean extremist" in favor of the "pragmatic corrupt." It is also a fact that often in democracies voters make decisions based on local concerns (this may favor Hamas and the young Fatah activists) instead of wider issues (e.g. is Abbas the best person to move the peace process forward).

The Palestinian election process is a mess. Abbas has no control over the party because he has steadfastly refused to root out the rampant corruption, Fatah is split down the middlem and the only group not currently fighting anyone, meaning those not fighting the Israeli's (Islamic Jihad, et al) or themselves (Fatah, al-Aqsa, et al), is Hamas.

The question now, it seems, is how will Abbas figure out a way to postpone the elections so that Hamas doesn't win and what will the reaction of Hamas be when he actually does it? Will they break the cease-fire they have held since Feb and attack Israel or will they confine their outburst to their fellow Palestinians and try to take down the Abbas govt.

The inability of the PLA to manage itself or its people (which could be attributed to legacy Arafat has left behind) is disgraceful. But what, or who, are the alternatives for Europe, the US, Russia and Israel to deal with?
One of the reasons you don't want to make democracy promotion the center of your foreign policy--and I am not saying democracy shouldn't be a key goal--is what happens when you need to delay elections precisely because early elections favor anti-democratic forces? Wasn't this one of the points Dov Zakheim was making in the National Interest?
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