How Mahmoud Abbas Crushed Palestinian Hopes for Democracy

Jan. 10 2019

Yesterday marked the fourteenth anniversary of Mahmoud Abbas’s election to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority (PA) for a four-year term. Not only have no subsequent elections for the presidency been held, but no elections for the Palestine Legislative Council, the PA’s parliament, have taken place since 2006. Abbas has now taken the additional step of formally dissolving that already-defunct body. Elliott Abrams marks the missed opportunity for Palestinian democracy:

That 2005 election was a milestone for Palestinians. Yasir Arafat had died the previous November, and this election was to choose his successor as head of the PA. It was a good election—free and fair in the sense that the votes were counted accurately and people could campaign against Abbas, [who] won only about 62 percent of the vote (compare this to Egypt’s President Sisi’s ludicrous claim to have won 97 percent of the vote in the 2018 election there). One challenger won 20 percent. Hamas boycotted the election, but was not forced to do so. . . .

[W]hat Abbas has done since the last election, in 2006, is to gut the development of Palestinian democratic institutions. There are excuses, of course: Hamas is too dangerous and might win as it did in 2006, Israel is to blame, and so on. But in fact Abbas is snuffing out all opposition to his rule and forbidding all dissent. . . .

[T]he 2005 election and the parliamentary election the following year marked the high-water mark of democracy in the West Bank. As Abbas marks his anniversary in power, those who had hoped for positive political evolution in the Palestinian territories can only mourn the way he has governed, especially in the last decade. He has outlawed politics in the West Bank. Under the guise of fighting Hamas, he has forbidden any criticism of the corrupt rule [of his] Fatah party and prevented any debate on the Palestinian future. Just as Arafat soon eliminated all independent institutions when he returned to the Palestinian territories in 1994, Abbas has crushed the hopes that arose—after Arafat’s death in 2004 and his own election in 2005—for a democratic future for Palestinians.

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Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Arab democracy, Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Politics & Current Affairs

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria