The Palestinian Regime: A Partial Democracy
by As'ad Ghanem
Sussex: Academic Press, 2001. 252 pp. $69.
Reviewed by David Schenker
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Middle East Quarterly
Ghanem's study chronicles the repugnant nature of Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA). The author agrees with the widely-accepted view of the PA as a "partial democracy," where the political structure is authoritarian and civil society is democratic. To substantiate his argument, his competent if not path-breaking study covers a lot of old ground, including Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) history and the 1996 Palestinian elections. Along the way, he also relies on some ignored sources (such as the PA's Official Gazette) and offers some spicy anecdotes (like the revelation that PA security forces use "fortune tellers to identify criminals"). Regrettably, many of these details are buried in explanatory footnotes.
More interesting are the conclusions reached by this Israeli-Arab author. Ghanem blames the PA's authoritarianism in good part on Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who chose Arafat as his man to "impose order," while noting that Arafat arrived in Gaza in 1994 with "no basic commitment to construct a democratic regime." Given the nature of the PA, Ghanem concludes that things will improve only with "a change in leadership." Frustratingly, however, he does not address the implication of his own conclusion – that it's time for Palestinians to reconsider the 1974 Arab summit resolution that anointed the PLO their "sole legitimate representative."
The author cannot be entirely blamed for some of the more annoying aspects of his own book. Nasser Aruri's forward refers to the Israeli drafters of the Oslo agreements as "Talmudic professionals," an unfortunate and counterproductive exercise in stereotyping. And $69 is pricey for a volume containing only 153 pages of text, particularly when most of the 59 pages of appendices are easily available online for free.
Related Topics: Palestinians | David Schenker | Winter 2002 MEQ
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