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As Schenker points out in his fine and sober study, expectations of democracy were "unusually high" when the Palestinians began to rule themselves in 1994, for they (other than the Lebanese) are the only Arabs with any sort of democratic tradition. They had an historically vibrant civil society, direct experience with democracy, and extensive knowledge (and even admiration for) Israeli democracy. They also had, in the form of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), a parliamentary-like institution that from its establishment in 1996 had the potential to deepen democratic ways and ensure good governance. Schenker sees this institution as highly significant: "As goes the PLC … so goes Palestinian democracy."

Unfortunately, Yasir Arafat and his aides looked at the PLC not as a building block but as "a threat to be controlled, coopted, or destroyed." Though earnest about its duties, the PLC focuses too narrowly on law-making and has squandered opportunities to assert itself vis-à-vis Arafat. In the end, the PLC serves as but "democratic window dressing for an authoritarian government."

Schenker is not quite sure where all this will end up. On one page he posits it possible that, in the near future, "the PA [Palestinian Authority] could become a democracy. " Three pages further, he finds that "the short-term evidence does not inspire optimism" that this will happen. The author's ambivalence reflects an ambiguous reality; the evidence is too mixed for anyone to predict yet which way the PA will go.