Monday, July 19, 2004

Palestinian Politics

As I continue to watch developments in the Gaza Strip, I am reminded of Khalil Shikaki's lecture in Madison last March. In particular, he made the prediction that the Palestinian Authority would collapse in Gaza, then in the West Bank. He also talked about the rise of a "Young Guard" of Palestinians who are disenchanted with Arafat's regime, but presently disorganized.

It now looks like we might be watching the end of Arafat's effective rule in Gaza, though he could continue to reign by simply acknowledging as legitimate whatever happens there, much like an 12th-century Abbasid caliph pretending to appoint the various sultans who held power throughout the Islamic world. However, the foot soldiers in these protests appear to be the "Young Guard" Shikaki spoke of, and perhaps in the aftermath of the assassination of key Hamas leaders it is they, and not Hamas, who stand to benefit from an Israeli pull-out.

I'm reluctant to make predictions, and I'm convinced Arafat will still be around in some capacity, but these protests show how weak his reach has become, and that weakness could embolden his enemies elsewhere. If this is the case, and a non-Hamas "Young Guard" takes over in an environment characterized by at least some reforms and popular backing, it could bring about what Shikaki wanted as far as a new Palestinian leadership that had the legitimacy to make compromises. This, of course, depends on whether there is some common leadership behind all the unrest we're seeing today.


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