I was one of many people who waged on the Palestinian democracy, which we considered an exceptional experience within the Arab world milieu. Despite the bitter reality of occupation and displacement from which the Palestinians have suffered, the Palestinian political forces, ever since the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the early 1960s, were able to maintain a reasonable share of public freedoms which had a positive impact on the unity of the Palestinian nation and the performance of the PLO’s political leadership in Arab and international forums.
It is true that the Palestinian national movement had suffered serious divisions and escalations which at times reached the level of bloody elimination. However, we attributed this status to the intervention of Arab regimes, some of which have been accustomed to exploiting the Palestinian issue in internal and regional agendas. Generally, the Palestinian executive and legislative structures were organized according to the regular functioning of democratic mechanisms, and this allowed two important results to emerge. On one hand, the PLO’s preservation of its status as the sole legitimate representative of Palestinian people on the Arab and international levels, and its remarkable success in connecting domestic and overseas parties through the mechanisms of democratic representation and free organization, (municipalities, unions and non-governmental organizations).
From this perspective, we assumed that the first Arab democracy would emerge in Palestine, in line with the logic that shapes the modern liberal state, which was based upon the precedence of civil society institutions over the emergence of the state.
In this sense, the vigilant, systematic and vital Palestinian society could create a political entity that is governed by free democratic restraints. However, the first years of the self-governance experience led many of us to reevaluate our optimistic presumptions.
In addition to the negotiation mechanism that led to the Oslo agreement and the accompanying agreements that were made outside of the scope of Palestinian institutional legitimacy, the experience of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) revealed that the new entity, ever since its establishment, had suffered from various deficiencies that we see in most other Arab countries.
The gravest of these imperfections that the reports had revealed were financial and administrative corruption, despotism within security services and the declining scope of political freedoms.
Perhaps the most serious impact of this status is the draining of the Palestinian institutional system from its significance through the new existing dualism between the PLO and the autonomous government.
Legislative and executive structures of the organization are now paralyzed and no longer have any role to play. In fact, they can no longer maintain their periodic meetings except in rare cases needed because of the repercussions of the reconciliation process.
These structures, the compositions of which have not changed for many years, have become fully detached from the Palestinian civil society both domestically and overseas, thus they are currently unable to undertake the role of a comprehensive and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
The events of the second Intifada had reflected this blatant incapacity to manage the deteriorating Palestinian situation, thus the PLO leadership appeared confused and unable to manage the balance between resistance (that had overstepped the mark) and a line of settlement that was now at gridlock despite the Arab and international attempts of revival.
Nevertheless, the charisma that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had enjoyed, as well as the legitimacy he attained from his strife and his ability to maneuver, qualified him to maintain the unity of Palestinian society even if minimally and in spite of the acute crises that almost demolished civil peace within Palestinian areas.
With the death of Arafat, the only person who was capable of controlling Palestinian internal contradictions had gone. What further escalated the situation was the breakdown of institutional mechanisms that once preserved Palestinian unity.
The first repercussion of the absence of Arafat was the emergence of dualism in the decision-making process between the PLO and the PA. The crisis of dualism in the Palestinian decision-making process had reached its peak through the war of ambassadors between the head of the PA, (Abu Mazen), and the head of the political division of the organization, (Farouk Al Qaddumi).
The results of the Palestinian elections last December had doubled this dualism, and in turn, this led to a conflict between three historical legitimacies: the PLO, parliament that was demolished by the Hamas movement which rejected the legitimacy of reconciliation represented by Abu Mazen, and finally the internationally-supported negotiation team.
It was inevitable that such crises would lead to an internal violent dissension, especially considering the absence of awareness of the magnitude of the crisis that cannot be attributed to circumstantial political factors. Rather, it will affect the Palestinian national movement and its strategic orientations.
At this critical moment, infighting Palestinian forces are unable to offer any solution to liberate the occupied territories. They are unable to adopt the logic of resistance (beyond ostentatious parades that are of limited value only), nor are they capable of activating the logic of peaceful settlement (due to the weakness of their negotiation skills which is a result of their disunity). Unfortunately, what was demonstrated through the recent events in Gaza is the collapse of Palestinian democracy.