Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Culture of Violence

An editorial at The Jerusalem Post reminds us that the mere existence of elections does not mean the Palestinians will freely choose their new leaders. Today the act of voting has been elevated in importance above that which gives it meaning, namely the existence of the institutions of a free society.

Out of the barrel of a gun

The future Palestinian leadership will not emerge out of the ballot box, regardless of whether elections in the Palestinian Authority take place on January 9, 2005, or not.

It doesn't matter who wins, or how well the elections are conducted.

That is part of the pernicious legacy Yasser Arafat bequeathed his people.


Like other Arab potentates from Syria to Egypt to Algeria, Arafat based his rule on personal control over numerous, often competing, security services and armed militias. The Palestinian Authority became a typical mukhabarat – secret police – regime.

In his recent book The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, Dennis Ross recounts that when Arafat was asked why he needed seven security services, his answer was: "But Mubarak has 12!"


The plethora of security services was not a sign of misadministration, nor of a lack of bureaucratic inefficiency. It was the secret, the very foundation of Arafat's rule. That is why he never consented to share this control with either of the prime ministers forced on him by Western pressure.


Arafat's authoritarian rule was not just a matter of his personal preference. It has become deeply embedded in Palestinian life, which, like other Arab societies, still lacks most of the ingredients of a civil society: pluralism, tolerance, civil courage, non-conformism and the theoretical and institutional anchoring of individual responsibility.

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