Re-Democratizing Palestinian Politics

29 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2013

Date Written: 2013


The main objective of this article is to examine the contemporary challenges to re-democratization in Palestinian politics. Such an examination is timely as the current leadership of the Palestinian people, institutionalized in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA), is viewed by many Palestinians as out of touch with their needs, and overly prepared to sacrifice their perceived rights and interests in negotiations with Israel. Palestinian politics have never been fully democratic. It follows that for Palestinian politics to be successfully democratized today, it is not sufficient to simply return to past practices nor to restore pre-existing institutions to their previous statuses.

This article analyzes the impact of two persistent obstacles to Palestinian democratic development - geographic dispersion and fragmentation of the Palestinians; and intervention by external powers, including the Arab states, the United States, and Israel - and considers the extent to which these obstacles were overcome in the past. It addresses the process of de-democratization to which Palestinian political institutions and practices have been subjected since the high water mark of Palestinian democratic achievement during the first intifada (1987-1993).

De-democratization is evident in two processes, characterized here as the “downsizing of Palestine” (by which Palestine has been reduced, conceptually and administratively, to the West Bank) and the “domestication of the Palestinians” (by which Palestinians, through their security forces, have become guardians of their own occupiers). The article reviews the intensifying demands for democratization that have been emerging in Palestinian society within the last several years and considers how these demands have articulated with the uprisings in other Arab countries, sometimes labeled the “Arab Spring.” The prescriptions that Palestinians themselves are currently discussing for strengthening their own practice of democracy include national reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas, reform of the PLO, and abolition of the PA. All of these prescriptions hold some promise, particularly as each would help revive political interaction and discussion among all Palestinians, wherever they are situated. But none is truly sufficient, and each bears potentially significant costs. One of the most difficult questions currently facing Palestinians is whether to reorient their struggle from one aiming to achieve national liberation in an independent state - the prospects of which seem increasingly dim, in light of ongoing Israeli colonization of the West Bank - to one seeking equal civil and political rights in what has emerged as a functionally unitary state in Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupies. This might require a fundamental reevaluation of what it means to be “Palestinian,” and the abandonment of ethno-religious criteria for identity in favor of a new concept of democratic citizenship.

Suggested Citation

Bisharat, George Emile, Re-Democratizing Palestinian Politics (2013). 17 UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs 1, UC Hastings Research Paper No. 69, Available at SSRN:

George Emile Bisharat (Contact Author)

UC Hastings Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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