The List

A Palestinian Spring

Here's what you need to know about the protests in the West Bank.

It has been a week of protest across the Middle East. Beginning in Egypt and Libya, then spreading to Yemen, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Sudan, angry crowds took to the streets to protest an anti-Islam film that few had likely ever seen. The protesters weren't too fickle about their targets: They not only attacked U.S. missions in Cairo and Benghazi, but also set the German embassy in Sudan aflame and burned down a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Lebanon.

Amidst this furor, you might have missed a slew of protests that occurred for a more tangible reason. Protesters demonstrated across the West Bank earlier this week, prompting speculation that the Arab Spring has finally arrived in Palestine. In recent days, from Bethlehem to Hebron to Ramallah, the Palestinians have taken to the streets. Only this time, they're not protesting against the Israeli occupation -- they're denouncing their own leaders.

As the Palestinian protests rage, here are eight things you need to know:

1.      It's a rough economy. The protests first began as an angry response to a regional hike in fuel prices. But as the Washington Post notes, "the demonstrators are also upset about the costs of basic goods, including dairy products and cooking gas, which are also imported from Israel and sold at prices similar to those charged there, although the average income in the West Bank is far lower."

Palestinians feel squeezed economically. As one protest sign -- creatively hung on a donkey -- read: "Only in Palestine: The Gulf weather, Parisian prices, and Somali wages." Meanwhile, foreign aid has fallen significantly. As punishment for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations, the United States has withheld $200 million in assistance. Arab states, meanwhile, have consistently failed to fulfill their pledges. As a result, the Palestinian Authority faces a financial crisis, with debts of $1.5 billion and a cash shortfall of $500 million.

These financial woes have forced the government to delay paying the salaries of some 153,000 civil servants on several occasions over the past few months. Add to this widespread charges of corruption and nepotism among the ruling elite, and you've got an unsustainable economic situation.

2.      It's political. Economic issues notwithstanding, these protests are the product of political frustration. This has become abundantly apparent by recent protests against the Paris Protocol, an economic agreement signed as an annex to the Oslo Accords that tethers the Palestinian economy to Israel's. In rejecting the agreement, despite very tangible benefits from economic cooperation with Israel, the Palestinians show how little hope they have in the Oslo framework.

Abbas, meanwhile, refuses to negotiate with the Israelis unless they institute a complete freeze on settlements -- a step Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists is a non-starter. In lieu of diplomacy, the Palestinian leadership has vowed to revive its bid for statehood at the United Nations. However, this will likely yield only non-member observer status at best. In the meantime, the world has lost interest in the Palestinian cause, as the U.S. presidential elections, global economic jitters, and the threat of a nuclear Iran all take center stage.

But the Palestinians know their problems start at home. The split between the Fatah leadership in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza continues to undermine the very concept of Palestinian national identity. This internecine conflict has repeatedly prevented elections, leaving West Bankers keenly aware of the fact that their ossified and corrupt government is past its expiration date.

3.      The Palestinian Authority is in the crosshairs. This is the biggest domestic challenge the PA has faced in its 18 years of existence. Palestinians cannot ignore the fact that their quasi-government has squandered one opportunity after the next, from the Yasir Arafat's failure to make peace with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the 2000 Camp David summit to the mysterious implosion of the 2008 talks between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which could have also brought an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The PA was always supposed to be an interim body to pave the way for an actual Palestinian state. In the absence of a peace process, it has lost its raison d'être. That's why some are calling for the PA to be dismantled. The PA's economic and security cooperation with Israel, critics claim, only serves to benefit the Israelis. Of course, Israel provides a range of critical services to the PA -- but this only underscores the fact that the governing body has yet to assume all the responsibilities of governing.

Mounting allegations of corruption have challenged the PA's legitimacy long before its security forces began clashing with local residents. The ongoing protests are only making matters worse. Don't forget that the PA was crafted in the image of an Arab autocracy -- think Hosni Mubarak's Egypt -- not exactly the most revered form of government these days.

4.      Salam Fayyad is in trouble. One of the figures most closely associated with the PA is Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The former World Bank official, once a darling of the West for his efforts to combat corruption and increase transparency in Ramallah, has become an object of Palestinian ire. Protesters called for his resignation and chanted "Let's go, Fayyad get out" on the streets during the recent round of demonstrations. On Sept. 8, an angry mob surrounded Fayyad's entourage as he finished a radio interview in Ramallah, and on Sept. 10 protesters threw shoes at a poster of the premier.

Fayyad promised to step aside if there is a "real public demand" -- but his departure would be a loss for the Palestinian movement. He is still among the PA's best bets to enact political and economic reform. However, the fact that he is an independent who never joined Fatah has earned him many political foes -- including Mahmoud Abbas. The fact that he has strong ties with the United States and Israel doesn't exactly earn him street cred in Ramallah, either. Some Palestinians quietly speculate that Fatah figures are helping to organize anti-Fayyad rallies, as pro-Fatah elements have made their voices heard at a handful of demonstrations. Fatah central committee member Mohammed Shtayyeh and former PA intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi have reportedly egged on the protests.

5.      Mahmoud Abbas is in trouble, too. If Fatah figures are behind the anti-Fayyad protests, they're playing with fire. If Fayyad goes, Abbas could be next. Protesters are already calling for the president's resignation.

Abbas has tried to get out in front of the protests, declaring early on that "[t]he Palestinian Spring has begun." But his recent travel to India amidst this unrest underscores his utter lack of respect for public opinion. It's worth noting that Abbas's term officially expired in January 2009. In the age of the Arab Spring, leaders who cling to power past their sell-by dates have become a rare breed.

6.      Gaza is safe...for now. On Sept. 3, a young man in the Gaza Strip immolated himself, mimicking Tunisian produce merchant Mohammed Bouazizi, who set off the Arab Spring in late 2010. The Palestinian Maan News Agency quoted Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook as saying that the protests in the West Bank may soon spread to Gaza, but Hamas has since denied this. For the time being, however, Gaza appears insulated from the protests. Hamas, after all, draws no Western aid, and consequently has few qualms about crushing dissent.

Meanwhile, it's safe to say the Islamist faction is watching the West Bank with bated breath. Ever since Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, its leaders have believed they are the rightful heirs to the Palestinian Authority. The current unrest, not to mention the assault on the PA's leadership, would appear to vindicate the Islamist group.

7.      Nonviolence turns to violence. Much has been made of popular or non-violent resistance in recent years as a means of challenging Israel. As it turns out, the Palestinians are now employing these very tactics against the PA. While the first few days of protests were marked largely by transportation strikes and chanting crowds, some protesters have forgotten to channel the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. In one demonstration on Sept. 10, Palestinians even smashed windows and attempted to storm a municipal building in Hebron before clashing with police. Eighty people were injured in those clashes. Imagine what could happen if protester violence instigated a determined crackdown by PA security forces. Can the Palestinian protesters maintain discipline?

8.      "Intrafada"... for now. With more protests planned throughout the West Bank, the Palestinian Spring shows no signs of abating. Although palpable anger against the Israelis is a common theme, the protests appear to be primarily aimed at the Palestinian Authority. This is, to borrow from analyst David Pollock, an "intrafada" -- not an intifada against Israel.

Of course, that could change. If the Israeli military gets caught up in a clash that results in Palestinian casualties, it could quickly spark a new round of violence that could quickly get nasty.  

Would the PA leadership welcome the opportunity to unleash the angry crowds on Israel?  It certainly could create some breathing room for them by redirecting their rage elsewhere. Anger at Israel is the lowest common denominator on the Palestinian street. But that does not mean the people of the West Bank don't want to put their own house in order. It might be a bit late in the day, but it's still the Arab Spring.


The List

A Decade of Drezner

My 10 favorite posts. Ever.

In a decade of blogging, I've written hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of words. Here are my 10 absolute favorites.

1. My original blog post.  The first sentence is prophetic, but so was the rest of the post. It captured -- in both style and substance -- what I was intending to do with the blog.

Here Goes Nothing

I shouldn't be doing this. I'll be going up for tenure soon; I occasionally daydream of occupying a high position in government; and I like semicolons way too much to be pithy. Plus, my sixth-grade English teacher scarred me for life about having too many "I"s in my writing, which may render me incompatible with blogging. Read on >>


2. I've maintained from the outset that one of the useful features of blogs is to discpline more powerful pundits.  Here's an early example of me critiquing an over-the-top Paul Krugman column.

Falsifying Paul Krugman

Here's how Paul Krugman explains -- not excuses, but explains -- Mahathir Mohammad's OIC speech:

Not long ago Washington was talking about Malaysia as an important partner in the war on terror. Now Mr. Mahathir thinks that to cover his domestic flank, he must insert hateful words into a speech mainly about Muslim reform. That tells you, more accurately than any poll, just how strong the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among Muslims in Southeast Asia has become. Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low.

Here's why Krugman's hypothesis is wrong:

1) There is no domestic flank to protect. Mahathir's speech was to the Organization of the Islamic Conference -- an international body -- on the current state of the Muslim world. There was no domestic component to his intended audience. Read on >>

Brad Barket/Getty Images


3. I believe that this post generated the most comments of any I've ever written. Also, in case anyone thinks my profanity-laced tirades are an affectation ... well, they're a really longstanding affectation.

Why James Lileks Is Flat-Out Wrong

Hey, James? Fuck you. I know you're the talented writer-blogger whose dyspeptic rants make Dennis Miller look like a washed-up sports broadcaster. In this case, however, you're absolutely correct on one thing -- you know a hell of a lot less about this subject than Salam Pax. You're absolutely right -- Salam and his buddies would never have taken up arms to overthrow Saddam. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that back in 1991, when President Bush encouraged ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, the results weren't so good. Bush's call worked perfectly. Seventeen out of eighteen provinces were in open revolt. Hussein was at his weakest. And what did the United States do after our call was answered by the Iraqi common man? Did we help in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 1991? Nope. We looked the other way while Hussein violated the no-fly zones to put down the Shi'ites, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, etc. We did it for realpolitik reasons, many of which the current Bush administration, to its credit, seems ready to reject. But we, the United States, did it. Why, on God's green earth, would anyone ever choose to rise up after that Mongolian cluster-fuck of U.S. foreign policy? Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. This was a debt that had to be repaid. Yeah, they owe us for getting rid of Saddam. But we owed them for going back on our word in 1991. As a result, Iraqis languished under Hussein's rule an extra twelve years. That don't buy a whole lot of sympathy. Three Minnestoans dead? I'm sorry. It's a tragedy. I'm betting, however, that to the ordinary Iraqi, the death of three Americans doesn't even compare to the loss of life that's taken place over the past twelve years in Iraq, be it through war, repression, or sanctions. So get a grip, suck it up, and allow an eloquent, reasonably brave Iraqi the opportunity to vent some snark from time to time. He's earned it. Read on >>

Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

4. This post -- really the footnotes and addendum to a
TNR online essay I wrote -- is noteworthy because it one of the few times I felt like a journalist. I had a source that gave me an incredibly juicy detail on how Coalition Provisional Authority officials were being recruited.  The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran contacted me soon afterward to ask if he could talk to my source. I gave my source the option of contacting him.  The detail (cited properly) eventually found its way into Imperial Life in the Emerald City.

More on CPA Recruitment

In my TNR Online piece yesterday, I briefly referenced the fact that ideological litmus tests were used to screen out otherwise first-rate applicants to the Coalition Provisional Authority. I've heard this from multiple sources, including those who were eventually hired, but many were reluctant say anything for the record. The Washington Post story confirmed some of this. For a first-hand account, the following is reprinted from an e-mail I received from a former CPA employee who wishes to remain anonymous:

The staffing plan worked out by Reuben [Jeffery III, "a conservative but pragmatic former Goldman Sachs partner who had was a prominent contributor to the Republican party] and Jerry Bremer was to have these two [high level employees of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm] head up an HR staff seconded from the Army personnel office that would seek out high level civilians, without ideological bias, to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq. They were brought on with the knowledge of DoD/OSD but not the White House. The first week they arrived, Office of the White House Liaison (OWHL), headed by a man named Jim O'Beirne, found out about CPA's staffing plans. A turf war ensued. At one point, OWHL personnel told the two Korn/Ferry employees that they had to clear their desks and be escorted out of the building. Of course, Reuben intervened and nothing that dramatic happened. What did happen is that recruitment was reassigned from CPA to OWHL by OSD. The Korn/Ferry people were only to help interview and process candidates already screened by OWHL. I sat in the same room of cubes for several weeks watching this unfold, talking daily with the Korn/Ferry people, and observing the first interviews run by OWHL. OWHL hired retired military personnel, most of whom had run for public office as Republicans and been defeated in the 2002 electoral cycle, to staff its CPA recruiting arm. I observed one such individual, a retired Navy CMDR who lost a Virginia legislature race in 2002, question one applicant as to their stance on Roe v. Wade. I watched resumes of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to "the president's vision for Iraq" (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was "uncertain." I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy, FERC, and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC contributors.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images


5. This was my first response to "The Israel Lobby" essay. I think, all told, it stands up pretty well in both the evaluation of Mearsheimer and Walt's argument and the prediction of the furious reaction it would trigger in some quarters.

Trying for the Full Huntington

As I've said before, I've greatly admired Samuel Huntington's career. Huntington's gift as an academic is that he has been unafraid to make the politically incorrect argument, regardless of the consequences. This doesn't always mean he is right -- but it does mean he's usually interesting. I suspect that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are trying to copy the Huntington template in their essay, "The Israel Lobby" for the London Review of Books. Read on >>


6. The zombie post. I mean, c'mon, this led to 20,000 in book sales and climbing -- and there is no way -- no way -- I could have come up with this idea were it not for the blog. Also, I think it generated the highest quality of comments I've ever received.

Theory of International Politics and Zombies

Alex Massie alerts us to this BBC story about modeling who would win if the dead actually did rise from the grave:

If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively.

That is the conclusion of a mathematical exercise carried out by researchers in Canada.

They say only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the fictional creatures....

To give the living a fighting chance, the researchers chose "classic" slow-moving zombies as our opponents rather than the nimble, intelligent creatures portrayed in some recent films....

[T]heir analysis revealed that a strategy of capturing or curing the zombies would only put off the inevitable.

In their scientific paper, the authors conclude that humanity's only hope is to "hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often".

They added: "It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."

Now, one could argue that this finding represents a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious. On the other hand, the report has clear freaked out Alex Massie:

[The researchers] are cheating. It's like something out of Dad's Army: You can't fight like that, it's not in the rules... Then again, if we can be destroyed by Zombie 1.0, just think how powerless we'd be when confronted by Next Generation Zombies...

To try to make Massie feel better let's have some fun with this and ask a different question -- what would different systemic international relations theories* predict regarding the effects of a zombie outbreak? Would the result be inconsequential -- or World War Z? Read on >>

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

7. This response to Anne-Marie Slaughter's first blog post at the Atlantic set off a stimulating exchange between the two of us that was both civil and fruitful. I attribute almost all of this to Anne-Marie, since I've had all too many nasty blog exchanges.

Meet the New Foreign Policy Frontier...Same as the Old Foreign Policy Frontier

This past week Anne-Marie Slaughter launched a new foreign policy blog over at The Atlantic entitled "Notes from the Foreign Policy Frontier." This was greeted with general huzzahs across the foreign policy community, as Slaughter is a universally-acknowledged smart person. She is an exemplar of someone who can effortlessly transition from the scholarly to the policymaking world and back again. Her facility with new media is so good that her own bio undercounts her Twitter followers by 50 percent. Read on >>

Alex Wong/Getty Images

8. One of my favorite themes has been about the nuts and bolts of academia.  This post is the best mixture of entertaining and informative of the lot.

The Best Sentence I Have Ever Read in a Dissertation Prospectus

Ph.D. ADVISOR:  I think you should stop reading Wendt [or insert other trendy academic name here].  I don't like the way his arguments are shaping your argument.

Ph.D. STUDENT:  But you don't understand!!  I love him -- as much as love can be socially constructed!!  He's let me see the world in a whole new way.  He's the key to everything!!!

Ph.D. ADVISOR:  You're writing a dissertation on cooperation among transnational criminal groups -- I just don't think his argument works here.

PH.D. STUDENT:  How would you know which arguments work and which ones don't?!  When was the last time you read someone who moved you -- the Stone Age?!  I bet you've never read a piece of constructivist scholarship in your life.  You don't understand me at all!!!!!

Ph.D. ADVISOR: Calm down -- I just think you might be better off if you read other people is all.  This is just an intellectual crush.  It will pass.

Ph.D. STUDENT!!!  No!! Never!!  I've never read anyone else who can speak to my topic like him. Wendt and I will stay together forever!!

Read on >>

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

9. I'd like to thank the 2012 GOP presidential candidates --- they've been very, very good for the blog. I could have picked one of a dozen posts that they inspired -- Herman Cain really deserves the most amount of credit. This post distilled Cain's foreign policy knowledge to its true essence.  

This Is Herman Cain's Foreign Policy

It took me a couple of hours of reading, cogitation, and regurgitation to critique Mitt Romney's foreign policy positions. Clearly, I didn't think it was perfect, or even all that good in many places. But, I had to assess it, mull over the content... you know, think.

Now, I desperately want to be an equal opportunity blogger, and at this point Herman Cain appears to be the co-frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. Sure, I've had my fun with him in the past, and he has no shortage of foreign policy gaffes, but I figured that impromptu utterances during debates are only one part of a candidate's overall policy vision. The thoughts that are written down, they imply some forethought. So I thought I'd go over to Cain's campaign website and spend an equal amount of time to analyze his foreign policy thinking.

I found.... a total of five paragraphs on "national security."  That's it.  No white papers, fact sheets, bullet points, or list of advisors.  So you gotta think that these are going to be the most awesome and mind-blowing foreign policy paragraphs ever!! Read on >>

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

10. I really like this post for two reasons: a) it's funny; and b) it demonstrates how Web 2.0 technologies have changed things since I started blogging. I couldn't have written this without YouTube and Twitter. 

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About American Grand Strategy But Were Afraid to Find Out...on YouTube

The genesis of this blog post is a bit arcane. In response to news reports about proposed changes in U.S. defense doctrine, Andrew Exum jokingly suggested "replacing the 'Two Wars' strategy with a 'Who Wants Some? You? How About You, Tough Guy?' strategy" on Twitter. This led to other suggested mottos, expressed in YouTube videos, which eventually led to me issuing a grandiose call:  suggest the YouTube clip that "best encapsulates American grand strategy."

Yeah, that should bring you up to speed. Read on >>