If anything, the portrait of Palestinian democracy is worse than last year. This week, Mahmoud Abbas began the eighth year of his four-year term of office, still unable to set foot in half his quasi-state, now in its fifth year in the hands of the terrorist group he promised to dismantle, with whom he is currently reconciling (for the third time).
He rules by decree, because there is no functioning legislature. He cancelled local elections in his own half-state again, ignoring the order of the Palestinian “High Court.” Both haves of the putative state are one-party police states. Last May, elections were promised for this May, in an effort to persuade the UN that Palestinians were ready for a state; the elections will not likely occur unless Fatah and Hamas can agree beforehand on who will win what. Abbas is periodically dragged to talk to Israel, but he lacks a mandate to make the concessions necessary for a state, much less the ability to implement them. He cannot make the minimal promise required for a two-state solution — that a Palestinian state will recognize a Jewish one.
In Statecraft, published in the first part of 2008, Dennis Ross described Abbas as someone who “acted as if avoiding decisions rather than making them was his objective” and whose strength was “not his decision-making instinct.” Later that year, Abbas received an offer of a state on land equivalent to the entire West Bank (after swaps) and Gaza, with a safe-passage corridor between them, and a capital in Jerusalem — and walked away. The memoirs of both George Bush and Condoleezza Rice make it clear his decision was a considered one.
When you get three offers of a state in less than ten years, and turn all three down (the modern equivalent of the “Three Nos”), the problem is deeper than what Abbas disingenuously describes as the “Long Overdue Palestinian State.” It does not relate to the specifics of the offers, or to an alleged deficiency in decision-making instincts. The problem is an inherent inability to recognize a Jewish state, or defensible borders, or an end-of-claims agreement — and the inherent instability of a society that still lacks even the minimal institutions necessary for a democratic state.