Recent articles in the New York Times suggest a comparison between the leaderships of Palestine and the American Republican Party.
One article details the miserable position of Mahmoud Abbas, old, weak, rejected by a substantial portion of Palestinians, and dithering between supporting and opposing the current wave of violence against Israelis. It also describes a number of potential replacements, none of whom seems able to topple the old man and lead Palestinians to a better situation.
An important element in the problem that the article does not explore in any depth, is the lack of a state, with disciplined institutions. Palestinians are left with themselves, claiming nationhood, demanding a state, but a long way from any unity. The divisions between the West Bank and Gaza, are most prominent, and there has also been a role in Palestinian politics for communities in other countries. Complicating the purported weight of the "Palestinian Diaspora" are the blows suffered by communities in Syria due to the civil war, and in Lebanon due to the ascendance of Hezbollah. The West Bank presents a variety of local polities and large, strong, extended families (tribes, clans, or hamulot) that are jealous of their standing, active in politics, and do not make things easy for anyone claiming national leadership..
The purported term of the President of the Palestine National Authority, who claims leadership of all Palestine but is not recognized in Gaza, was January, 2009. Since then, Mahmoud Abbas has stayed in office via one maneuver or another.
A historical perspective is that a lack of strong institutions capable of selecting leaders and keeping them to fixed terms comes from Palestinian responses to various historical opportunities from the 1930s onward.
If Israel must wait until Palestinians acquire something approaching a unified leadership, it may be a long time before the status quo is ready for change.
Another article in the New York Times describes something similar that seems likely to produce Donald Trump as the Republican Party nominee, and maybe President. .
The comparison between Palestinians and the Republican Party is limited to the unproductive dithering of several competitors for leadership.
Trump is no Abbas, hanging on to power despite a lack of support. The American businessman turned politician late in life is a danger to the Republican Party, and to the United States, due to his impressive political support. He's also a danger to us all, insofar as the prospect of Trump after Obama after GW Bush does not portend well for the world.
The NYT article does not inquire into the sources of Trump's support, but assumes he would be bad for the Republican Party by providing a major advantage to Hillary Clinton. The article focuses on a variety of Republican contenders and major fundraisers, who refuse to coalesce behind any one candidate in order to foil Trump's bid for the nomination.
It sounds like contenders and donors who recognize a likely winner, and do not want to spoil later access (or an opportunity to be Vice President in the case of contenders) by frontal opposition when it appears to be too late.
Marco Rubio has been highlighted as one likely replacement, but he has failed to reach out successfully to those who have dropped out or seem unable to make it to the finish. In one of the video clips played on Israeli television, Rubio and Trump squared off against one another in a way that made them look like a couple of stand up comics competing for a place on a talk show. The level of their insults did not surpass what we used to scream at one another at the age of 10 in the Highland School playground.
Trump's inability to denounce an endorsement from the leader of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrates his ignorance or insensitivity, and his distance from the Office of the President that he may be sitting in on January 21, 2017.
A limitation in this NYT article was its assumption that Trump's nomination would lose the presidency for the Republican Party.
What's missing is an assessment that Trump's support is wider than Republicans who reject their party's establishmentarian leaders. He may be capable of enlisting sufficiently wider support to win the general election as well.
It's not only Republicans who support populists who run against the informal rules of normal politics. Barack Obama's win, as well as Bill Clinton's, suggest that an attractive candidate with a smooth tongue can garner votes from all kinds of Americans, despite a lack of high level governmental experience.
Donald Trump's sharp tongue may do the same.
Current polls show Clinton beating Trump if the contest was between them. However, the gap is not surmountable in a campaign likely to be loud and ugly.
If Donald gets to the Oval Office, and does not prove himself a masterful politicians with a firm grasp of domestic and international realities, we may find ourselves in the position of that apocryphal story of a monkey at a piano, and hoping beyond hope that its banging on the keys produces something at the level of Beethoven.
For the most succinct assessment of Donald Trump that I've seen, click here.
It's hard to find Israelis enthusiastic about any of the prominent hopefuls. This country's domestic policies are similar to those of western Europe. We have trouble identifying with arguments against uniform national health insurance or in favor of gun control. Israelis may sympathize with Americans concerned about illegal immigration, or providing refugee status to Muslims fleeing civil wars. However, it's on foreign policy where Israelis are likely to focus their assessment of American candidates, and it is here that all of them raise more questions than they answer.
We should be sophisticated enough to realize that Israel is not likely to the a President's main concern. A President who aspires to world leadership cannot concentrate too heavily on a country the size of New Jersey with 8 million people, no matter how strategic its location, and emotionally-potent its history.
Hillary Clinton has a clear lead in her foreign policy relevant experience, having served four years as Secretary of State, with eight years in the Senate, and alongside Bill for another eight years in the White House. The statistics in that record dwarf those of anyone who came to the White House in the period after World War II with the exception of George Bush the elder.
Opponents have no trouble finding problems in Ms Clinton's performance over a long period in which she gained public attention, going back to Arkansas. The New York Times describes in great detail her role supporting the US participation in the attack against Muammar Qaddafi's forces in Libya. Secretary of State Clinton claimed to be well informed by analyses written by experts and intense conversation with a representative of Libya's rebels. However, there is hardly a sign of her wisdom, or that of any other US policymaker in the continued civil war that has marked that country since Qaddifi's demise, its serving both as one of the staging grounds for the Islamic State and mass migration to Europe.
Israel will have to wait and see what Americans decide, hoping the results won't be catastrophic, and prepared to do its own bending and twisting according to perceived need.
Likewise with respect to whatever happens, if anything, in the leadership of Palestine.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem