The Future of Palestine

Khalil Shikaki. Foreign Affairs. Volume 83, Issue 6. November/December 2004.

Stateless In Gaza

Since July 2004, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has faced its most serious internal challenge since it was established in 1994. A violent showdown in the Gaza Strip between competing nationalist factions-an “old guard” and a “young guard”-has threatened to destroy the PA and, with it, what little remains of domestic security and order after four years of uprising against Israel. The ongoing turmoil represents a critical danger, not just for Palestinian society and its dreams of a unified state, but also for Israel’s plan to disengage unilaterally from Gaza-a plan the United States is counting on to revive the peace process and to regain much-needed credibility in the Middle East.

If Israel implements Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in the last quarter of 2005, Palestinian society will fragment even more, lose the benefit of unified representation, and very possibly lapse into bloody infighting. The Israelis will not get the security they want and will be forced to confront a Hamas empowered by the PA’s collapse. Meanwhile, the Quartet-the United States, the UN, the European Union, and Russia-will find not only its “road map” to peace in tatters, but also that peacemaking is impossible without a strong, integrated Palestinian leadership. Continued Palestinian disarray thus affects all parties involved in the conflict. But it is not too late to change course: holding Palestinian national elections before Israel’s withdrawal could prevent the chaos and help establish the foundations for a democratic Palestinian state committed to peaceful relations with Israel.

Generation Gap

Sharon’s withdrawal plan has exacerbated long-rising tensions within the Palestinian political community. When the al Aqsa intifada erupted in September 2000, it triggered dramatic changes in the Palestinian social and political environment. Weakened by Israeli retaliations and plagued by corruption and inefficiency, the PA speedily lost legitimacy at home and abroad. With this slide in popularity came serious internal divisions within the nationalist camp, the PA’s core; the resulting power vacuum opened the way for lawlessness and a rise in the authority of Hamas and other Islamists. Not only did paralysis at the top levels of decision-making plague Palestinian government, but it also blunted Palestinian efforts to build a state or make peace.

Capitalizing on Palestinians’ growing fear and thirst for revenge, Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) gained public favor with suicide bombings and violence against Israelis. Average Palestinians were feeling more and more threatened by Israeli-imposed checkpoints, curfews, and sieges of Palestinian cities and towns; by the separation barrier being built deep in the West Bank; and by continued Israeli land confiscation and settlement construction. Public support for the Islamists shot up from 17 percent in mid-2000-just before the intifada began-to 35 percent in mid-2004. During the same period, support for Yasir Arafat’s nationalist Fatah party, which dominates the PA, dropped from 37 percent to 28 percent. In the Gaza Strip, the gap between the two groups widened even more.

Like the Islamists, Fatah’s young guard used the al Aqsa intifada to undermine the prevailing Palestinian political system as much as to undermine Israeli security. By emulating Hezbollah’s methods, the young militants wanted to force Israel to withdraw unilaterally from the occupied territories as it had from southern Lebanon in May 2000. But resorting to violence against the Israelis also brought the young nationalists popular legitimacy, free rein to carry arms and form militias, and a chance to intensify their fight against the old guard. Meanwhile, the escalating attacks on Israel reduced the old guard’s maneuvering room in its diplomatic contacts with Israel and the international community, further damaging the PA’s credibility. To improve their position vis-a-vis their older rivals, young guard militants also sought an alliance with the Islamists, while siding with refugees and the inner-city poor against the wealthy and the urban commercial class. Empowering these disenfranchised groups helped sustain the intifada despite the tremendous costs the uprising exacted on the Palestinian middle class. As long as the intifada continued, the young guard grew stronger.

At the same time, popular support for Arafat and his old guard steadily declined. Arafat’s lack of vision led many Palestinians to question his judgment and leadership. His popularity decreased from 47 percent before the intifada to 35 percent by the end of its third year. In late 2003 and 2004, his popularity rating occasionally hit about 50 percent, but only in response to Israeli threats to kill or expel him. Arafat’s loss of control over the treasury-the result of increased scrutiny of PA finances by the international community-made it difficult for him to use money to secure his position. Those among the armed young guard who remained loyal to him began to grumble when he was unable to pay them regular salaries.

The Palestinian public became painfully aware of the widespread corruption in the PA and its security services and grew more frustrated than ever. A survey conducted in June 2004, one month before the eruption of the Gaza turmoil, found that 87 percent of Palestinians in the occupied territories believed corruption existed in the PA. Two-thirds felt that public officials involved in, or accused of, corruption often were not charged or brought to account for their actions. Some 92 percent backed internal and external calls for fundamental political reform of the PA-the highest level ever-whereas only 40 percent believed the PA was actually carrying out any such reforms.

Sharon announced the withdrawal plan in April 2004, and since then Gaza’s power brokers have predictably sought to increase their influence. For the nationalist young guard in particular, the impending Israeli disengagement means new opportunities-and fresh anxieties. On the one hand, young guard members believe they will be in an excellent position after a withdrawal; after all, their guns and bombs, not the negotiating tactics of the old guard, will be credited for the Israeli pullout. On the other hand, if Israel leaves Gaza, so will the young guard’s justification for the arms and independent militias, such as al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, that weaken the old guard’s grip on the Palestinian national movement. If the young nationalists fail to topple their rivals, they will likely continue along the path of armed confrontation with Israel after the withdrawal, even if such clashes are unpopular among the Palestinian people themselves.

For its part, the old guard has not been able to quash challenges to its authority. Because Israel is withdrawing unilaterally, PA leaders are no longer needed to negotiate the end of Israeli occupation. Their increasing irrelevance, combined with public enthusiasm for clean government, has emboldened the young guard leadership, militant and moderate alike, to stand up to Arafat directly. Not since 1983, when Palestinian fighters in Syria and Lebanon rebelled against him, has Arafat faced such a critical threat to his power.

Stuck In a Rut

Since the al Aqsa intifada began more than four years ago, there have been three serious attempts at democratic reform within the PA. The first attempt, in May and June 2002, was triggered by the Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian cities in the West Bank. The second happened in conjunction with the release of the Quartet’s road map in early 2003, and the third took place during the tenure of Mahmoud Abbas as the first Palestinian prime minister, from March to September 2003. Although several important reform measures were implemented at these times, the process repeatedly stalled. One thing did change for the better, however: having tasted reform, the Palestinian people became hungry for more.

During the first attempt at reform, in May 2002, it initially seemed as if internal and external forces would align to compel Arafat to take real action. The failure of PA institutions to deliver basic services to Palestinians during Israel’s reoccupation provoked overwhelming public demand for immediate change. This assertion, coupled with intense pressure from the Palestinian Legislative Council (plc) and the Fatah Revolutionary Council, led to the creation of a detailed reform program that received almost unanimous Palestinian public support. The international community added its own wish list, and Arafat grudgingly conceded: he approved some constitutional and institutional reforms, and he set a date for national elections.

But in June 2002, the Bush administration shifted its policy closer to the position of Israel’s right-wing government: linking PA regime change with progress in ending the Israeli occupation, Washington demanded Arafat’s removal. Encouraged by this development, Israel imposed a siege on Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. Instead of weakening him, however, the siege only made Arafat stronger at home and more able to resist reform. The young guard grew reluctant to criticize him for fear of being linked with Israel and the United States. The internally driven and externally supported reform campaign soon lost steam. Instead of strengthening Palestinian moderates, the Bush administration’s insistence on PA regime change stung them like a slap in the face.

Nonetheless, some limited but important constitutional and institutional changes were achieved. After refusing to do so for several years, in May 2002, Arafat finally signed the Palestinian Basic Law (a temporary constitution) and the Law of the Judiciary. The appointment of a reformist finance minister, Salam Fayyad, led to quick and substantial progress in taking PA expenditures and revenues away from Arafat and placing them under the control of the Ministry of Finance. But reforms in public security and the judiciary were short-lived and cosmetic. Israel adamantly refused to consider withdrawing its forces from Palestinian cities, handing the old guard a good excuse to shelve national elections.

After a six-month lull, the Palestinian reform movement gained new impetus when the Quartet issued its road map calling for the creation of a Palestinian prime minister-a post reformers had long wanted but that Arafat had repeatedly rejected. In February 2003, after a concerted effort by Quartet members, he finally conceded. A month later, an overwhelming majority of the plc approved the creation of the new office, giving it most of the president’s powers-including those related to public finance, civil service, law and order, and internal security. Soon after, Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen)-a senior member of the old guard and an Arafat associate-received a parliamentary vote of confidence, supported by members of both the old guard and the young.

The Abbas government made serious efforts to institutionalize the reform process. Security courts, operated outside the legal system and not subject to judicial appeal, were abolished and a Supreme Judicial Council was appointed in accordance with the Judiciary Law. Several PA agencies that nominally reported to Arafat but were effectively accountable to no one were brought under government responsibility. And public finance witnessed major improvements, such as better control over public investments and the salaries of some security services.

But ultimately these reforms fell short. The idea behind the Quartet road map was that a powerful Palestinian prime minister would restore credibility to the PA leadership, which would, in turn, spur reform, reduce violence, and jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. When Abbas was first appointed in March, 61 percent of the Palestinian public backed him. The people expected him to deliver what Arafat could not: political reform, economic progress, an end to corruption, a return to negotiations with Israel, and the enforcement of security and a cease-fire.

Yet Arafat found ways to undermine the new prime minister’s authority, effectively depriving him of his constitutional powers. Additionally, Israel did little to enhance Abbas’ credibility. It failed to redeploy significantly from Palestinian territory, denied Arafat his freedom of mobility, and refused to freeze settlement construction. As a result, Abbas failed to improve the Palestinians’ political or economic prospects. Very soon, he lost much of the public’s confidence. After a few months, in September 2003, he was forced to resign. With Abbas went, for a time, the push for reform.

If an opportunity was missed when the Abbas government collapsed, the circumstances that led to his ascendancy revealed a significant change in the attitudes of the Palestinian public. Demand for fundamental political reform became an established fact, and more important, for the first time since the start of the al Aqsa intifada, this demand was identified with support for the peace process. In other words, those who backed the road map and opposed violence against Israeli civilians also tended to embrace a parliamentary government with the prime minister wielding power and a largely symbolic president’s office. Even more intriguing, surveys from mid-2003 showed that young guard leaders and their constituents were willing to support Abbas, a leader from the old guard. Had he led the Palestinians to stable security conditions, to political reform and national elections, and to a state-even one with provisional borders-the young guard would have abandoned its arms and, most important, its temporary ally, the Islamists.

Fourth and Long

Long considered a champion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, Sharon now emphasizes the long-term strategic and security benefits of unilateral Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip-where about 7,000 heavily guarded settlers live surrounded by 1.3 million Palestinians. But for both Palestinian militants and the general public, the plan represents a victory for the armed intifada. The Islamists and the young guard, the leaders of the violent struggle, take all the credit for what they call a complete success.

But most Palestinians also recognize that the pullout could cause major problems. The emergence of a separate national entity in the Gaza Strip after Israel’s disengagement would threaten the unity of a Palestinian state and its society. Such a breakup would heighten tensions among the various Palestinian political factions, causing further fragmentation in the PA, and perhaps even its eventual demise. The result would be the emergence of more radical groups, with no moderating force to counterbalance them.

In March 2004, soon after the plan’s announcement, a survey found that three-quarters of Palestinians welcomed Sharon’s disengagement plan, while two-thirds viewed it as a victory for the intifada. But by June, the public had grown concerned about the plan’s implications: 59 percent worried about Palestinian infighting after Israel’s withdrawal; only 30 percent believed the PA had a high capacity to control internal matters following the pullout; and just 31 percent thought life in Gaza would fully resume in an orderly manner once Israel left. More people feared that the withdrawal from Gaza would not be complete and that the small strip of land would become a suffocating ghetto, without access to the rest of the world. Only a third of Palestinians welcomed Israeli disengagement.

Yet the potential for change represented by the withdrawal breathed new life into the ailing Palestinian reform movement, reviving opposition to Arafat and the old guard. In the Gaza Strip, warlords, small bands of armed men, and members of the young guard began to challenge the PA openly, brandishing their weapons in public. Not all of those calling for reform did so through force; in fact, the call came from a broad social cross-section: armed and unarmed street demonstrators, militant and moderate young guard leaders and warlords, coalitions of political parties and factions, leaders of civil society and nongovernmental organizations, and senior bureaucrats and government officials, including the plc and the current prime minister, Ahmed Qurei.

A parliamentary committee investigating the lawlessness in the Palestinian areas declared what everybody knew: Arafat was blocking reform and did not want to embark on any serious initiative to address the PA’s ills. Ultimately, Arafat admitted to making some governing mistakes and said he would concede some of his security powers (which he has since failed to do). He also called for national elections in the coming year and instated a voter registration period.

But although July’s unrest in Gaza never aimed at removing Arafat from power, it is highly doubtful that the concessions he has offered will satisfy the young guard, which will insist on removing many of Arafat’s loyalists from power. Elections would accomplish this, but the young nationalists-all too familiar with Arafat’s pattern of opportunism and scheming-do not believe he will hold them and are prepared to use violence instead. The young guard does have the weapons and the soldiers to end Arafat’s, and the PA’s, hold on Gaza. If the young nationalists took Gaza by force, they would probably rule with a coalition of Islamists. Even if successful, however, the young guard itself remains divided and leaderless, with little clue as to how to make peace or build a state.

Sharon has refused to negotiate his disengagement plan with Arafat’s PA, preferring to implement it unilaterally. But if the withdrawal is not coordinated with a Palestinian counterpart, the pullout will almost certainly be partial and attacks against Israel will most likely continue. Palestinian power struggles will intensify and the PA will crumble, with warlords and Islamists coexisting within vaguely specified domains. Gaza will become a breeding ground for radicalism of the worst kind-leading Israel to directly reoccupy the strip with no future exit plan.

In an attempt to avert this scenario, some Israeli politicians have hinted that young guard leaders, such as Mohammad Dahlan, may become their favored liaisons to the Palestinian people. Yet although Dahlan and others command widespread support among young Fatah members in the Gaza Strip, they lack stature, credibility, and legitimacy at the national level. True, Dahlan has reached out to reformist factions of Fatah in the West Bank, forming a partnership with Marwan Barghouti, the most famous young guard leader. But the latter, jailed by Israel for life, is unlikely to back Dahlan in defiance of Arafat.

This dearth of popular, nationwide support will make it impossible for Dahlan and other young guard Gazans to negotiate legitimately with Israel or to deliver on promises of post-disengagement security and stability, unless they form an alliance with Hamas and other Islamists. Not surprisingly, Hamas views the disengagement plan as its own victory, earned by the blood of its fighters, but it may be willing to discuss an agreement: its declared motto, “partners in blood, partners in decision-making,” indicates an eagerness to share power with the nationalists, and a pact with the young guard holds more potential for Hamas than a partnership with Arafat, who is unlikely ever to share genuine power.

If Israel chooses to deal with such an alliance between young nationalists and Islamists-and it may have no choice-it may gain some quiet temporarily, but this will not be sustainable. Israel, which will continue to occupy most of the West Bank and all of Arab East Jerusalem, will eventually face a much stronger foe across the Gaza border, and violence-both in the Jewish state and in the Palestinian territories-will return. In addition to increased terrorist activity, the Islamists will grow stronger and will test the nationalists at the first opportunity. Such infighting could signal the beginning of civil war between the young guard, the old guard, and the Islamists. The groups would use violence against Israel as a legitimating tool, and cast Gaza-only elections-the one chance for calm-as a betrayal of the Palestinians’ larger goal of forging a state in all of the occupied territories.

At this point, Palestinians do not have many options. Arafat and the old guard have failed to reform the political system and implement their security obligations, and they are not trusted by Israel or the United States. The young guard and the Islamists will not give up the arms that gained them prominence, moreover, unless they are given a viable political alternative to force. But so far, genuine political change has been forsaken in favor of stopgap deals that avoid restructuring the PA. If this pattern continues, an independent Gaza Strip will be condemned to violence and intensified conflict with Israel. Palestinians and Israelis-not to mention the United States’ already flagging credibility in the region-will suffer.

Elective Surgery

Only holding national elections now, before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, can help Palestinians and Israelis prevent this impending disaster. The road map, which all the relevant parties accept, calls for such elections. And by facilitating them, the United States and the rest of the Quartet can foster a stable, democratic Palestine, in addition to more peaceful Israeli-Palestinian relations. Of course, there is no guaranteed solution to the problems facing Palestinians as they anticipate their first chance at true self-rule, even if only on a small scale. But elections, if conducted honestly and efficiently, promise the best chance to end the anarchy and paralysis that afflict the Palestinian political system.

Holding elections in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 will achieve three principal objectives. First, it will restore the PA’s legitimacy with the Palestinian people, allowing the government to take political risks for the sake of national security. The PA’s comprehensive crackdown on Islamist militants in March 1996 could not have taken place had the Palestinian leadership not been validated two months earlier by the first national elections. Second, elections will begin to phase out the old guard peacefully. Even if-or more accurately, when-Arafat is reelected as president, his power will be significantly constrained. This opening will provide Hamas and the young guard with the opportunity to capitalize on the popularity they gained during the intifada and translate it into parliamentary seats. With these forces integrated into the political system, the new PA will finally have the strength to crack down on vigilante violence and collect illegal arms.

Finally, elections will institutionalize the principles of democracy, accountability, and good governance in the Palestinian political system. Elections should be based on the March 2003 constitutional amendments that shifted authority from the president to the cabinet and the prime minister. After the elections strip the old guard of much of its power, Arafat and his cohort will no longer be able to resist these fundamental changes. The Palestinian middle class, devastated during the intifada, will gain influence and counterbalance the government’s authority. No single leader will again possess the absolute, concentrated power that Arafat now commands.

Polls show that elections, if held today, would result in a plc dominated by three forces. Mainstream Fatah nationalists would win up to 40 percent of the seats (they hold 75 percent today); Hamas and the PIJ, which did not participate in the previous Palestinian elections in 1996, would earn, at most, a third of the votes; and independent nationalists and moderate Islamists would pull in more than a quarter of the ballots. The elections would also allow the Fatah young guard to wrest control of the party and the PA from the old guard peacefully and legitimately. No longer needing weapons or attacks on Israel to bolster their status, the young nationalists would be willing to disarm.

The mainstream nationalists, composed mostly of the young guard, would form the government and appoint the prime minister, but they would have to partner with independent nationalists and moderate Islamists. Although Hamas and the PIJ would almost certainly refuse to join the new government for fear of being forced to consent officially to agreements with Israel, they would still have to abide by PA decisions, even as part of the parliamentary opposition. Regardless, having won their battle against the old guard, young nationalists would lose the incentive to foster closer relations with Islamist extremists. Instead, the young guard would have to focus on co-opting or neutralizing the independents, who, by threatening to join the radical Islamists, would be able to check the power of Fatah. Arafat would be marginalized, and the new prime minister would have to worry more about his young guard colleagues, his coalition partners, and the strong parliamentary opposition than about the whims and urges of the president. In other words, the Palestinians would finally have a democracy.

For all the hope that elections offer, conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not now conducive to holding them. On a very basic level, the ongoing violence would make it difficult for voters to reach the ballot box. Palestinian factions must thus reach an understanding on a complete cease-fire during the election period. Perhaps harder to cure, however, is the inherent distrust that the public holds for the government. Although surveys indicate that 95 percent of Palestinians want national elections, many people failed to register to vote when the process began in September 2004. There are many possible explanations for this poor initial turnout-voters waiting until the last minute to register, for example-but one thing is certain: most Palestinians have little faith in the political process. Arafat has promised elections in the past-as he does now-only to postpone them time and again. Why would he now agree to something that would limit his power?

It is true that Arafat and the older nationalists in Fatah stand to lose the most-by ceding control to both the young guard and the Islamists. But Arafat also stands to gain domestic and international legitimacy from the elections, even if his real authority is constrained. This might not be enough to force his hand, considering that he could also be deprived of a loyal majority in the plc. But the United States and Israel could compel Arafat to give in to the reformists’ demands. By removing the obstacles he has used to postpone elections in the past-checkpoints and sieges that inhibit Palestinian movement, for example-and reversing their own opposition to elections, the United States and Israel would leave Arafat little choice in the matter. The outcry of the Palestinian public and the young guard would pressure him into acquiescing, or else risk losing what little remains of his credibility.

Even if Arafat is compelled to organize elections, many hurdles will remain. Islamist groups such as Hamas boycotted the 1996 elections, and they could do so again. Like Fatah’s old guard, the Islamist militants would have to give up a lot to participate in the political system: they would have to abandon the guns and bombs that fueled the intifada-and Islamist popularity-in the first place, and a segment of their constituency may not accept a cease-fire with Israel and could even break off from the group. But Islamist leaders also know that their decision not to recognize the first Palestinian elections in 1996 was a tremendous blunder: they lost all ability to influence the national agenda for the following four years-until the intifada began. Indeed, since its establishment in 1987 and with the sole exception of 1996, Hamas has participated in all types of elections in Palestinian civil society.

In fact, Hamas seems to have already accepted the trade-off of arms and militia for parliamentary seats. Hamas is fully participating in the current debate on a revised election law and has presented papers to the Palestinian Central Election Commission. Capitalizing on popular support, Hamas stands to gain a significant number of seats in the plc. If, on the other hand, Hamas refuses to run, it could very well lose some of its popular base and face newly empowered public institutions that will force it to disband its militia. Of course, once Hamas is a part of the PA, it must be forced to adjust to the rules of the game. True, Islamist hard-liners will be able to undermine the peace process by working within the political system-just as Israeli ultraconservatives do in their government-but they will still have to obey the PA’s laws. To speed up the difficult integration process, the government will need to take several steps. First and foremost, the Palestinian security services and the PA bureaucracy will have to absorb Hamas’ militia until the time comes, as part of the wider implementation of the road map, to collect all illegal arms and begin the decommissioning process. No doubt, disarming will be hard for the Islamists. But further democratic reform and municipal elections, which will allow Hamas to solidify its popular support, will sweeten the bitter pill.

Collateral Advantage

Although these elections hold obvious advantages for the Palestinian people, they will also benefit Israel and the Quartet. Israel and the United States oppose elections for fear that Arafat will be reelected, but both nations have more to gain than to lose. A Palestinian cease-fire during elections will help the Jewish state prepare for its eventual withdrawal without seeming as if it were fleeing under fire. Most important, if Israel, the United States, and the rest of the international community truly want Palestinian democracy and a credible partner in the Middle East peace process, elections will help them get both.

Despite the militancy of almost all Palestinian factions during the intifada, elections will likely moderate Palestinian discourse on the peace process. Over the last decade, surveys of Palestinians have documented a clear trend toward moderation-such as accepting Israel’s Jewish character and a Palestine limited to the occupied territories. Palestinians are more willing to compromise today than at any time since the start of the peace process in 1993. Polls also demonstrate that Palestinians who have hope for a better future-including fundamental political reform-tend to reject violence and support reconciliation with Israel; elections can help supply this kind of hope. True, the al Aqsa intifada has meant a rise in public support for radical Islamist groups such as Hamas, but polls also indicate something more surprising: although there are more supporters of Hamas today than in 2000, they are much less committed to the group’s ideology; many are even open to a peace agreement that embraces a two-state solution.

Still, for elections to succeed, Israel and the international community will have to make sacrifices. Israel must respect the Palestinian cease-fire by observing a cease-fire of its own. Israel needs to remove physical impediments, such as checkpoints and its stifling military presence in populated areas, and suspend activities-settlement construction, targeted assassinations-that Palestinians view as provocative. If Israel refuses to take such steps, the demands for elections will weaken, another chance at reform will be lost, and Arafat will once again blame Israel for the Palestinians’ continued misery.

The United States and other international actors must ensure that the Palestinians and Israel implement their election-related commitments. Regional and international monitors from bodies considered unbiased by the Palestinians, such as Japan, Russia, the EU, and the UN, will have to guarantee the validity of the elections-and strong political pressure will be needed to make sure they actually take place. Washington and the rest of the Quartet must also set a binding election date, as well as the length of the election period.

U.S. credibility is now so low in the Middle East that the White House will have to work behind the scenes. But as Israel’s principal ally, its role will be crucial. Palestinian elections present the Bush administration with the opportunity to give concrete expression to its declared commitment to pursuing both Israeli-Palestinian peace and regional democracy. By supporting elections, and thus linking peace making to democracy building, the White House can begin to quell the suspicion pervasive among Arabs that its intervention in Middle Eastern politics is motivated solely by expediency and self-interest, rather than a sincere desire to initiate regionwide reform and good governance. Without changing this deep-seated belief, neither the United States nor its allies will ever truly defeat Islamist extremism.