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What is the impact of the Arab Spring on the Palestinian Authority’s foreign policy?

Question submitted by Andrew, from Virginia Tech, April 24, 2013

Answered by: Reza Aslan, Adjunct Senior Fellow

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The Palestinian Authority (PA) is not an actual government, nor is Palestine a universally recognized nation. Therefore, it makes little sense to speak of the PA's "foreign policy."

However, when it comes to the PA's relations with its neighbors, the Arab Spring revolutions have been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the PA did not enjoy warm relations with the deposed dictators of the region, especially Tunisia's Ben Ali and Egypt's Mubarak. These two used pro-Palestinian rhetoric to curry favor with their citizens, but in practice they were more accommodating of Israeli government policies toward the Palestinians than the PA would have liked. That is particularly true of Mubarak, whose military received more than one billion dollars in U.S. aid to maintain a peace treaty with Israel.

Islamist governments that have arisen in the region, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, tend to be more aligned with the religio-political philosophy of Hamas in Gaza than with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which currently dominates the PA. Nevertheless, if the Arab Spring revolutions result in greater democracy and political participation in the region, then one can assume that this will be a good thing for the PA. After all, the people of the region are overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian, and if they are allowed to have a voice in their governments' policies regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict, that is sure to be of benefit to the PA.

There is, however, this one last thing to consider: the tenure of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, officially ended years ago. He has remained in his position by fiat and canceled elections to replace himself. In other words, in the eyes of many Palestinians, Abbas is as much a legitimate president as was Ben Ali and Mubarak. The fear that this sentiment may result in a "Palestinian Spring" is something that the leaders of the PA intensely feel.