Polarized and Demobilized

Legacies of Authoritarianism in Palestine

Part of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies series
October 2019 9781787382138 240pp
December 2022 9781787388246 240pp
EU Customers


After the 1994 Oslo Accords, Palestinians were hopeful that an end to the Israeli occupation was within reach, and that a state would be theirs by 1999. With this promise, international powers became increasingly involved in Palestinian politics, and many shadows of statehood arose in the territories. Today, however, no state has emerged, and the occupation has become more entrenched. Concurrently, the Palestinian Authority has become increasingly authoritarian, and Palestinians ever more polarised and demobilised.

Palestine is not unique in this: international involvement, and its disruptive effects, have been a constant across the contemporary Arab world. This book argues that internationally backed authoritarianism has an effect on society itself, not just on regime-level dynamics. It explains how the Oslo paradigm has demobilised Palestinians in a way that direct Israeli occupation, for many years, failed to do. Using a multi-method approach including interviews, historical analysis, and cutting-edge experimental data, Dana El Kurd reveals how international involvement has insulated Palestinian elites from the public, and strengthened their ability to engage in authoritarian practices. In turn, those practices have had profound effects on society, including crippling levels of polarisation and a weakened capacity for collective action.


‘A rigorous and impressively researched work, and a valuable and thought-provoking read for students of authoritarianism and Arab politics.’ — CHOICE

’A well-researched analysis of the disempowering legacy of the Oslo Accords… [Polarized and Demobilized] is also an engaging read that sheds light on the past, present and future of popular (non-PA sponsored) resistance to the occupation.’ — Morning Star

Polarized and Demobilized provides such a sophisticated account that any sort of summary or short review would fail to do it justice. … Over and above, it is a truly enjoyable read: one of the very few academic works that combines theoretical sophistication with a smooth, seamless and beautifully articulated narrative.’ — LSE Review of Books

‘Addresses an important question in a systematic and innovative way.’ — H-Diplo journal

‘A strong and compelling book. El Kurd demonstrates how international involvement in Palestine has led to deeper polarization between the PA and its people, with serious implications for Palestinian society, the peace process and the future Palestinian state.’ — Amaney A. Jamal, Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics, Princeton University

‘This critical volume explains the transnational origins behind political polarization and institutional weakness in post-Oslo Palestine. El Kurd’s work is theoretically sophisticated and empirically innovative—a must-read for any observer of the region.’ — Sean Yom, Associate Professor of Political Science, Temple University

‘How did the PA manage to demobilize Palestinian society, when years of direct Israeli occupation failed to do so? El Kurd brings novel data to bear on this provocative question, highlighting how internationally backed, “indigenous” authoritarian regimes can be particularly detrimental for political cooperation and resistance.’ — Diana B. Greenwald, Assistant Professor of Political Science, The City College of New York, CUNY

‘Palestinians have complained over the last generation about increasing authoritarianism and declining solidarity and activism, even as international donors spoke of democratic institution-building. El Kurd’s rigorous empirical research shows not only that such complaints are valid but also how and why.’ — Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science, George Washington University

‘A major contribution to understanding the dialectic between politically driven foreign aid and authoritarianism. El Kurd’s rigorous and illuminating research shows a causal link between this process and social polarization, demobilization and the decline of collective action under the PA.’ — Azmi Bishara, General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies


Dana El Kurd is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Richmond. She specialises in comparative politics and international relations of the Arab world, particularly in how authoritarianism endures, and how societies meaningfully challenge it.

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