Struggle in a Post-Charisma Transition: Rethinking Palestinian Politics after Arafat


Drawing on Max Weber’s three kinds of legitimate domination, this article proposes the concept of “post-charisma transition” to describe the transformation of a political system in which authority is legitimated by a leader’s personal stature. As illustrated by recent Palestinian politics, such a transition may result in attempts at institution-building when a successor to a charismatic leader bolsters legal forms in order to derive authority that his personality alone cannot command. Whereas charisma was an important facet of Yasir Arafat’s rule, Mahmud Abbas’s lack of charisma has rendered him unable to govern the system that Arafat bequeathed him. Analysis of Abbas’s dilemma sheds new light on the legislative elections of 2006 and subsequent events, including the latest developments in the Gaza Strip.


ALI JARBAWI is professor of political science and dean of the School of Law and Public Administration at Birzeit University. WENDY PEARLMAN is a Ph.D. candidate in government at Harvard University.