The euphoria that has, for over a week, greeted Mahmoud Abbas's election as President of the Palestinian Authority was perhaps justified. But now it is time for a clear-eyed assessment of what lies before Palestinians, Israelis, and, perhaps more importantly, for the wider Arab world.
Such an assessment requires acknowledging that the election was far from flawless: Hamas and Islamic Jihad boycotted the poll, and Marwan Barghouti, a fellow Fatah member with Abbas and the one candidate who could seriously have challenged him, was ungently persuaded by the movement's leadership to withdraw his candidacy in order to present a unified front.
Moreover, Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) succeeded in getting the dozen or so Palestinian security services and militias under his control. This guaranteed his victory, though the parades of armed men brandishing guns at his rallies were not exactly what democratic norms call for.
Yet the fact remains that after decades of Yasir Arafat's autocratic rule, and despite the obvious constraints of continued Israeli occupation, the Palestinians did elect a leader in a relatively free and competitive election. For years, Arafat avoided holding elections, as required by the laws of the Palestinian Authority, under the pretense that they cannot be held under occupation: but, lo and behold, two months after his demise, an election was held - and with resounding success.