AMIDST ALL OF THE USUAL GLOOM AND DOOM that emanates from discussions of the
contemporary Middle East, one development has generated a great deal of ink and
hope among proponents of an equitable and viable Palestinian-Israeli peace
settlement: “Fayyadism”, the efforts by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad to build the administrative, economic and infrastructural base for
a future Palestinian state, with the declared goal (in 2009) of establishing a
de facto state apparatus within two years, and then gaining international
recognition from the UN Security Council.
A recent article in Foreign
Policy magazine by the Palestinian- American Hussein Ibish lauds what he calls
the paradigm shift that has taken place among West Bank Palestinians, who “are
increasingly turning to the mundane, workaday tools of governance and
development as their principal strategy for ending the occupation.” This has
also been the theme of numerous visiting Western journalists.
optimism generated by Fayyadism, although not totally misplaced, is excessive.
It comes from a widespread recognition that the failure of the Palestinian
state-building project during 1994-2000 was central to the collapse of the Oslo
process. Admittedly, Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement had been dealt a weak
and difficult hand, but they were nonetheless the primary culprits. Arafat
established a neo-patrimonial and corrupt regime, without achieving the
necessary monopoly on the means of coercion. Fatah never sufficiently
transformed itself from a liberation organization to a proper political party
ready to play the leading role in a state-on-the-way.
between a corrupt, power-hungry, undisciplined and sclerotic Fatah movement and
an uncorrupt Hamas, whose ability to deliver social, educational and welfare
services as well as confront Israel won it enormous legitimacy among the
populace, was striking.
Palestinian society has always suffered from a
high level of factionalism and localism, which probably underlay many of the
problems in building institutions.
Indeed, these issues are still
present. Fayyad is a polished economist and banker, with long experience in the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Although born in the West Bank
town of Deir al- Ghusun, near Tulkarm, he has no preexisting power base of his
own, while his control of the purse strings has created much resentment among
Fatah cadres keen on attaining the benefits of a ruling faction. To be sure,
Fayyad spends a great deal of time “in the field,” making his presence felt in a
variety of settings. His encouragement of grassroots efforts to resist the
occupation, such as a boycott of Israeli products produced in settlements,
resonates among the public.
He is also apparently the reason that
Lt.-Gen. Keith W. Dayton will be stepping down in the fall, after having served
for five years in his post as US Security Coordinator for Israel and the PA.
Sensitive to criticism that the PA security forces are doing Dayton’s bidding,
rather than the PA’s, Fayyad acted to have him replaced in order to bolster his
Two recent complementary studies by the Carnegie
Institute for International Peace raise serious questions regarding the Fayyad
project, although their recommendations may be no more likely to produce the
desired results. Carnegie Institute Senior Associate Michele Dunne’s analysis,
which is directed primarily at US policymakers, believes that a durable
state-building plan must be accompanied not only by Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations but also by the “resumption of politics,” i.e. bringing Hamas into
the game by allowing political competition. She may well be right that Fayyad
“cannot complete reforms and make them sustainable without the buy-in that comes
from electoral politics.” On the other hand, he may not be able to do so with
it, and the prospects of intra-Palestinian reconciliation, let alone on terms
that would be complementary to a workable Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement,
seem as far away as ever.
Similarly, Nathan Brown, a long-time and
knowledgeable observer of Palestinian affairs, linked the prospects of
successful state-building to achieving democratic legitimacy. But is the linkage
in fact Gordian? Isn’t there a middle ground between the establishment of a
political entity whose rule is based only on coercion and one which is a
Western-style full democracy based on the rule of law, separation of powers and
competitive elections? In any case, after intensive meetings with West Bank
Palestinians, Brown concludes that Fayyad’s admirable efforts are not leading in
the direction of statehood. To be sure, he has registered important successes in
achieving international respectability (crucial for maintaining financial
solvency), fiscal discipline, security, and an improved economy.
he notes, there is no legitimate constitutional basis for the government, and
there has not been significant progress in promoting the rule of law, neither in
the courts nor legislatively. Civil society institutions (e.g. the Bar
Association) have not been strengthened, and are infected by political
The Israelis, for their part, are keenly aware and
concerned that Fayyadism is heavily dependent on one man, Fayyad.
his options, as Brown says, Fayyad will most likely soldier on, keeping the
Ramallah government afloat and registering administrative and fiscal successes
until something better comes along. In the meantime, one can find any number of
ways that things can unravel, beginning with the explosive tinderbox of East
Jerusalem. One can only hope that Israel, the Palestinians and the US understand
the need to nurture the baby shoots of progress in the West Bank and pursue
policies that will protect them and allow them to grow.