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New Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad's agenda bears a strong resemblance to US President George Bush's surge in Iraq: good ideas, but many years too late.
The surge, as even opponents admit, has succeeded in the former insurgent heartland of Anbar province (though not yet in Baghdad). It has proven what war supporters critical of Bush's mismanagement always claimed: If the US sent enough troops to provide ongoing security, rather than clearing an area and then moving elsewhere while the terrorists returned, reconstruction would follow.
Unfortunately, it is almost certainly too late. The American people, Congress and even many soldiers have lost patience with the war; they want out. The Shi'ites, who exercised remarkable restraint under horrific terrorist assaults for over two years, eventually lost patience with American security efforts and unleashed private militias, which will not only prove difficult to dismantle, but have made Shi'ite-Sunni relations even worse by slaughtering innocent Sunnis to retaliate for the Sunni slaughter of innocent Shi'ites. Moderate, educated Iraqis, the ones Iraq needs to rebuild, also lost patience and fled the country in droves. Thus a strategy that could have salvaged Iraq two years ago now seems unlikely to prevent a hasty American exit and full-scale civil war.
FAYAD'S program also contains good ideas. First, he wants the Palestinian Authority more involved in welfare - an area hitherto dominated by Hamas, which accounts for much of the Islamic group's popularity.
Second, he is proposing massive construction projects, including new residential neighborhoods and roads, to provide jobs for thousands of Palestinians. (Were these neighborhoods then used to resettle refugees now living in shantytowns, that would both improve their lives and ease Israelis fears over the refugee issue. However, Fayad has announced no such plans.)
Third, he wants to eliminate the PA's numerous armed militias, and has even persuaded PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to take baby steps toward implementation, which Abbas never did before. For the first time, militias have been formally outlawed, though the decision remains unenforced; an amnesty program was worked out with Israel under which Fatah-linked gunmen who turn in their weapons and accept temporary movement restrictions will be taken off Israel's wanted list; and a few armed men have even been arrested.
Unlike the surge, Fayad's plan may never ultimately be implemented. Indeed, given the PA's record, any rational person would bet against it.
Yet even if Fayad genuinely tries, 14 years in which the PA used Israeli territorial concessions and international aid not to improve Palestinian lives but to finance anti-Israel terror and feather the nests of senior PA officials, have eroded both Israeli and Palestinian confidence so severely that rebuilding it will be slow at best, and perhaps impossible.
A RECENT poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 58 percent of Palestinians under 30 - the population that comprises the armed gangs - expect escalated conflict with Israel in the coming years; only 22 percent foresee peace. Thus persuading them to disband and turn in their weapons, or to refrain from buying new weapons with the cash the PA will reportedly give them under its amnesty, presents an almost insurmountable challenge.
And since Fayad, like Abbas, has already declared that he will never use force against the militias, the chances of the armed gangs disappearing look slim.
In contrast, eliminating the militias would have been easy during the PA's early years, when optimism was high; but then PA chairman Yasser Arafat preferred to let them proliferate. And Abbas missed his own opportunity after the August 2005 disengagement, when he could have argued that with Israel gone, it was time to disband the militias and give the PA a monopoly on force in Gaza. Instead, he spent five months refusing to lift a finger against the armed gangs while security in Gaza steadily deteriorated, until disgusted Palestinians swept Hamas to power in the January 2006 elections.
THE SAME goes for economic development. In the PA's early years, with no Israeli troops in Palestinian areas, few checkpoints, no fence and tens of thousands of Palestinians employed in Israel, investment in development could have produced quick returns. But Arafat preferred to invest in terrorism and his own bank account. Thus following the PA's establishment Palestinians' per-capita income plummeted and unemployment soared.
And Abbas, again, wasted a second chance, post-disengagement. A rapid push to develop Gaza would have won massive international and Israeli support. But he made no move to, for instance, build housing for refugees in the former settlements; he did not even stop armed gangs from looting the settlement greenhouses that international donors purchased for the PA.
Nor did he stop the daily attacks on Israel from Gaza, which further hampered Gaza's development by prompting frequent closures of the border crossings and draconian Israeli restrictions on traffic between Gaza and the West Bank. Thus Gaza's economy kept deteriorating, facilitating Hamas's election.
Now, with Israeli soldiers and checkpoints riddling the West Bank, economic development is much harder. And neither soldiers nor checkpoints are likely to disappear anytime soon, because Israelis, battered by 14 years in which every withdrawal produced only more terrorism, are suffering severe "concession fatigue."
THAT WAS evident in last month's Peace Index poll, which found that most Israelis oppose any security-related concessions to the Abbas-Fayad government. For instance, 79 percent opposed arming the PA, 71 percent opposed removing checkpoints and 54 percent opposed prisoner releases. Thus no Israeli government will be able to make major concessions on these issues - and any that are made will be revoked after the first attack.
Moreover, fed up with 14 years of broken PA promises to fight terror, fully 67 percent said that even nonsecurity assistance, like tax transfers, should be conditioned on PA action against terror. Only 22.5 percent favored such assistance without preconditions.
Thus, overall, PA development efforts will now receive far less Israeli support than they would have earlier.
Maybe Fayad will nevertheless work a miracle. But even if he makes a sincere effort - which is far from certain - it may well, like the surge, prove too late.
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