Patrick O. Strickland - The immense demonstrations that swallowed the Israeli-occupied West Bank two weeks ago have temporarily subsided, but the calm is temporary. Rather than aiming all of their frustration at Israel, Palestinians of all stripes called for an end to the Western-backed, entirely undemocratic leadership of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
All posts tagged Salam Fayyad
Earlier this week, the New York Times published an op-ed written by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In the article, Abbas makes the case for why the 192 UN member states should recognize Palestinian statehood at the upcoming General Assembly meeting in September. Not surprisingly, the Palestinian president’s plea triggered an immediate response from the Israeli political establishment, specifically Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
According to Netanyahu, Abbas’ op-ed “grossly distorted documented history” by neglecting to mention the historic mistake made by the Palestinians to accept two states at the time of the 1947 Partition Plan. Moreover, Abbas refused to acknowledge that following David Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of Israel’s independence in 1948, five Arab armies invaded the nascent state for the sole purpose of crushing it in its entirety.
So is this your usual tit for tat? Not exactly. This most recent exchange of heated words between the two leaders has serious implications, especially as we move closer to September when we will be faced with a new reality that has the potential to either the end the conflict or at the very least change its dynamics. It is imperative, therefore, that we take a look at what September really means for Palestinians and Israelis, and why Abbas, Fayyad and the Palestinians are pursing the state building plan with tireless vigour.
On the same day that Fatah and Hamas, the main Palestinian parties, were signing their merger agreement in Egypt and arguing about who gets to sit in what chair and speak first and for how long — Fatah translated merger into takeover and Hamas didn’t like that interpretation — I was part of a small group that met in Ramallah with Salam Fayyad, Fatah’s number two leader and, as we soon found out, its number one numerologist. (More on that later.)
Fayyad is the only Fatah member known to have earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas, which at least in the humble opinion of this fellow U.T. graduate, should be enough to sell most American politicos, except for a few Aggies’ and Sooners’ fans, on the man’s solid bona fides. If only Fayyad could get Hamas, Fatah and Israelis arguing about changing the B.C.S. system instead of endlessly debating borders and security, the entire region would be better off. But I digress….
Fayyad clearly knows and loves to share his improving economic numbers with an appreciative audience. He is also a good host — starting on time, posing for pictures, and offering sweets, always a Jewish fan favorite. ( Go for the baklava with tiny pistachios.) He also knows how to provide a better police escort than the one we received in Israel. (Actually any police escort would have been one more than we received in Israel.)
While Hamas and Fatah eventually solved their sitting and speaking negotiations (perhaps by consulting with Henry Kissinger about his famous Vietnamese circular table disagreement), they did so withoutFayyad present or involved with any of the negotiation details. That has led some to speculate that Fayyad might be a unification casualty. ( That “some” would have included me, up until recent comments by Palestinian National Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas.)
Maybe what we all missed is that the Hamas and Fatah deal, at Egypt’s prodding, was simply to get a deal. Both groups agreed to defer the trickier governance issues. That actually makes a lot of sense. Hamashas to first decide whether it is prepared to join with Fatah in building toward a Palestinian state or whether it wants to continue to act as an enablor of the professional “we have no bargaining partner” crowd by reserving its “right to resist the occupation” through violent means. If Hamas and Fatah can’t agree on a more permanent cessation of violence, then who leads this sinking ship will be irrelevant.
Although our meeting with Fayyad ran slightly over the hour scheduled, he was unable to add any clarity as to what he thought Hamas would eventually elect to do. It became clearer later that this was mainly because he was unsure what was in the actual agreement. (The agreement has more of a fill in the blanks quality to it, so it’s really not a surprise that one week later Fatah and Hamas still differ in their interpretations.)
What Fayyad did offer was reason for hope — a rare Middle east commodity — that Hamas, as part of a combined government, would slowly moderate their positions. Israeli President Shimon Peres later agreed, and in interviews with Israeli media he said,”Even when I began with Arafat they said ‘there’s no chance.’ I think the same thing about Hamas. The name does not interest me. What matters is the content. Anything can happen, because Hamas has problems too, and it’s not too strong.” Still, Fayyad did express deep disappointment that Hamas’ Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, praised Osama Bin Laden and criticized America’s actions: “No one with any sense of decency could make a statement like that.” (Haniyeh and his ministers have not been big fans of Fayyad ever since he started using Palestinian security forces to arrest and jail Hamas activists and Fayyad is clearly not angling for any near term rapprochementwith Haniyeh.)
Fayyad was quite open in discussing his plans, goals, accomplishments, and the issues the Palestinians still needed to work on. When asked to identify what he saw as his key accomplishments, he first noted the tremendous improvement in West Bank security and policing. (Our group experienced both, and I am personally thankful for the restroom escort I was provided at our lunch meeting with several Palestinian businesspeople. I took a wrong turn and possibly looked suspicious — or desperate — and received protected guidance as well as preferential line-cutting.)
Fayyad also gave us some numbers. He cited 195 new schools, 3000 kilometers of more paved roads, specific sanitation and water development initiatives and improved health, childbirth, life expectancy, infant mortality and education metrics. His self-described proudest achievement, and the one he dwelled on longer than any other, was the ability the Palestinians now have to offer transparent statistical reports. He believes a key sign of a country is an ability to offer relevant statistical data.
What about all of the changes in the Middle East and the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood? Fayyad’s view is that the democracy movement in the region, and specifically in Egypt, was “overdue.” He said that political leaders should respect the demand for changes and not resist and that “the world will be better” once the process concludes. He also professed not to be overly concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood and pointed to the democratic process as being a key legitimizing factor. (Unfortunately, we were unable to ask him to contrast his respect for the democratic process with Fatah staying in power even though Hamas won the last election.)
Fayyad also said that as part of the process of Hamas joining a new government, he thought it would be a very good idea for Hamas to release kidnapped Israel soldier, Gilad Shalit, and “if I have any influence” he would encourage Hamas to do so. Of course, Fayyad’s influence has been a key issue in the negotiations between Fatah and Hamas. Some reports insist that Fayyad is on his way out — Fatah members have also been unhappy as Fayyad has significantly reduced the rampant corruption, which has reduced many officials’ incomes — but other reports suggest he may be the key player in getting America and other key nations to support the new government.
With Hamas’ role in sanctioning violence, that support will be tough. If Fayyad is really in charge that would help a great deal. Plus, Hamas agreeing to eliminate the use of violence, as Abbas has said Hamaswill do in their role as part of the new government, will also be critical. But Hamas will be judged based on their actions to actually control and stop the violence.
In December 2010, Haniyeh stated at a news conference in Gaza that, ” If the Palestinian electorate approves…a peace agreement with Israel” (his government will) “abide by it notwithstanding previous Hamas’ positions on the issue.” Hamas’ previous positions are based on their Charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel. So there is some distance to travel to get all parties singing “Kumbaya,” but Fayyadindicated to our group that the world should wait to judge its reaction to the Fatah and Hamas marriage based on what occurs, not what it fears may occur.
Shimon Peres went further in an interview with Ynet News when he discussed Hamas, Fatah and negotiations in general: “If they want to unite, let them unite….Each side wants to prove to his people that he is strong, aggressive, that he does not give up, but the leaders know in their hearts that there’s no choice and that peace must be reached. No one wants to return to the bloodshed….This is why we have to differentiate between outward appearances and the hidden potential.”
The Fatah and Hamas agreement has that hidden potential, even though Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has condemned it as a “blow to peace.” While both statements could be true, we can still hope that a combined Hamas and Fatah government is wise enough to renounce and act to prevent violence and continue their infrastructure improvements, and that Israel is smart enough to capitalize on what could be a historic opportunity to put an end to a 43 year old conflict. Fayyad told our group that he did not want to be part of a new government that did not address the security needs of both sides and that renouncing violence was a key for him too.
Perhaps a peace that many on both sides have seen as impossible will soon become possible. Clearly having a Palestinian leader so interested in security and infrastructure improvements that is appointed to lead both Fatah and Hamas could be a helpful and important first step. Even Aggies and Sooners (and Israelis and all of their supporters) should root for this Longhorn to succeed.
Photo: [Catholic Church (England and Wales), Flickr]
JERUSALEM – Much has been written about the plan proposed
by the 13th Palestinian Government headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for
establishing the Palestinian state within two years. However, little has been
written about one of the most significant implications of this plan, namely the
fact that it brings together, for the first time ever, development and political
goals in Palestinian politics. How did this come about?
Over the period
of more than forty years of occupation, the Palestinian leadership repeatedly
contended that ending the occupation should come first, and that development is
a process that can be postponed, to be addressed only after the occupation has
ended. Palestinian civil society organisations, on the other hand, argued that
ending the occupation requires building the state’s democratic institutions and
economic structures first, to enable the Palestinians to govern themselves once
the occupation comes to an end. These calls, however, were rejected until Salam
Fayyad became Prime Minister and adopted a path that is more or less consistent
with that proposed by civil society organisations.
Now not a day passes
when Fayyad does not personally inaugurate several new projects, with
approximately 1,000 having been initiated since the launch of the plan in August
2009. These span from construction of schools to improving water and sanitation.
Although these projects have been limited to the West Bank’s Areas “A” and
“B”(under Palestinian civil control), Fayyad plans to extend them in the next
few months to Area C (under complete Israeli security and civil control),
To complete such projects in Area C and in east
Jerusalem, there is need for extensive cooperation on the part of Israel, the
Palestinians and the international community. It goes without saying that
completing this project would constitute a strategic support for another track,
namely the building of a peaceful and sound relationship between two viable
states, Israel and the Palestinian State, where one state’s vitality would not
come at the expense of the other, as is the case today.
The plan in the
West Bank is complemented by another plan of the Salam Fayyad government to
rebuild the Gaza Strip after the destruction left by the latest war. It was
presented at the Sharm El-Sheikh conference for rebuilding Gaza in March 2009
and donour countries pledged $4.7 billion, though there is still a need to find
means for its implementation that would preclude the de facto government in Gaza
from benefiting from it. Meanwhile, the Fayyad government spends $1.5 billion
annually in the form of salaries to Palestinian Authority employees who were
appointed in Gaza prior to the Hamas coup in 2007 through banks in the West
Bank, in addition to providing for other services and operational expenses,
including the Electric Power Company. Such initiatives help create the building
blocks for a functioning bureaucracy, as necessary in state building
All this constitutes a comprehensive plan for the West Bank,
Jerusalem and Gaza, with development well placed at the core. Establishing these
facts on the ground will generate bottom-up growth as the means for building the
state. According to this vision, the completion of the development projects will
in fact be tantamount to the establishment of state institutions.
Minister Fayyad’s plan is, however, facing a number of obstacles, most
significantly high levels of resistance from those who continue to believe that
ending the occupation should come before development. Such parties are not
restricted to factions from the Palestine Liberation Organization, but also
include Hamas and other Islamist groups. Given the severe political rift in the
Palestinian political arena since 2007, their opposition to Fayyad’s plan
ironically constitutes a rare case of agreement. Obviously, the lack of Israeli
cooperation regarding the plans for zone C is significant as well.
despite all this, the plan is moving forward. It enhances optimism that the
Palestinians are on track to governing themselves-with effective institutions
and a vibrant economy. Such progress will hopefully push the international
community to increase its efforts to establish the Palestinian State by August
2011, the date when Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan will reach fruition.