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By Robert M. Danin
This past September, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down in Washington to dine with U.S. President Barack Obama, a barely noticed event took place in Ramallah. With little fanfare, the 13th Palestinian Authority (PA) government, headed by Salam Fayyad, issued its one-year countdown to independence. This brief and understated document is likely to prove far more significant for the future of Palestine than the
For nearly a century, "armed struggle" was the dominant leitmotif of the Palestinian nationalist movement. This strategy was supplemented and ostensibly replaced by peace negotiations after the Oslo accords of 1993. The newest approach, adopted by Prime Minister Fayyad, a U.S.-educated former
Although Fayyadism is not a replacement for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has become an indispensible component of any future talks. Improving conditions on the ground and giving people a greater stake in running their own lives demonstrate to Palestinians that the peaceful path pays dividends. Fayyadism empowers Palestinian leaders to convince their constituents that it is worthwhile to make the painful compromises that will be necessary for a genuine settlement to be reached. At the same time, more widespread recognition of Palestinian performance on the ground in the realms of security, economic growth, and administration will instill confidence among Israelis that they can hand over control of the occupied territories to a reliable Palestinian partner. Skeptical Israelis tend to wonder: Is Fayyad a partner or an opponent? The reality is that as a Palestinian nationalist, he is both -- although not an enemy.
Should peace negotiations break down, as they have so often in the past, then the Fayyadist enterprise can provide an important safety net for the Palestinians and the Israelis: it can help prevent a complete breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian relations and a possible cascade into violence, as occurred in 2000, when peace talks broke down and there was nothing else in place to revive them. Such a safety net can help keep hope -- and people -- alive.THE STRUGGLE WITHOUT
Since 1948, the Palestinian nationalist movement has largely been dominated by the "outsiders" -- Palestinians exiled in the Arab world and beyond.
With Israel's lightning victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, the West Bank and Gaza came under Israel's control. Still, the center of Palestinian political gravity remained with the PLO leaders in exile. These "outsiders" tended to be more absolutist in their objectives, given that they had already paid the price of defeat by Israel, whereas the "insiders" -- those Palestinians residing in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem -- struggled to protect their homes and patrimony under Israeli occupation.
Insiders launched the first intifada, or uprising, in late 1987, thereby taking the lead in intra-Palestinian politics. The uprising was initiated by a loose coalition associated with
Their first success was in forcing Jordanian King Hussein to relinquish Jordanian claims to the West Bank. The outsiders and their absolutist approach were further weakened when the PLO backed Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. After the 1993 Oslo accords, the PLO moved toward conciliation and recognized Israel and its right to exist. Israel, in turn, recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Arafat returned from exile, and the PLO outsiders and insiders were suddenly and uneasily reunited in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Oslo accords and the self-rule they initiated by creating the PA were meant to end the era of armed struggle and terrorism. Negotiations with Israel and the establishment of Palestinian institutions, so the logic went, would lead to a final peace accord between Israel and the PLO. For a time, it seemed to be working. Israel granted the Palestinians limited control over portions of the West Bank and Gaza,
By the autumn of 2000, the road to peace no longer seemed so clear. The first intifada, in 1987, had been waged largely with stones and Molotov cocktails; the second one, which began in September 2000, relied on higher-tech weapons and, increasingly, suicide terrorist attacks. Palestinian security officers who until then had worked closely with their Israeli counterparts turned their weapons on the Israelis. Israel, in turn, attacked PA institutions and reoccupied some parts of the West Bank from which it had earlier withdrawn. Oslo seemed to be unraveling. Armed struggle, it turned out, had not been abandoned after all; Arafat had simply chosen to harness violence to supplement negotiations.
During the second intifada, the nationalist
Arafat died in November 2004; two months later, Abbas was elected as the second PA president. Abbas' victory ushered in a new era, with a clear Palestinian commitment to peaceful negotiations. Israelis welcomed his unambiguous renunciation of all violence, but Abbas' approach was not universally embraced by all Palestinians. Some had lost faith in the Oslo-era paradigm of negotiations as the path to statehood. Abbas' party,
Under the Hamas-Fatah unity government, intra-Palestinian tensions mounted over who retained control of the security forces, eventually leading
As Arafat's finance minister, Fayyad had won domestic and international acclaim for introducing transparency and accountability to the PA. With Fayyad at the helm, the PA initially set forth an extremely modest reform and development agenda. The goal was to provide basic services and pay the salaries of civil servants in the West Bank and Gaza while encouraging fiscal discipline. The PA's systematic two-year development plan, presented at an international donors' conference for the Palestinian territories held in December 2007 in Paris, called on Israel, the Palestinians, and the international community to work together to create an environment conducive to Palestinian reform. It was, in short, a plan for good governance and improving the investment climate. The international community pledged more than $7.7 billion, although some Arab states have yet to make good on their promises.
In early 2008, Israel and Fayyad's PA government agreed to work to improve living conditions in the West Bank. A new Palestinian effort, encouraged by the United States and Tony Blair, the official envoy of the Quartet (the
The PA also intensified its economic efforts with hundreds of development projects supported by the international community. At the Quartet's prodding, some Israeli physical barriers to movement -- both within the West Bank and between it and Israel -- were eased or removed beginning in the second half of 2008 and then more seriously in 2009, precipitating a much-hoped-for economic boost by allowing trade to flourish. Palestinian forces deployed professionally and effectively, retaking areas that had descended into chaos and militia control. This joint approach was quietly expanded to other parts of the West Bank, with similarly encouraging results. The city of Nablus and its environs, which had been a hotbed of some of the worst intifada violence and terrorism, became increasingly prosperous and safe. Yet Fayyad was and still remains frustrated by Israel's frequent military incursions into Palestinian population centers, which undermine PA credibility and the growing sense that Palestinians are regaining control of their own lives. The Palestinians were indeed beginning to prosper. But without there being a real sense of retaking control, the economic benefit could not translate into political recognition of that change. A THIRD PATH
In August 2009, strengthened by a cabinet reshuffle, Fayyad adopted a more radical and audacious program. It aimed at nothing short of ending the occupation and achieving statehood within two years. Fayyad enumerated, ministry by ministry, the steps the government would take to prepare the Palestinian territories for that goal.
By announcing an ambitious two-year deadline for statehood, Fayyad reintroduced the timeline that had fallen by the wayside. The Oslo accords had aimed to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 1999; once that deadline lapsed, the Palestinians lost confidence in the idea of independence. The Quartet's 2003 "road map" had set 2005 as the date for Palestinian statehood, although by then, the Palestinians believed it would never happen. By setting his own goal, Fayyad sought to motivate his constituents and signal to Israel that the Palestinians were unhappy with the sense of drift. The year of decision would be 2011.
Fayyad replaced reform and minor technocratic goals with bold, revolutionary aspirations. As he put it in the PA government's August 2009 program, he sought "to complete the process of building institutions of the independent State of Palestine in order to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years." The PA pledged to finalize the creation of central and local institutions, upgrade the delivery of government services, and launch infrastructure projects. Fayyad also issued a bold call for self-reliance: "Hard work, coupled with faith in our ability to create new realities on the ground, will clear our path to freedom. Through our strength of will and building on the foundations of our achievements we can end the occupation and establish the independent and sovereign state of Palestine." This marked a dramatic departure both from the old model of armed struggle and from the modest goals Fayyad had articulated just 18 months earlier, which focused on working with Israel to create conditions conducive to reform.
Fayyadism represents, above all, a fundamental attitudinal shift. Its emphasis on self-reliance is a conscious effort to change the role of the Palestinians in their narrative from that of victims to that of agents of their own fate. It is a vision for the future and an implicit critique of the Palestinian national movement's long-standing fixation on the past. It strives to replace cynicism and hopelessness, rampant among Palestinians, who have repeatedly seen their dreams squelched, with reasons for hope. The process itself is transformational: as the situation on the ground improves and the PA delivers increasing economic prosperity and security for the Palestinians and, ultimately, for Israel, the PA will provide a sense of possibility where one has been sorely lacking. Finally, Fayyadism repudiates the use of violence -- a tactic that was long central to Palestinian nationalism and still has widespread resonance in Palestinian society.
This approach has the power to change the way that Israelis regard their Palestinian neighbors. In the past two years, the Israeli security establishment has dramatically shifted its view of Palestinian institutions and capabilities. When Fayyad first embarked on his reforms, most Israeli experts deemed his plans unrealistic. Yet slowly, grudgingly, and with increased respect, key Israelis from the military and intelligence services have recognized that the Palestinians are functioning effectively in the realms of governance, economic development, and, most important to Israel, security.
Since 2007, the West Bank economy has taken off. Official IMF figures place growth in the West Bank at 8.5 percent for 2009, with the first part of 2010 registering over 11 percent growth. Government spending has remained within budgetary targets, and improved tax collection rates have resulted in higher than projected domestic tax revenues. Indeed, in the first half of 2010, tax revenues were 15 percent above budgetary projections. Unemployment, close to 20 percent in 2008, has been reduced by nearly a third. More than 120 schools were built over the past two years, 1,100 miles of road laid, and 900 miles of new water networks established. In the past year alone, 11 new health clinics were built and 30 more were expanded in the West Bank.
To even the casual observer, it is clear that the PA's efforts over the past two years have had a dramatic effect in the West Bank. Ramallah is booming. Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, and other cities that were once no-go areas are now safe and bustling at all hours. Renegade militiamen no longer walk the streets with impunity; they have either been imprisoned, been driven underground, or been granted amnesty as a result of a 2007 deal with Israel. Now, uniformed Palestinian police officers keep the peace, with six battalions recently trained by U.S. forces deployed throughout the West Bank. Such actions were prescribed by the road map, which outlined the path to a two-state solution.
The Palestinian security services under Arafat had become so unwieldy, with more than a dozen competing armed organizations, that a dramatic reform effort was necessary to make them efficient and accountable. Thus, the road map explicitly called on the PA to rebuild and consolidate the Palestinian forces, with U.S. assistance, into three main bodies reporting to a newly empowered interior minister. Providing law and order, dismantling terrorist organizations, and cooperating with Israel were all identified and endorsed by the international community as steps required for real progress toward Palestinian statehood.
Fayyad's goal was to create the necessary conditions so that the Palestinians would be prepared for de facto statehood by 2011. From an economic and institutional standpoint, that goal has already been achieved, at least according to the
Not surprisingly, Fayyad's efforts have generated public support and boosted his job-approval ratings. This is due partly to his tireless approach of taking his campaign to the streets and to areas of the West Bank that other politicians avoid -- a strategy that has generated support among the politically unaffiliated majority, who see the dominant
With such a bold departure from past traditions, it is no surprise that Fayyadism has generated a significant backlash from within the Palestinian polity and even from some supporters of the Palestinian cause abroad. By attempting to build institutions of a state while under occupation, cooperating with the Israelis, and behaving as if Palestine were a state, Fayyad is seen by many as having abandoned the traditional liberation theology of the Palestinian national movement. Moreover, by establishing an alternative basis for legitimacy -- competence and results -- in a society in which legitimacy has traditionally derived from leadership in the armed struggle, Fayyad is asking the public to take a leap of faith. Many fear that in doing so, he is ceding sacred ground to
Fayyad's critics fear that although he has embarked on a noble venture, his approach is naive and potentially politically suicidal. They argue that by focusing on changes on the ground, Fayyad is ignoring the fundamental nature of the occupation, which they say must be addressed at a political level. They fear that however good his intentions, the reformist project will fail because they believe the overwhelming weight of Israel's occupation will never allow the Palestinians to succeed. Improving conditions in the West Bank, they argue, is a palliative remedy that serves Israeli interests by lightening the burden of Israel's military occupation. Yet Fayyad seeks to move away from the zero-sum thinking that suggests that anything that could possibly benefit the Palestinians should be bad for Israel, and vice versa. Instead, he argues that improving the lives and security of Palestinians also serves to build trust and cooperation with the country he seeks as a future Palestine's peaceful neighbor.
A second criticism leveled at Fayyad is that rather than supporting President Abbas in political negotiations, Fayyad is undermining the PA's effort to secure the entirety of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They fear that Fayyad is setting up the PA to accept Phase 2 of the road map, which calls for a Palestinian state with provisional borders, the final disposition of which would be negotiated between the embryonic Palestinian state and Israel. Many Palestinians worry that Israel might then simply recognize Palestine in the 40 percent of the West Bank that currently falls outside of exclusive Israeli jurisdiction. The existential dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians could then be rendered a territorial dispute, leaving Israel with the upper hand. At that point, critics argue, the international community would lose interest and declare the dispute largely resolved, with some territorial claims outstanding. This concern is largely unfounded, however, given that Fayyad has repeatedly and unequivocally argued that Palestine must include the entirety of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, with the 1967 armistice line as its border.
Fayyad's approach also challenges some of the deeply entrenched corruption that remains in Palestinian society. For a small yet influential group of Palestinians, Fayyad's reforms pose a direct threat. By instituting a transparent and accountable salary-payment mechanism in the
The PA security services have been accused of heavy-handedness in their treatment of
Fayyad has also been criticized for the lack of effective checks and balances in Palestinian governing institutions. This critique is valid but misplaced. The blame rests not with the Fayyad administration but with the dysfunctional status quo, brought about largely by
Fayyadism aspires to bring the PA to the gates of statehood, but it does not clearly articulate how the Palestinians will then cross that threshold. Ideally, negotiations with Israel will hasten that outcome. Fayyad's focus is on preparing the groundwork so that all obstacles to independence are removed.
However much progress has been made, the Fayyadist experiment could still unravel. The bolt from the blue remains one of the defining hallmarks of the Holy Land, and any number of sudden or undesirable developments could end the Fayyadist experiment. Unanticipated violence, precipitated by dashed political expectations, could reverse many of the gains, just as the eruption of the second intifada did in 2000. Conversely, Fayyadism's success could precipitate violence by renegade Palestinians or Israelis who seek to foil Fayyad's aspirations. His efforts could also be undermined by political developments, such as a radical shakeup that ends the uneasy political marriage between Abbas and his prime minister, a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement that renders Fayyadism a casualty, or Israeli reluctance to cede greater control to the PA. Fayyadism is a bicycle that must either pedal on or fall over from a lack of forward momentum.
The political divide between the physically disconnected West Bank and Gaza also must be bridged if Palestinian statehood is to be realized. Unless
The stronger the Fayyad government becomes, and the more it delivers results to the people, the better placed the PA will be to extract concessions from
The only other alternative would be a three-state solution -- a
In the meantime, much more can be done -- by the Palestinians, by Israel, and by the international community -- to strengthen the Fayyadist endeavor. For its part, Israel should suspend its ambivalence about Fayyad and recognize that this is a historic opportunity -- he and Abbas are the best Palestinian partners Israel is ever likely to find. This partnership does not require affection, just a businesslike calculation of self-interest.
For a long time, Israelis in the national security establishment dismissed Fayyad as affable but not strong and were therefore reluctant to do anything to help him. Now, they recognize the seriousness and strength of his efforts but are not quite sure how to react. Fayyad has taken steps in the past few years that have made him increasingly suspect in the eyes of Israelis. He has appealed to the
Israel's concern is understandable, given that Fayyad is asking the Israelis to entrust him with more power. Some of the steps that Fayyad has taken to confront Israel internationally may actually be politically counterproductive, in that they push away some of the very Israelis he seeks to engage. Although he has tried to rectify this by explaining his approach directly to Israeli audiences, his message has not resonated widely in Israel. Those who understand his need to balance domestic political concerns with cooperation with Israel have not been very vocal. But the Israelis should recognize that Fayyad's commitment to nonviolence is unequivocal and that he has taken political and personal risks at home to pursue peaceful reconciliation.
Israel can help Fayyad with security, especially in the West Bank areas in which Palestinians are still prevented from exercising control. Ultimately, for Fayyad to convince the Israelis that a Palestinian state is an asset and not a threat, he will need to demonstrate that the Palestinians can deliver effective security throughout the West Bank and are able to prevent
Second, Israel needs the PA to play a role within "Area C" -- the 60 percent of contiguous West Bank territory still under exclusive Israeli control. PA efforts there are critical for sustainable economic development and for private-sector investment. To date, Palestinian construction and development is forbidden by Israel in 70 percent of Area C, and in the remaining 30 percent, it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain the required permission to build or repair infrastructure.
Israel should allow the PA to implement development projects and access its land and resources. In addition, Israel should reinstate the moratorium on demolishing Palestinian structures that it adopted for five months in 2008 and halt further expropriations of land in these areas. Including Palestinians in planning and zoning in Area C, especially in Palestinian-populated areas, and facilitating access to the
All of this will require greater Palestinian operational coordination with Israel to supplement the political negotiations. To date, that coordination has been insufficient. Israel and the PA meet on an ad hoc basis or through third parties. Left to their own devices, Israel and the PA will not likely establish the necessary coordination mechanisms. Thus, the international community needs to make the issues pertaining to Area C and security cooperation part of ongoing high-level negotiations or establish a systematic and ongoing trilateral mechanism to bring together the Palestinian prime minister and the Israeli defense minister, given that the Israeli military still exercises jurisdiction over the occupied territories.
Although the international community has played an important role in providing financial support to the PA, it has not always put its mouth where its money is. The United States, as the overseer of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, has tended to focus its high-level attention on negotiations, while leaving subordinates to do the important work on the ground to support Palestinian state building. Focusing more political attention on the ground-up approach would help strengthen Fayyad's position among Palestinians, encourage Israel to invest more political capital in the state-building effort, and ultimately increase the chances that final-status negotiations will succeed.
Fayyadism alone will not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only an agreement accepted by the Israelis and the Palestinians can do that. But Fayyadism is helping support that effort and preparing the groundwork for peace and Palestinian statehood in a way that negotiations alone or armed struggle never could.
Foreign Affairs, January/February 2011
ROBERT M. DANIN is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He headed the Jerusalem mission of Quartet Representative Tony Blair from April 2008 to June 2010 and served as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2005 to 2008 and Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council from 2003 to 2005
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