25 Sep 2009

Can Fayyad Make A Difference?

By Antony Loewenstein
'Moderate' Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad may be popular with western leaders, but under his watch the gulf between rhetoric and reality is growing, writes Antony Loewenstein
The Western-backed Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, was interviewed earlier this month on ABC Radio National's Saturday Extra. Host Geraldine Doogue opened her conversation with him with the following words:

"I'd like to introduce you now to a man you may not have heard too much about in Australia, but he is really coming into his political prime, and earning himself considerable international respect, because his basic day job is super-tough...[He's] neither from the Fattah or Hamas parties, and he comes to this post via an unusual route, with an unusual suite of skills. He has a doctorate in economics from the University of Texas; he's worked for the World Bank and as a private banker; and some argue that even the Israelis are enchanted by him, and he certainly seems to be presiding over some much-wanted economic successes."

Such effusive praise is typical of the Western media's response to Fayyad. Newsweek recently profiled Fayyad but included a telling caveat: "Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's unorthodox approach is winning plaudits from the West. That could be his undoing".

The fact that some people see Fayyad as a source of hope for the Middle East is itself a reflection of how jammed the situation really is. This week's brief meeting in New York between Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas will only confirm to sceptical Palestinians that "engagement" with Israel leads to never-ending meetings and photo opportunities. Hamas makes this exact point and they're right. Israel refuses to cease settlement building and Washington is apparently unwilling to enforce Obama's desire for a "settlement freeze". No movement on Middle East peace talks actually means an ever-expanding occupation. The Palestinians lose every time.

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has even issued a challenge to Israel to conduct a referendum on the occupation on the grounds that while "most of [the Israeli public] says it supports the two-state solution ... at the same time it votes for right-wing, centrist or pseudo-leftist parties that have no intention whatsoever of ending the occupation."

Indeed, the vast gulf between rhetoric and reality has never been greater. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to announce the expansion of illegal colonies in the West Bank, the international community appears impotent to stop it. A European diplomat, quoted in JTA in early September, said: "It's difficult to understand what the Israelis want when they announce that kind of thing. But it shouldn't derail the process".

Into the midst of this deadlock, Fayyad has recently announced that he will declare a Palestinian state in 2011 regardless of political progress with Israel. Reflecting this, Palestinian and European Union sources told Haaretz last week that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will resume shortly, "on the basis of an understanding that the establishment of a Palestinian state will be officially announced in two years ... talks will initially focus on determining the permanent border between Israel and the West Bank".

Fayyad has widely discussed building Palestinian institutions to convince the world that his population is ready for statehood. But there is absolutely no evidence that Israel will accept such a unilateral move. Furthermore, ongoing settlement building makes any viable state close to impossible.

But perhaps these practical obstacles are not so important, as Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab argues. "By offering a plan for a de facto Palestinian state, irrespective of the success or failure of any possible peace process, Fayyad has laid the groundwork. Some see his plan as little more than naive optimism and predict it will go the way of so many others. Others see in it a practical blueprint that will lay the administrative foundation for statehood.

"Regardless, for Palestinian political unilateralism to stand any chance of success, the ideological and physical division between Islamists and nationalists and the Gaza Strip and the West Bank must first be bridged. Without unity, there will be little incentive for Israel or the international community to view Palestinian political unilateralism as a serious measure."

But according to Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah, writing recently in the Jordan Times, Fayyad's "vision" is an illusion which appeals only to those desperate to please the occupying power:

"What is really taking shape in the West Bank today is a police state, where all sources of opposition or resistance — real or suspected — to either the PA regime, or the Israeli occupation are being systematically repressed by US-funded and trained Palestinian 'security forces' in full coordination with Israel. Gaza remains under tight siege because of its refusal to submit to this regime...

"Many in the region and beyond hoped the Obama Administration would be a real honest broker, at last bringing American pressure to bear on Israel, so that Palestinians might be liberated. But instead, the new administration is acting as an efficient laundry service for Israeli ideas; first they become American ones, and then a Palestinian puppet is brought in to wear them."

During my July visit to the West Bank and Gaza, I heard countless allegations of US-trained Fatah soldiers abusing and torturing opponents, including Hamas members. Washington — and Canberra — ignore these stories.

Although there is evidence to suggest that some Palestinians are supportive of the PA's strategy — anything to make life under occupation more bearable — facts on the ground are moving in the opposite direction. These facts present some questions that Fayyad won't be able to ignore. For example, even if his plan gets much further, how can an effective democracy be built under occupation? Why would the Israelis trust the Palestinians to exercise control over their lives? How keen are the Western-funded Palestinian elites to please their masters and whitewash the occupation? How meaningful is Fayyad's talk of ending the occupation when he cannot even ensure the free the day-to-day movement of his own people?

Another interesting factor in the mix is the growing rumour that Fayyad is positioning himself to challenge Abbas in forthcoming elections — although he lacks a political base. He would probably garner Western support for such a move, but whether the Palestinians would reward a man who has made no progress in dismantling the occupation is questionable.

In support of the PA's strategy under Abbas and Fayyad, some observers point to the fact that the Palestinian West Bank economy is growing, and there have been definite improvements to the lives of Palestinians on the West Bank. During my recent visit I noted fewer Israeli checkpoints and increased freedom of movement for Palestinians.

All of that might suggest to observers that the current PA strategy is correct. But while nobody should begrudge the improvement of Palestinian lives, without justice and viability, the leadership's acceptance of the scraps of Israeli "generosity" will only lead to further strife. The plan is doomed to fail, as long as Palestinians remain one of the most aid-dependent people on the planet.

Gideon Levy told In These Times this month that the, "[Israeli] public has grown indifferent to the suffering of Palestinians under occupation" and the vast majority has no interest in knowing about IDF abuses in the occupied territories.

Wishing these difficulties away will not suffice — and nor will hoping the Palestinians simply accept whatever Bantustan they are given by the international community.

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This user is a New Matilda supporter. dazza
Posted Sunday, September 27, 2009 - 10:24

This whole 'Government' is illegitimate anyway. Hamas was elected by the Palestinian people to govern them, and this mob was inserted by the israelis and the Yanks, because they do not recognise the legitimate result of the elections so hard pushed by those same opressors and occupiers.

Even Abbas is illegitimate. His term expired in, I think, January this year. He also was 'inserted' in the first place by the israelis and the Yanks, as someone they could control between them.

Everything about this whole scene is totally illegitimate. The 'state' of israel does not really legitimately exist.

The whole mess seems to be in the mind of Zionists and the US Administration, held in place at their will, and with great gushes of American money. Also lots of PR Spin, and utterly self-interested Zionist Lobbying.

One just wishes that the 'props' could be knocked away, and the whole artificial monstrosity collapses, as it should.

One State, comprised of all peoples who can live together in peace, should remain, and it should be called Palestine!

(This comment has been edited.)

jewboy
Posted Sunday, September 27, 2009 - 17:11

it's good to see that NM is effectively moderating comments! shame on you for printing dazza's mindless inflamatory hatred!

This user is a New Matilda supporter. dazza
Posted Sunday, September 27, 2009 - 18:30

(This comment has been deleted.)

jewboy
Posted Sunday, September 27, 2009 - 20:19

dazza - "The ‘state’ of israel does not really legitimately exist." as opposed to Australia??? That is just a foolish thing to say.

(This comment has been edited.)

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Monday, September 28, 2009 - 20:01

Sensible, balanced article by Antony Loewenstein.

International law that all law-abiding countries abide by says that Apartheid Israel must leave all of the Occupied Territories immediately as per umpteen UN Resolutions - and decent, anti-racist humanitarians say impose Sanctions and Boycotts on Apartheid Israel and its supporters until it does so.

If the Zionists still felt insecure in such finally legal circumstances (5.5 million Zionist settlers occupying nearly 80% of Palestine and 10.5 million Indigenous Palestinians - including 5 million Palestinian refugees outside the Holy Land - left with about 20% of their Homeland and with Apartheid Israel having 200 nuclear weapons and one of the biggest military forces in the World) then they should ask for more “security” from their US, UK, EU and Apartheid Australia supporters.

Decent anti-racist Australians should consider how WE would feel if WE were the Palestinians - simply multiply by 2 to get population parity i.e. 11 million Zionist settlers occupying 100% of Australia and 21 million Australians (including 10 million Australian refugees outside Australia, 3 million in an Israeli airforce-bombarded concentration camp, 5 million without any human rights in Bantustans, 3 million as second class Israeli citizens under Apartheid laws) left with about 20% of their Homeland once the Zionists accepted International Law and withdrew, with Apartheid Israel occupying 80% of Australia having 200 nuclear weapons and one of the biggest military forces in the World.

Any Australian complicit in such gross racist injustice would deserve the utter contempt of fellow Australians.

The fundamental message of the WW2 Holocaust (30 million Slavs, Jews and Gypsies killed by the Nazis) are "zero tolerance for racism", "never again to anyone", "zero tolerance for lying" and "bear witness" - sacred messages grossly violated by the racist Zionists ans their supporters.

For what decent, anti-racist, humanitarian Jews (including Antony Loewenstein) have to say about the evils of racist Zionism and Apartheid Israel see: http://sites.google.com/site/jewsagainstracistzionism/ .

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

jewboy
Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - 12:20

Dr Gideon Polya says that "Decent anti-racist Australians should consider how WE would feel if WE were the Palestinians"...instead, perhaps non-indigenous Australians should consider how THEY would feel if THEY were the INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS, brutally colonised by Anglo forefathers. Indeed, "Any Australian complicit in such gross racist injustice would deserve the utter contempt of fellow Australians."...but I suspect that strikes a little close to (the leafy, suburban) home for Dr Polya. I challenge him to explain the difference.

denise
Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - 12:44

It's not the size of the state that matters, but the quality of the institutions that run it.
Settlements are not the obstacle to forming a cohesive Palestinian state, because to remove all Jews from all Palestinian territories would be a form of apartheid in an even more insidious form than Zionism, which already has around 20% of non-Jewish citizens.
In answer to your question about Fayyed (whom incidently I heard interviewed by Geraldine Doogue), yes he can make a difference and I wish there were more Palestinians like him, with his consensual attitude and optimistic vision for the future.
My theory is that if the Palestinians run a decent society, with a broad education, open commerce, respect for the rule of law and outward looking policies, it would automatically align them with Israel.
This would mean joint operations between their respective defence forces, in peaceful cooperation, with a total ongoing committment to the maintaining of that peace by both states.

IBerlin
Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - 21:32

(This comment has been deleted as it was off topic.)

jewboy
Posted Thursday, October 1, 2009 - 19:20

(this comment has been deleted)