by Nathan Brown
Since June 2007 -- and the split of the Palestinian Authority in two halves, one running Gaza and one running the West Bank - U.S. policy has banked heavily on an attempt to back the West Bank half, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. When the Obama administration took office in January 2009, it doubled down on the
There is no doubt that Fayyad as an individual has some real virtues: a measure of personal integrity, an ability to convey an attitude that politics is about public service rather than personal aggrandizement, and a shift from revolutionary rhetoric to practical action. But is Fayyadism building a Palestinian state?
There are those who admire and participate in Fayyad's efforts to be sure. And there is much to admire in Fayyad. But even those participating in his project would be the first to admit -- along with Fayyad himself -- that the effort cannot be sustained unless it is supported by a diplomatic process that also points to Palestinian statehood. And nobody believes there is such a viable process right now. The only question that most serious observers debate is whether hope for a two state solution is dead, dying, or merely in hibernation.
But there are three other problems with pinning our hopes on Fayyadism as the basis of a two-state solution.
First, it is simply not true that his cabinet is building institutions on the
The fact is that the institutions Fayyad's cabinet is operating were built in previous periods. There was actually far more building of institutions under Yasser Arafat than there has been under Fayyad. It is true that many institutions were built in spite of Arafat and that Fayyad's behavior suggests a greater respect for rules and institutions. But that is consolation only for those who mistake personalities for politics. For all his admirable qualities, what Fayyad has managed to do is to maintain many of the institutions built earlier and make a few of them more efficient.
The second problem is that these efforts take place in an authoritarian context that robs it of domestic legitimacy. Palestinian democracy has died, and Fayyad could not operate the way he does (and would probably not be prime minister at all) if it were still alive. The president's term has expired, the parliament's term is also expired, no new elections are in sight, elected local officials have been selectively dismissed, and local elections have been cancelled. Opposition supporters have been ousted from the civil service and municipal government and their organizations have been shuttered. Activists are detained without charges; court orders have been ignored; and the broader citizenry is increasingly administered according to laws that are drafted by bureaucrats out of public view. This is not the "rule of law" if the phrase is to have any meaning.
Fayyad's measures look like stop gap damage control rather than "state building" when they are contrasted with what came before. The greatest strides in reviewing, modifying, modernizing, and unifying
The third problem with relying on Fayyadism is that political paralysis and authoritarianism is infecting other Palestinian institutions, even those outside of the governmental structure. Structures that were launched or knit together over the past two decades (professional associations, NGOs, political parties) are hardly being built or improved; they are decaying. Some are being actively squeezed and even suppressed, such as Islamist NGOs in the West Bank or non-Islamist ones in
But it is not only civil society that is feeling the pinch.
But Fatah is undoubtedly in the greatest disarray. The much-celebrated (and long delayed) party congress held last summer did little to revive the organization or calm its bitter internal rivalries. It is not clear if Fatah really remains a political party in any meaningful sense; instead it consists of an aging old guard monopolizing top positions, a middle generation that stands in the wings (and is no more unified than the old guard), and a host of local branches whose links to the center are tenuous. The recent debacle of local elections -- in which Fatah leaders forced Fayyad's cabinet to cancel them just as candidate registration was closing because of the movement's inability to assemble electoral lists -- shows the extent of the disarray. Fatah could have waltzed to an overwhelming victory with Hamas boycotting and a host of smaller parties and independents either cooperating with Fatah or putting forward meager challenges. One of the most knowledgeable observers of Palestinian elections told me: "Now we know that Fatah is incapable running against itself, let alone against Hamas."
Fayyad is not building a state, he's holding down the fort until the next crisis. And when that crisis comes, Fayyad's cabinet has no democratic legitimacy or even an organized constituency to fall back on. What he does have -- contrary to those who laud him for not relying on outsiders -- is an irreplaceable reservoir of international respectability. The message of "Fayyadism" is clear, and it is personal: if Salam Fayyad is prime minister, wealthy international donors will keep the PA solvent, pay salaries to its employees, fund its infrastructural development, and even put gentle pressure on
Fayyad may be a good person, but finding a good person is not a policy. If he is making mild administrative and fiscal improvements in some areas, this cannot obscure the deeper problem that most Palestinian political institutions are actually in deep trouble and the most important ones are in a state of advanced decay.
Nathan Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at
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