Nathan J. Brown: Salam Fayyad is "No Savior"


My only real disagreement with Nathan J. Brown’s article on Salam Fayyad being “No Savior”, published on the Foreign Policy website here, is that I would not blame Salam Fayyad for fostering this misimpression.

This was entirely the creation of Western donors.

Salam Fayyad didn’t really mind. He did absolutely nothing to discourage it.

Maybe, you could say, he tried to use this un-elected accolade to leverage maximum benefits for the Palestinian Authority.

Brown himself wrote in his concluding paragraph that “Fayyad cannot be held primarily responsible for this collective self-delusion; at most, he facilitated it. And in the process he provided all actors with a breathing space that is now disappearing. Ultimately, the ones who convinced themselves he was capable of completely transforming Palestine are most responsible for squandering the brief respite his premiership offered”.

But, as Brown argued earlier in his piece, “His optimistic smile obscured an impossible situation: Fayyad’s main achievement has not been to build the structures of a Palestinian state, but to stave off the collapse of those structures that did exist. An equally important achievement was his ability to persuade Western observers that he was doing much more. In the process, however, he raised expectations far beyond his ability to deliver”.

In a point-by-point list of what Fayyad Did Not Do, Brown says:
+ “The state-like political structures now in the West Bank and Gaza were either built during the heyday of the Oslo Process in the 1990s or in the more distant days of Jordanian and British rule.
+ Second, he did not bring Palestinians to the brink of statehood. The Palestinian Authority, for all its problems, was actually far more ready for statehood on the eve of the Second Intifada in 1999 than it is on the possible eve of the third in 2011. A dozen years ago, Palestine had full security control of its cities, a set of institutions that united the West Bank and Gaza, a flourishing civil society, and a set of legitimate structures for writing authoritative laws and implementing them. Those accomplishments were in retreat long before Fayyad took office, and he was hardly able to restore them. [I would say he didn’t even try — this was not what he focussed on at all…]
+ Third, Fayyad did not strengthen the rule of law. He could not have done so, since the only legitimate law-making body the Palestinians have, the Legislative Council, has not met since he came to power.
+ Fourth, Fayyad did not prove to Palestinians that they should rely on themselves. Just the opposite. He showed Palestinians that if they relied on him, foreigners would show them the money”
+ “Finally, he did not bring economic development to the West Bank. What he made possible was a real but unsustainable recovery based on aid and relaxation of travel restrictions. Year-to-year economic indicators in both the West Bank and Gaza are dependent on foreign assistance, and even more on the political and security situation”.

Then, Brown wrote a list of what he things Fayyad Did Do:
+ “…the prime minister assumed control of a Palestinian Authority that was unable to pay all of its salaries, deeply mistrusted by Israel, and treated as irrelevant by many Palestinians. His first and most impressive accomplishment was to gain the trust of Western governments. The unrealistic hopes placed in his premiership were partly a testimony to the esteem in which he was held in some international circles … No diplomatic statement from Western governments is complete without a kind word for his accomplishments. Fayyad was even able to earn a grudging Israeli trust through renewed security cooperation and efforts to rebuild the Palestinian security services. These accomplishments allowed him to pay government salaries, redeploy police, and attract enormous amounts of aid. And Fayyad was able to win some modest victories in Palestinian governance. The security services became less partisan, public finances became more transparent (even without any domestic oversight), corruption likely decreased, pockets of the civil service were rebuilt on a more professional basis, and basic order in Palestinian cities was improved”…

OK. Some people add the provision of electricity to most of the villages in the West Bank to the list of Fayyad’s accomplishments. But I would say he didn’t do that — he got USAID to do it in some cases. This usually involved the privatization of a Palestinian company to buy electricity at market prices from the Israeli grid (which is in place in the West Bank to provide electricity to Israeli settlements). In the past two years, the PA has also gotten part of the West Bank, particularly Jericho, connected to the Jordanian grid, and there was recently a rumor, or a newspaper report, that Jordan would soon begin to offer Palestinians a 50 percent discount (or subsidy) on electricity prices.

But, all-in-all, this is a genteel case of the Emperor’s New Clothes — as Brown put it, “collective self-delusion”.

For an exploration of the surprising recent Fatah Central Committee decision (announced on 11 June) to endorse Fayyad to continue as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister — despite their earlier endless complaining about Fayyad, and despite (or perhaps because of) the objections of Hamas, see the earlier post on our sister blog, here.

One explanation of the resistance of Hamas to having Fayyad continue as Prime Minister is this comment by one Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Radwan, who reportedly said that “Fayyad is not wanted because his name is linked to Palestinian division, the debt-ridden Palestinian economy and operations by the [Palestinian Authority] security services against the resistance”. This is reported by Ma’an News Agency here.

In an earlier comment, Ma’an reported separately that another Hamas leader, Salah al-Bardawil, said that “Hamas will not agree on Salam Fayyad as a prime minister, or even a minister in the upcoming unity government”.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Haaretz on May 13, published here, Fayyad said that: “Compared to where we were a mere few years ago, there’s been a dramatic change. A sense of real opportunity and optimism. We can do it [set up a state − A.I.]. But being prepared for a state is not the final destination. I’ll be able to say the real mission has been accomplished only when we live in dignity in our own state within the borders of 1967.”

Haaretz added: “There were pages that appeared on social networks this week saying that ‘the people want Salam Fayyad’. This followed reports that Fayyad, who has been in office since the summer of 2007 ‏(after Hamas’ revolution in Gaza‏), will have to retire as part of the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah and the setting up a Palestinian unity government. It is no secret Fayyad made quite a few enemies in both Fatah and Hamas, due to his success as premier [n.b. – no, that’s not the real reason…]. Senior Fatah and Hamas officials would like to see him out of the prime minister’s office. But Palestinian officials close to President Mahmoud Abbas say Abbas will insist Fayyad stay on. Senior Hamas officials like Izat Rishak and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said recently they do not rule Fayyad out as the unity government’s premier”.

The Haaretz profile of Fayyad noted that he refuses to take part in the predictions and preparations for the United Nations General Assembly in September. ‘I deal with my responsibility only − what happens from now to September’, he says. ‘Talking about September creates a sort of fixation in which people stop talking about what’s happening now − about our need to provide our people with the services they need’, he says. ‘We presented our plan in August 2009 to enable setting up a state in September 2011. But already on April 13, at the donor states’ meeting in Brussels, the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund stated that we crossed the statehood line. Our vision had become a reality’, he says.

In the interview, Fayyad talked about the process of working to implement Palestinian statehood as being a “miraculous experience”, saying: “I haven’t undertaken this business of building a country according to this or that template. This isn’t an ordinary task or a routine goal that you could just work according to a certain model. But there is a similarity to the Israeli story. I often say that if it worked for the Israelis, it can work for us … There’s something very personal about this business of building a country. It’s the nature of the task. It’s not building up a company or a department. By definition, it is a very personal experience. You go to sleep with it. You must be completely dedicated, passionate, nonstop. I need to wake up every morning and think – what is it that needs to be done in order to get us closer to that home. But that’s where the personal part ends. My main aspiration is to celebrate the founding of our country with our people. Whether I will have an official position or not, that doesn’t matter. If we get that ‘birth certificate’ and feel the freedom of our own country, it won’t matter to me if I’ll have an official position or not … [But] If you want to convey a vision to people, you need to have that vision in you first. And I live it. I visualize that moment, in actual pictures and become very emotional. The day we are granted independence is going to be one of great celebration … I was recently asked by representatives from the donor states where we were on the route to statehood. I said that, like in a race horse, we are entering the final stretch. The stretch of freedom … I imagine myself celebrating our Independence Day in Jerusalem, in the east of the city, in the heart of the Old City … I think of only one possibility. I can’t afford to think of other scenarios. This car has but one set speed and it’s moving forward. I don’t let myself think of other scenarios”.

Asked if he thought the creation of a new unity government could hurt his efforts, Fayyad told Haaretz: “The most important for the next government is to remain on the path that we have started. It doesn’t matter who is chosen for the position, I will offer him my help.”

And, asked about the criticism he has received from both Hamas and Fatah, Fayyad said: “From the first moment I entered office I have avoided trading blame. I read and listen. I am aware of the criticism, some of which is vicious. But to start dealing with who said what to whom is unnecessary. It diverts me from my mission. I know that what needed to be fixed and done was fixed and done. I did the best that I could, as far as I’m concerned. I can tell you that ever since I took this mission upon myself, I may not be sleeping enough, but I have no trouble falling asleep.”

Fayyad said he might, conceivably, continue as Prime Minister, but “If I’m asked to stay on, I’ll accept only if there’s a consensus. I am not presenting my candidacy. I’ve done this job for four years − not easy years at all. I’m glad I had the extraordinary opportunity to work with such dear, special people. I received a lot of strength and inspiration from meeting people in remote places, in villages, in caves. I’ve had a part in this miraculous experience of setting up a state”.

UPDATE: ON 21 June, Fayyad told journalists in Ramallah that “he will resist pressure to resign and aims to continue in office while the rival Hamas and Fatah factions try to form a joint government. Fayyad, speaking to reporters today in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said he wants to at least complete his two-year plan to build the institutions for Palestinian statehood that are supposed to be ready in August. ‘There’s an action plan that needs to be implemented’, Fayyad said. At the same time, he said that he doesn’t want to be an ‘obstacle to unity’Hamas, the Islamic movement that controls the Gaza Strip, completed an agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas May 4 to form a unity government with Fatah, seeking to heal a four-year rift. The two sides agreed to set up a transitional Cabinet of so-called technocrats with no political affiliation and hold elections within a year. A meeting to announce the new Cabinet that was scheduled for today in Cairo was scrubbed. Abbas said in an interview with Lebanese television yesterday that he supports keeping Fayyad as prime minister, according to the Palestinian Authority’s official Wafa news agency. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in an e-mailed statement to reporters today that Abbas’s insistence on Fayyad as premier is a breach of the May 4 agreement”. This article, by Bloomberg reporter Jonathan Ferziger, is published “”>here.

FURTHER UPDATE: Probably after getting a report from the same meeting with journalists referred to in the Bloomberg report, above, Ma’an is reporting on 22 June here that Fayyad said Tuesday evening that he “can’t and won’t be an obstacle to Palestinian reconciliation”. The Ma’an report, taking into account its own earlier reports, noted {in somewhat unclear English} that “Following speculation that he would publicly refuse the post of prime minister in the new transitional unity government being negotiated by Hamas and Fatah, his words fell short of the declaration, saying: ‘I shall support to the best of my abilities any candidate Palestinian parties agree upon’. Ma’an also said, in its report: “Speaking at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, he said that ‘Palestinian people are rich with abilities and capabilities’, and said he felt sure that a capable candidate would be selected. ‘I am flattered by President Abbas and the PLO Executive Committee’s position regarding my nomination for the prime ministerial post. It doesn’t only make me happy as a person, it is also a certificate that our policy is appreciated’, he told reporters. He said he was sure a unity government would be achieved, saying that Palestinian statehood depended on it, adding that ‘Going to the UN in September remains only a theory if we do not achieve unity’. Fayyad weighed in on the latest Hamas-Fatah dispute, stating his position that Abbas did have the power and authority to appoint the prime minister for the new government, a position Hamas has called a failure to meet the terms of the unity deal, which called for the formation of a cabinet of independents and technocrats. ‘However, I understand this is no ordinary situation’, he added”…

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