Friday, July 2, 2010

Salam Fayyad, and why he is in fact NOT building a state

Salam Fayyad inspects a factory for marble and stone.

Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University, wrote a sobering piece on the Middle East Channel of Foreign Policy for all those who had pinned their hopes on 'Fayyadism', the endeavours of Salam Fayyad, the PA's prime minister in what often is called the 'building of a Palestinian state'. As I said, it's sobering. Particularly recommended to Thomas Friedman, columnist of the New York Times who recently sprayed Fayyad with praise in a piece called  'The real Palestinian revolution'.   
I give some excerpts of Brown's piece. For the complete article - click here

His unassuming style, honest and capable administration, and sometimes soothing words have led to a host of international paeans to "Fayyadism." Salam Fayyad is held to be quietly building a Palestinian state rather than waiting for international actors to deliver one.
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?
And in a recent trip to the West Bank, I could not find a Palestinian who thinks he is. I report more fully on my findings in a commentary for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that was released today.

  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 West Bank. Instead, it is improving the functioning of some existing institutions in some areas -- and failing in others. I have been trying to follow the institutional development of the Palestinian Authority since it was founded; on my trip to the West Bank to update my research, I found that for every one step forward taken under difficult circumstances, politics in the West Bank has taken two steps taken back
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.

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 Gaza. A recent report of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights found "stark violations" of the law by both halves of the PA and observed more dryly that "it is possible to conclude that despite the presence of a modern legal framework governing the registration and operation of associations, the current political and security considerations prevail over the system of rights and public freedoms."

But it is not only civil society that is feeling the pinch. Palestine's political parties are also in a state of crisis. Hamas is certainly in the healthiest state, but only in Gaza (in the West Bank the organization is still in hibernation, with only a few leading members active in public view). And even in Gaza, where its dominance is so well established, the movement is still sorting out the effects of being melded with a governing political structure it had long held in disdain. The smaller factions (such as the PFLP and the People's Party) remain small, and the newer initiatives (most notably the Palestinian National Initiative) are not gaining much traction.
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 Israel to ease up its tight restrictions on movement and access. 
Nathan Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, a fellow at the Woodrow Willson International Center for Scholars, and a 2009 Carnegie Scholar for the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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