Saturday, June 27, 2009

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's Response: A Narrative He Dares Not Speak

By Barry Rubin

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s big policy speech received global attention. Not so that of his Palestinian counterpart, Salam Fayyad. Fayyad’s June 22 presentation deserves careful analysis.

Fayyad is prime minister for one reason only: to please Western governments and financial donors. Lacking political skill, ideological influence, or strong support base, Fayyad does keep the money flowing since he’s relatively honest, moderate, and professional on economic issues.

But his own people don’t listen to him. Most PA politicians want him out. International pressure keeps him in.

So here’s the Fayyad paradox. If he really represented Palestinian stances and thinking, there’d be some hope for peace. Since he’s so out of tune with colleagues, though, Fayyad sounds sharply different from them. And even he’s highly restricted by what’s permissible in PA politics, limits which ensure the PA’s failure, absence of peace, and non-existence of a Palestinian state.

His first problem is that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and seeks the PA’s overthrow in the West Bank. Most Fatah and PA leaders prefer peace with Hamas rather than Israel. Make no mistake: this is a mutually exclusive choice. If Hamas formed a coalition with the PA the resulting government would be far too radical to negotiate a solution, not to mention being en route to becoming dominated by Tehran-allied radical Islamism.

Moreover, to keep the door open for such conciliation, the PA can’t come closer to making a deal with Israel, since Hamas would reject anything like that.

But there’s more. In veiled—an appropriate word here--language, Fayyad says Palestinians must avoid “politicizing” the Gaza issue so that  sanctions  against the Hamas regime there cannot continue and there will be international pressure on Israel to deal with Hamas politically.

By not opposing the suicide bombers, Fayyad follows suicidal policies. By fighting any isolation or sanctions on Hamas, the PA ensures that Hamas tightens its hold on the Gaza Strip and so doesn’t need to accept PA leadership. By supporting Hamas’s ability to attack Israel without costs, the PA ensures its Islamist rival can appear to be the more effective fighter against Israel, thus undermining the appeal of PA leadership or of any peaceful solution.

Second, while not directly endorsing terrorism and violence--in contrast to most of his colleagues and the PA’s own institutions—Fayyad argues that Israel holding any Palestinian prisoners in jail is “a violation of international law.” In other words, if a Palestinian attacks or murders Israelis, Israel has no right to imprison him. What option does it have? Only to set them free to try again. Here, too, he supports and glorifies cost-free terrorism.

Indeed, only a few days before, some of his top officials sat in the audience of a show in which the ruling Fatah party bragged that it was the proper Palestinian leader because it was more effective at anti-Israel terorrism than Hamas.

Third, Fayyad argues that it’s not the PA’s job to convince Israel by its behavior or to negotiate bilaterally on the basis of mutual concessions and compromises. Instead, as other PA leaders have openly stated recently, the PA’s strategy is to get the world to pressure Israel to give it everything it wants.

While presenting his speech partly as a response to Netanyahu, Fayyad confronts none of the Israeli leader’s points, merely dismissing his position as "vague," which it certainly wasn’t. (Ironically, in contrast to most Western observers, Fayyad acknowledges that Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution six years ago).

But it’s Fayyad who is vague—Netanyahu gives a list of specific Israeli conditions; Fayyad does nothing of the kind. In fact, he does something peculiar. According to him, Netanyahu is presenting an “Israeli narrative” about the conflict, while Palestinians say they have their own “narrative,” but Fayyad says he won’t talk about it!

Why is he so vague about giving his own case? Because he cannot do so.

The Israeli narrative as laid out by Netanyahu is clear: Jews want and merit a state; the conflict is due to an Arab refusal to accept that state’s existence. This Israeli narrative does not prevent a two- state solution, with one state for each people.

The Palestinian narrative, to this day, is that Jews have no such right to a state and that all the land is rightly Palestinian, Arab, and (for most) Muslim. This Palestinian narrative does prevent a two-state solution, and its continuity--even reinforcement by Hamas most of all but also by the PA--is the cause for the peace process's failure and the certainty that it will continue to fail.

That is what Fayyad cannot admit. Indeed, the main Palestinian strategy debate is merely about the most effective way of wiping Israel off the map.

He does claim that Palestinians’ “main aspiration” is to have their own homeland, which he promises will live in peace, cooperation, and respect with its neighbor. But he cannot say it would resettle all Palestinian refugees within its borders, won’t bring in foreign troops, will end the conflict permanently, or will provide Israel with security guarantees. It will certainly never recognize Israel as a Jewish state even while the PA's own constitution defines Palestine as an Arab and Muslim state.

Fayyad might prefer such an outcome, but that’s not the Palestinian position and he knows it.

Fayyad says the PA has done a good job and that “the citizens sense this progress.” Why, then, is the PA afraid to hold elections, even in the West Bank? It is no secret that the PA isn’t popular and fears Hamas’s appeal. He speaks of building a strong economy, dealing with poverty, developing social services yet gives no sense of how this might be done. Even given massive international subsidies, the PA’s management remains poor, riddled with corruption and incompetence. Fayyad can do nothing to reform it since the political elite isn’t with him and he has no power over the warlords and their gunmen who are often the real powers in the West Bank.

Finally, he predicts a Palestinian state within two years. Yet he has no way to make this happen except to prove that the real reason the peace process hasn’t succeeded is the misconception “that it is always possible to exert pressure on the weaker side in the conflict as if there is no limit to the concessions that it could offer.” In other words, the reason why peace has not been achieved is because the PA had to make all the concessions.

The truth, of course, is the exact opposite. Israel withdrew from most of the territory, allowed 200,000 Palestinians to come in, backed the formation of the Palestinian Authority as the power ruling the territories, cooperated in the establishment of security forces, agreed to billions of dollars in international subsidies for the PA, and so on.

And what concession did the Palestinians make? They said to international audiences—though not in their own media, mosques, schools, or internal statements—that they accepted Israel’s existence and sometimes—but far from always--when it suited them, stopped some terrorist attacks. That's it.

Yet, even aside from the fact that the one-sided process favored the Palestinians, doesn’t Fayyad see the irony in his words? He advocates precisely the same approach he claims has caused the peace process to fail.  He views Israel as the weaker side—in relation to the West—and yet thinks those other countries will force it to make concessions without limit.

By feeding the PA’s false belief that the West will pressure Israel into giving them a state in the borders they want, without concessions, restrictions, or even PA implementation of past promises, the U.S. and European governments are doing a very effective job in sabotaging any possibility for peace.

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