The Fayyad Difference

by Alon Ben-Meir Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. Email: ; Web: www.alonben-meir.com 20.07.2010

The following article represents the first in a series of articles and position papers that I will be sending out following my recent travels in the Middle East. I welcome and appreciate all comments and thoughts on my work.

When the Palestinian Authority's Prime Minster Salam Fayyad first introduced his plans to build the infrastructure for a future Palestinian state, many Israelis and Palestinians thought of it as nothing more than another Middle Eastern mirage that will leave no lasting impression. A little more than a year later, the plan is showing not only tremendous promise, but has become indispensable to the emergence of a democratic Palestinian state--one living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. Israel, the United States and the European community in particular must do everything in their power to support Fayyad's plan and insure that the difference he has already made becomes irreversible and leads to the only viable option to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict-the two-state solution.

Having just returned from a visit to the West Bank where I met with Prime Minister Fayyad, I was struck by the remarkable socioeconomic progress in many parts of the West Bank, especially in Ramallah. Even more impressive was Dr. Fayyad's determination to continue in his path with total conviction that the prospect of establishing a Palestinian state rests in the Palestinians' hands, provided they focus on building the tenets of statehood which, from his perspective, rest on four pillars.

First, he stressed that militant resistance and violence have run their course. Committing acts of violence against the Israelis simply plays into their hands, offering justification for continued occupation and enabling Israel to link national security with occupation. The Palestinians must disabuse the Israeli public of this notion. The only way this can be done is by insisting on a non-violent approach to resolving differences with Israel, especially now that the international community supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. For this reason, the preparation for statehood will be peaceful, and as Dr. Fayyad proposes, "the state of Palestine will be a peace-loving state that rejects violence, commits to co-existence with its neighbors, and builds bridges of cooperation with the international community." Although the Palestinians, especially Hamas, he cautioned, are still not united in this regard, it is up to the Palestinian Authority to demonstrate that a non-violent policy provides significant gains for a public that develops vested interests and demands to maintain it. He strongly suggested that if Israel is seeking peaceful coexistence, it must support his efforts not only by further easing the burden of occupation but also by investing in the Palestinian enterprise, from which both sides can greatly benefit economically and develop mutual trust-critical for good neighborly relations.

The second point that Dr. Fayyad emphasized was the importance of building the infrastructure of the state, including industrial zones, electricity networks, roads, crossing points, and other critical services such as schools and hospitals. He noted that no state can be established if it lacks the basic infrastructure or the bureaucracy that can respond to public needs. Interestingly, he chose Israel as an exemplary model, not only of developing the infrastructure prior to statehood, but also for its political system and the need for unity to maintain national identity. Israel, he said, was not created in 1948; this was only the official declaration. The foundation of the state, for all intents and purposes, was established several decades before. For example, the Histadrut, Israel's trade union, was created in the beginning of the British mandate in 1920, and was responsible for all social services for workers, including healthcare, education, banking and housing, forming the building-blocks of the state and remaining influential to this day. Another critical institution during this time was the Jewish Agency, which was recognized by the British mandate as the governing organization that oversaw political, economic, and cultural relations. After Israel's declaration of statehood, the Jewish Agency remained the primary organization for facilitating immigration to Israel. For Dr. Fayyad, providing such infrastructure offers not only a sense of belonging but also a strong sense of accomplishment that makes the goal of political independence look increasingly realistic. In the end, he observed, only visible and sustainable progress changes the negative political narrative of the past, which made virtues of hatred and misery in the name of defiance of occupation.

The third pillar in Fayyad's plan is a vibrant and dynamic political system. "Palestine," he said, "will be a stable democratic state with a multi-party political system founded on political pluralism, guarantee of equality, and protection of all its citizens' rights and freedoms as safeguarded by the law and within its limits." The Palestinians, he continued, will not settle for anything less. They have lived alongside the Israelis for more than six decades, and regardless of the long and often bloody conflict, the Palestinian people witnessed firsthand the working of democracy in Israel, appreciating its values and the advantages it offers. "The formation of a democratically-elected leadership that enjoys popular and factional support, as well as regional and international recognition, is an essential step towards realizing the supreme national goal of establishing the State of Palestine." In this regard, Dr. Fayyad is ruling no one and no faction out because, from his perspective, only a true democracy in which every Palestinian has the right to participate will provide Palestinians with a political system that can sustain their independence as well as their socioeconomic progress.

Finally, Fayyad's fourth pillar is the creation of a single, independent state for all Palestinians. Whereas the people may differ in their political or ideological views, they must remain united in their aspiration to maintain national unity. "The Government bears considerable responsibility for facilitating the national dialogue aimed at ending the state of political fragmentation and restoring national unity," Fayyad says, referring to Hamas and other Palestinians factions that still reject Israel's existence. But he feels sanguine about the prospect of Palestinian unity as long as the principle of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with some limited land swap, is maintained and the Palestinians enjoy the freedoms accorded to the citizens of other developed nations. Fayyad believes that under these conditions all Palestinians will eventually support the emerging Palestinian state, living side-by-side Israel in peace.

The picture, of course, is not completely rosy. Dr. Fayyad faces a number of serious obstacles that he must overcome, and to do so he needs both internal and external help. Other than being rejected by Hamas and other extremist groups, he still experiences major difficulties from within the Fatah organization. He is generally viewed as an outsider and even detached from the day-to-day reality of the Palestinian people. His plans need far more public exposure, especially outside the Palestinian territories, and his state building effort must be bolstered by tangible progress in the political process. The United States, in particular, should do everything possible to enable him to show increasingly more progress on these fronts in order to strengthen his public support. Israel must also make far greater and more visible concessions to ease the bondage of occupation, particularly because of the demonstrable and consistent ability of the Palestinians' internal security to keep the peace by preventing acts of violence against Israeli targets.

One can only imagine what a difference the Fayyad plan would have made had it been introduced immediately after the Oslo accords, which were signed in 1993. A Palestinian state may have been already created, thousands of lives on both sides may have been spared, and the entire Middle East may have flourished beyond present recognition. The question is: will the rejectionists among both Israelis and Palestinians grasp the historic significance of what Dr. Fayyad has advanced, which represents the only sane exit from an otherwise terrifying race toward the abyss? The Fayyad plan offers a noble and exquisite option.

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