Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Fayyad and the problem of Palestinian leadership

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Update from AIJAC

May 9, 2013
Number 05/13 #02

Today's Update deals with the aftermath of a candid interview recently "allegedly" given to the New York Times by Salam Fayyad - the Palestinian Authority PM who resigned last month but is still in office in an interim role - and especially what it says about the problematic state and policies of the Palestinian leadership. The nature of this problem is partly highlighted by the word "allegedly" in the previous sentence, because Fayyad is now denying having given the interview at all, calling the whole story a " forgery that carries political dimensions with the goal of causing damage and fomenting strife."

The Update leads with the "alleged" interview with Fayyad by Roger Cohen - a New York Times columnist with a long history of strong - indeed near-obsessive - criticism of the Israeli goverment. The piece is replete with Cohen's assertions about Israeli "intransigence"  but it also contains Fayyad's diagnosis of the failed leadership of the Palestinians, of the adherence to empty slogans, of the impossibility of moving forward given the the Hamas-Fatah split, and of the imminent "breakdown" of the Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. It's a piece with much realism and sense about the state of the Palestinian side - which, if you look at what Fayyad himself says, disproves Cohen's anti-Israel spin, because if what Fayyad says about the Palestinian leadership is true, it was unrealistic to expect Israel to have somehow found a way to make peace. For the full piece, important for Fayyad's alleged statements, CLICK HERE. More on the implications of the fact that Fayyad so vehemently disavowed the Cohen article comes from Israeli columnist Evelyn Gordon.

The real implication of what Fayyad has to say - as well as the broader context - are teased out in much more detail by the always insightful Prof. Barry Rubin. Rubin actually begins with another recent revelation - British documents from 1948 which explain the circumstances that led to the flight of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 War. Rubin notes that, as Fayyad hints, both in 1948 and now, Israel seems more eager for a Palestinian state to be born than the Palestinian leaders do. He also highlights the reaction to a recent terror attack by Fatah officials as demonstrating how far from believing in coexistence even this so-called "moderate" Palestinian party remains. For this excellent look at the real barriers to peace, CLICK HERE. Rubin also had a piece recently arguing that, despite the lack of final peace prospects with the Palestinians, Israel's situation is looking quite reasonable overall at the moment.

Finally, offering some hope for the future that Fayyad types may yet prevail is American columnist and thinktanker Cliff May, who also met Fayyad in Ramallah. May highlights the rise of the new modern, planned Palestinian city of Rawabi, just north of Ramallah, which he argues represents the side of Palestinian society which needs stability and peace. He also argues that Fayyad would be a genuine interlocutor for real peace if he had the power to deliver, but that the rise of Islamism across the Middle East means that the development of a moderate leadership genuinely able to make peace looks very unrealistic for the immediate future. For his discussion in full, CLICK HERE.

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Fayyad Steps Down, Not Out


By ROGER COHEN

New York Times, May 3

Ramallah, West Bank

THE streets of the Palestinian capital in the West Bank are quiet on a Saturday, but Salam Fayyad, who quit as prime minister three weeks ago, is still in his office, dapper as ever in suit and tie — unable to carry on and yet, it seems, not permitted to go. His limbo is a reflection of Palestinian paralysis and disarray.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president with whom Fayyad feuded, knows that he needs his outgoing prime minister’s rigorous competence. He needs Fayyad’s standing with the United States and Europe, major sources of funding for the beleaguered Palestinian Authority. He needs Fayyad’s grip on security.

Yet the Fatah old guard with their sweet deals wants Fayyad gone; Hamas hates him as a supposed American stooge, and Abbas has tired of this U.S.-educated “turbulent priest.” So the president hesitates. He mumbles about a “unity government” with Hamas. He does little. And Fayyad is at his desk when he might be eating sweet pastries with his family.

“Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on,” Fayyad tells me. “It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”

Fayyad first handed in his resignation on Feb. 23. Abbas demurred. President Obama, citing Fayyad’s high reputation with the U.S. Congress and in the region, asked him to stay during a “businesslike” one-on-one meeting (their first) in March. Secretary of State John Kerry followed up with three or four phone calls. To no avail: Fayyad, after almost six years in the job, had had enough of the dance that leads nowhere, the “peace process” that is a mockery of those unhappily twinned words. On April 13 he resigned.

His was a revolution: Of acts over narrative, of state-building over slogans, of pragmatism over posturing. His core thought was simple: “If you look like a state and act like a state nobody in the end is going to deny you that state.” Such was the institutional transformation that the World Bank declared Palestine ready for statehood. As Fayyad says, “We took the exam and passed.”

But the acting prime minister hit a wall. It had two elements: Palestinian division and Israeli intransigence. Which undercut him more? They were both devastating. Of course, they also fed on each other. American dithering did not help.

Fatah, the major political movement in the West Bank, is a revolutionary party that has exhausted itself; ossified and murky, lacking a popular mandate or a strategy to deliver statehood, headed by a 78-year-old man, Abbas, who did not have the courage to embrace the political program of an outsider, Fayyad, even though that program delivered growth, accountability and security.

Abbas, Moscow-educated, and Fayyad, Texas-educated, never overcame the cultural gulf those educations bequeathed. The can-do approach did not figure in the Soviet curriculum. Abbas declined to leverage Fayyad’s achievements. He refused to use Fayyad’s probity and work ethic as transformative examples. Theirs was a rocky marriage of convenience. Fayyad reckons the party spent more time worrying about what he was doing than solving anything.

“This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment,” Fayyad predicts. “Students have lost 35 days this year through strikes. We are broke. The status quo is not sustainable.” He looks at me with a fierce conviction: “In the end it did not matter what any foreign power told me about things changing for the better because I am living it. I have gone through hell before. But it’s enough. This much poison is bound to cause something catastrophic. The system is not taking, the country is suffering. They are not going to change their ways and therefore I must go.”

Then there was the “biggest problem” — the Israeli occupation, never relaxed despite a transformed security situation; in fact intensified through settlement expansion, demolitions, evictions and military incursions even into areas nominally under Palestinian control.

Fayyad, convinced of the need for two states living alongside each other in peace and security, had a double aspect for Israel, the interlocutor from heaven and hell. He was responsible and resolute in his opposition to violence. He was also the Palestinian who undid every convenient caricature of a people wedded to terrorism, corruption and chaos. So Israel never embraced him any more than Fatah. There was no Israeli quid pro quo for Palestinian progress.

“I told President Obama the shack must come before the skyscraper,” Fayyad tells me. “The Israelis have not rolled back the occupation gene. Let’s make sure our Bedouin population in the Jordan Valley has access to drinking water before we discuss final arrangements. This is a right-to-life issue for Palestinians.”

He thinks the United States, now trying to conjure direct negotiations through osmosis rather than any new ideas, should ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a straightforward question: What do you mean by a Palestinian state?

From Netanyahu’s few indications, such a state would not include the major Israeli settlement blocs, or have control over the strategic Jordan Valley (some 25 percent of the West Bank). All of greater Jerusalem would remain Israeli. Palestine would be demilitarized.

“A state of leftovers is not going to do it,” Fayyad declares.

But is Netanyahu, a man of Likud who opposed the late Yitzhak Rabin’s Oslo compromise, not convinced deep in himself of the need to hold on to all of Eretz Israel (a biblical term widely used to refer to the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, encompassing all of the West Bank)? And are there not ministers in his new government, including Naftali Bennett, the economics minister, who enjoy dismissing the very idea of Palestine as a complete joke?

Well, Fayyad muses, perhaps the Israeli prime minister needs to say something like this to Israelis: “Yes, it is true we have a contract with God Almighty who gave us the land, but there happen to be 4.4 million other people on this land who want to exercise their right to self-determination, so perhaps we can adjust the divine contract a little.”

That won’t happen, of course. What will? Fayyad calls the new Obama administration initiative “high-risk.” Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to ease into Israeli-Palestinian negotiations buttressed by economic initiatives like tourism developments on the Dead Sea. But from a Palestinian standpoint, there seems to be little that would improve human conditions — deliver water, stop settler violence, end demolitions — and little to stop Netanyahu simply running the clock down again.

“Israel says no this, no that, and it’s taken as a foregone conclusion,” Fayyad says. “There’s nothing to underpin the U.S. initiative. So how can you invest in it?”

Despite his skepticism, Fayyad believes Palestinians do not have a moment to lose in the push for statehood. The essential missing ingredient is unity. There has to be one government in the West Bank (now controlled by Fatah) and Gaza (controlled by Hamas). “Let’s be clinical,” he says. “We are not going to have a state unless we are united first.”

The essential precondition for that, he says, is a “security doctrine based on nonviolence.” Hamas must irrevocably renounce violence. Then there would be “conditions for takeoff that would not be perfect, but when did the perfect ever prevail?”

A unity government could get on with managing day-to-day business and, above all, preparing the national elections needed to know where Palestinians actually stand. Seven years without an election is far too long. Neither Fatah nor Hamas rule has any democratic legitimacy. Their positions are untenable even as they cling to power.

The United States and Europe should make holding a Palestinian election a diplomatic priority. Otherwise peace talks are merely chatter over a void. Of course, a unity government — even one that has formally renounced violence — would pose a severe diplomatic dilemma. Hamas is committed in its doctrine to Israel’s destruction.

On balance, it is in the American interest to foster Palestinian unity, provided it is on the basis of the renunciation of violence. There are, after all, members of the Israeli government committed to Palestine’s nonexistence. One does not choose one’s interlocutor in peace talks. The Palestine Liberation Organization has recognized Israel; Abbas, as the P.L.O. leader, can wear that hat in talks. What matters are not slogans but the will to move forward — and for now there is little evidence of such will.

Abbas is stuck. He has appealed for factions to set aside differences and said he wants a unity government to prepare elections. Hamas is cool to the idea. There is talk in Ramallah of his naming a trusted aide, Mohammad Mustafa, the chief executive of the Palestine Investment Fund, to replace Fayyad. There is talk of Abbas nominating himself to replace Fayyad. There is talk of him naming nobody and hoping Fayyad still shows up at the office.

Fayyad tells me he will not allow presidential inertia to keep him in the job. Within three to four weeks he will be gone — but not completely. Despite rumors floated by his enemies of a return to the International Monetary Fund, he will stick around. “I will reflect,” he says, “and if elections come, as they must because they are vital, I will see how best to take part in them.”

Palestinians have reached their “Altalena” moment. After the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, the extremist Irgun Jewish militant group resisted being folded into the Israel Defense Forces and insisted on receiving weapons being shipped from Marseille aboard the Altalena. A pitched battle ensued; several were killed. Ben Gurion declared: “There cannot be two armies and there cannot be two states.”

Equally, there cannot be two Palestines. One is hard enough. If Hamas will not cede its weapons to Fatah — if the putative state does not, in Weber’s famous definition, have the monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory — there will be no state.

“I resigned my job, that’s all,” Fayyad says. “I am not resigned, even if it pains me additionally when lack of progress is self-inflicted. I will die without changing my mind that we Palestinians can prove the doubters wrong.”

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How the Palestinians Trap Themselves and Drag the West Along

Barry Rubin

Pajamas Media, May 5th, 2013

Everything reactionary is the same; if you don’t hit it, it won’t fall. This is also like sweeping the floor; as a rule, where the broom does not reach, the dust will not vanish of itself.” –Mao Zedong, The Little Red Book

It is amazing how many massive revelations pass people by completely. Consider this new gleaning from the British Archives from early 1948, which sheds much light on current events.  British officials in the Palestine Mandate were reporting as follows:

”The [Palestine] Arabs have suffered a series of overwhelming defeats….”Jewish victories … have reduced Arab morale to zero and, following the cowardly example of their inept leaders, they are fleeing from the mixed areas in their thousands. It is now obvious that the only hope of regaining their position lies in the regular armies of the Arab states.”

This is confirmation from hostile British official sources of what Israel and its supporters have been saying for 60 years: that the origin of the Palestinian Arab refugee problem was due to the actions of the Palestinian Arabs themselves: first, their leaders decision to reject the partition into Arab and Jewish states, then their decision to go to war, and then their disorganization and poor leadership. The British Foreign Office even uses the word, “cowardice.”

Some things have changed since then; many have not. Today, as in 1948, the Zionist side is more eager for the existences of an independent Palestinian state living in peace inside permanent borders than is the Palestinian Arab leadership.

That statement might strike misinformed people as ludicrous, but it is nonetheless true, as they should have known since Yasir Arafat’s destruction of the Camp David summit meeting and rejection of the Clinton peace initiative of 2000. And that only followed on the earlier Palestinian rejectionism of the original Camp David summit in 1977, which offered a pathway to statehood, or various other initiatives.

And this pattern of behavior is being reinforced daily. Consider a recent incident. On April 30, an Israeli civilian father of five was stabbed to death by a Palestinian at the Tapuach Junction on the West Bank. The killer was a prisoner who had just completed his sentence and been released by Israel, as Secretary of State John Kerry wants Israel to release hundreds of other prisoners before their sentences are done.

The killer is a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Note the following details:

–For many years Fatah, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority (PA), denied the link with the brigade. Legal cases were held in the United States over the murder of Americans by the al-Aqsa Brigade in which PA lawyers strenuously denied any connection. But in 2009, the Fatah Congress, that organization’s highest authority, admitted that the al-Aqsa Brigades were part of Fatah, a fact one might have known earlier since that’s what it said on the Brigades’ web-site.

Fatah proudly took responsibility for earlier terrorist attacks by the group.

In the case of the April 30 murder, the official Al-Aqsa Brigades statement was very interesting, saying it had “received a green light to carry out military actions against Israeli targets in response to the deaths of prisoners Arafat Jaradat and Maysara Abu Hamdia in an Israeli prison.”

A green light from whom? Since the Brigades did not receive a green light from itself, this is an open admission that they were ordered to murder military civilians by the Fatah leadership, in other words by those ruling the PA, a Western-financed and supported entity.

–The two prisoners had been examined at autopsies conducted in the presence of PA officials. Thus, the PA knew that these two men died of natural causes. It was thus lying to its own people to incite them into supporting murders of Israeli civilians that the PA was ordering.

–In this case, however, a junior member of the Fatah Central Committee named Jamal Muheisen, while defending the attack, tried to distance his organization from responsibility:

“The Za’atra action was a natural response to attacks by the occupation and settlers [on Palestinians], but it does not express the general policy of the Palestinian Authority and of Fatah, who have espoused [the option of] popular resistance to the occupation.”

But it was Muheisen and not the killer or the al-Aqsa Brigades that was criticized universally by Fatah. Nobody came to Muheisen’s defense. On the contrary, the killer was praised as a hero who restored Fatah’s pride. No doubt, a street, a square, or something else will be named in his honor in future.

One Fatah member put it this way:

“[The killer] is a hero of the Fatah movement, a revolutionary and a fighter who restores Fatah’s pride and former glory; he exposes the dark [face of] interested parties and unmasks the mercenaries.”

–But why use the phrase about restoring Fatah’s pride? Because the organization’s pride is counted by the number of Israelis it kills. That’s how score is kept in Palestinian politics, even in 2013. When Fatah isn’t killing Israelis it is ashamed (restores…former glory), while any Palestinian—like Muheisen—who doesn’t support it is one of the “mercenaries,” presumably of the Zionists and Americans. If Fatah doesn’t keep up the killings, it believes that means it loses ground to Hamas.

And if that’s not enough refutation, Abbas Zaki, a Fatah Central Committee member far more powerful than Muheisen–he was Arafat’s specialist on Arab regional politics--just claimed that Israel carried out the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Today, though, the most important fact about the PA is that it is in a box of its own making. It cannot win militarily against Israel, nor will it engage in serious diplomacy with Israel. During a recent meeting in Washington, supposedly to show Arab state support for a two-state solution, the PA’s representatives glowered in making clear they weren’t interested in serious negotiations with Israel.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, the Fatah chiefs finally rid themselves of relatively moderate Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who was too honest for their purposes. Fayyad blasted the PA’s corruption and incompetence in a New York Times interview and then denied he had said these things, hoping for political survival.  It isn’t clear whether he might return but clearly the credibility of the PA regime’s front-man, who was effective at collecting international donation, should be undermined.

So what can the PA do? Collect billions of dollars in Western aid, stage occasional terrorist attacks, try to use the UN General Assembly’s designation of Palestine as a “non-member state” to try to get into international groups and someday sue Israel in the World Court. It is precisely because it lacks any active alternative that the PA and its allies are engaged in an unprecedented public relations’ campaign complete with strenuous attempts to subvert support for Israel in Jewish communities, boycotts, and disinvestment drives. This echoes the old PLO strategy although in this case it is not Arab state armies but armies of activists that will weaken Israel to the point that it must make huge concessions and subsequently collapse. Of course, this strategy won’t work as it did not work in the 1960s and 1970s.

Meanwhile, the PA leadership benefits from the status quo, they live well, pocket the aid money, posture as revolutionaries, and avoid being “traitors” by refusing to make peace.

A Western reader of this article might well think that such a situation is possible. It certainly isn’t what he’s seeing in the Western mass media. Yet the above description is nonetheless true.

The same person might conclude, with more justification, that such a situation cannot be sustained. He would look for a “solution,” assuming that the Palestinian leadership wanted such a solution. You know, we all know the broad outlines of a potential comprehensive agreement and we can play at drawing borders and have fun imagining the status of Jerusalem.

Yet the deadlock nonetheless prevails and it will prevail.

There is, of course, one way out: A Hamas takeover. Indeed, Hamas is becoming gradually more popular on the West Bank. Yet Western donations would dry up, Israel will keep the PA in power as the better of two bad alternatives.

Is it because Israel builds more apartments in settlements? That should be an argument for making the Palestinians more eager, not more negative, about making a deal to get rid of all settlements on Palestine’s territory.

While many in Israel, especially on the political right, wanted to keep the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1970s and 1980s, there is a broad Israeli consensus today that the goal is to get rid of involvement with these territories as long as it can be done in a way that reduces the likelihood of war and enhances security. The problem is that there has been no way found to do so. The left’s solution is to walk away from any presence there; the problem with that idea is what has happened in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip where that strategy has been tried, plus the growing radical Islamist wave in the region to which a new state of Palestine would probably fall prey.

No, it’s because of the same thinking and strategy on the Arab side that has prevailed for more than 60 years. It is that thinking that views the murder of Israeli civilians as a source of glory and negotiations with Israel or moderation as a sign of treason.

Why, a colleague asks, is there such a growing gap between the lynch mobs hating Israel being trained on many college campuses and other public or media institutions, and the far different Western policies toward Israel on the government level?

The answer is this: the policymakers know the truth but conceal it from their publics sometimes because it benefits their perceived state interests (make Arabs and Muslims generally happy) and political interests (plays up to the left-wing activists). That’s too bad but reality remains unchanged.

 

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The View from the West Bank


Cliff May

Moment Magazine, 2013 May-June


Our columnist travels to Ramallah and meets with recently resigned Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and other top officials.

In the West Bank, on hilltops six miles northwest of the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah, a new and ultramodern city is rising. Rawabi is to have handsome white stone apartment blocks, a commercial hub, a cultural center, medical facilities, stores, cafés and a giant amphitheater. A recent visit there left me impressed and, more importantly, encouraged: Surely, those constructing this metropolis and those moving in—as many as 10,000 Palestinian families over the next seven years—understand that Rawabi can flourish only in the absence of serious conflicts with Israel. The day terrorists in Rawabi launch rockets at Tel Aviv—visible from the heights in clear weather—is the day Rawabi is reduced to rubble.

In that sense, Rawabi is a courageous statement. One might even call it a revolutionary act. Indeed, the project has been roundly condemned by the global anti-Israeli “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement, and the American-based, anti-Israeli website Electronic Intifada has denounced it as “blatant economic normalization.”

Thankfully, neither BDS nor Electronic Intifada has much influence in the West Bank. But all is not well under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He was elected to that position in January 2005, which means he is now in the ninth year of a four-year term. New elections are not on the calendar.

In America and Europe, and even among many Israelis, Abbas is regarded as a moderate. But for years he has been refusing to negotiate with Israelis, demanding that concessions be made not through talks but prior to them. He also pursued a reckless unilateral initiative at the United Nations last year, in defiance of the United States as well as Israel, to bring about recognition for Palestine outside the diplomatic process.

Despite these many challenges (or perhaps because of them), during his March visit to Israel and the West Bank, President Obama pushed both sides to restart negotiations without preconditions. That would be useful and might even happen. But one should not expect dramatic results: There is no conceivable way that Abbas could cut a deal recognizing the Jewish state’s right to exist and have Hamas go along.

Places like Rawabi need stability. Abbas is 78 years old, a heavy smoker and a cancer survivor. What happens if he dies in office? According to Palestinian Basic Law, Article 37, “the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council shall temporarily assume the powers and duties of the Presidency of the National Authority for a period not to exceed sixty (60) days, during which free and direct elections to elect a new President shall take place.”

But the Palestinian Legislative Council sits in Gaza, where Hamas rules with an iron hand, brooking no interference from Abbas and openly committed to the annihilation of Israel—every city, every town, every village. The legislative council was elected to a four-year term in January 2006, the year before Hamas staged its bloody coup against the PA there. The current speaker is Aziz Dweik, a Hamas leader whom Israelis arrested as recently as last year for alleged “involvement in terrorist activities.”

It is impossible to imagine him negotiating peace with Israelis—and almost as difficult to imagine Israelis agreeing to sit down with him. Nor can one easily picture “free and direct” elections taking place in the West Bank, let alone in Gaza, in a post-Abbas era.

In the name of stability, Abbas’s Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the real power in the West Bank, could ignore Palestinian law and designate a successor to Abbas. But who? The best choice by far would have been Abbas’s Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a former International Monetary Fund and World Bank official who holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Texas at Austin.  Just before visiting Rawabi, I spent some time talking with him (I was leading a small delegation of American national-security professionals) in the large and well-appointed government complex where he maintained his offices.

I did not agree with everything he said (he asked that his remarks not be directly quoted), nor would most Israelis. But I left with the conviction that if he had the power to negotiate, he’d drive a hard bargain, get the best deal he possibly could for Palestinians, and then move beyond the conflict and animosity. A deal, in my view, would have to look something like this: Palestinians would unambiguously recognize Israel’s right to exist—as the unique expression of Jewish self-determination—within secure borders. In exchange, Israel would do everything possible to facilitate the development of a free, viable and increasingly prosperous Palestinian state.

Abbas appointed Fayyad prime minister in 2007 mainly because American and European diplomats wanted him in that job: They believed a lot more aid money would be going astray were it not for his skills and integrity.  This spring, rumors flew that Abbas might fire Fayyad. In response, Fayyad resigned as prime minister. So much for stability.

There is no obvious path forward. But then, if you ask me, it has never been realistic to expect Palestinians to make peace with Israelis so long as Islamists are on the rise in the region, warning Muslim leaders that acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East is apostasy, and that the price for apostasy is death.

Nevertheless, as the “peace process” stalls, Rawabi rises. While that may not inspire confidence, it does leave space—and incentive—for hope.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.

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