The Palestinian Morning After - World Affairs
The Palestinian “September” has come and gone. The standing ovation in which President Abbas basked in New York is only a warm memory, and all those portraits carried aloft in Ramallah are back in storage. Now, after the party, comes the morning after.
As I feared when writing at World Affairs in September (here and here), Palestinian unilateralism has damaged the prospects for Palestinian statehood. Adventurism in New York, far from producing a state in Palestine, has triggered a crisis in the Palestinian Authority (PA) itself.
The international aid money is drying up, nation-building is under threat as improvements in West Bank security and economic development are compromised, and a return to violence is a real possibility. UNESCO has a new member, but that symbolic victory has been paid for by substantive reversals on three issues essential to any conflict-ending agreement—Palestinian state-building, trust between the negotiating parties, and international community engagement in the peace process.
Fayyadism in decline
The first casualty is “Fayyadism.” The urbane and technocratic Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, with international backing coordinated by Tony Blair, has been busy these last four years “building [the Palestinian state] rather than ballyhooing it” as the New York Times’s Roger Cohen put it. Fayyadism has inspired confidence in the international donor community and has begun to transform the West Bank—economic growth, falling unemployment, new roads, schools and health clinics, and a Palestine Stock Exchange with 40 publicly traded companies, including the Palestinian Telecommunication Co., which made $122 million in profits last year. Dismissed as a “Ramallah bubble” by Western commentators, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) has taken a very different view, concluding that in six areas—governance, rule of law, and human rights; livelihoods and productive sectors; education and culture; health; social protection; and infrastructure and water—performance was now sufficient for the functioning government of a state.
All this is now under grave threat.
Fayyad the man will probably have to be sacrificed by Fatah to make “reconciliation” possible with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. The two Fatah officials responsible for the unity agreement—Azzam Ahmed and Mohammed Shtayyeh—have been pressing Abbas to abandon Fayyad. They may now have succeeded. Abbas met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo on November 24th to finalize an agreement and declared: “There are no more differences between us now. We have agreed to work as partners.” For its part, Hamas said that it “will not recognize Israel and won’t give up its principles.” The international community’s alarm has been widespread. In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu appealed to Abbas to think again, saying the “only path to achieving peace is through direct negotiations.”