The demolition of East Jerusalem's Shepherd Hotel this week to make way for a new Jewish housing development follows two years of failure by the Obama administration in bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table. Yet it should not obscure a revolutionary new Palestinian approach towards statehood that is producing results. While the international community has spent the past two years focused on Israeli settlement activity – allowing the issue to thwart negotiations to end the conflict – Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, has made significant headway in the West Bank. Under his leadership, the PA is taking steps to help Palestine become a fully functioning state. This pragmatic “bottom up” effort reflects nothing short of a thoroughly reconstructed Palestinian approach towards peace with Israel.
Mr Fayyad's strategy is one of self-reliance and self-empowerment; his focus is on good government, economic opportunity, and law and order for the Palestinians – and security for Israel by extension– removing whatever pretexts may exist for Israel's continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. He has abandoned “armed struggle” and international intervention – the traditional Palestinian approaches to attaining nationalist objectives. Instead, by changing social and political realities and concretely preparing for independence, Mr Fayyad is trying to change perceptions of what is possible.
Since 2007 when Mr Fayyad took over, the West Bank economy has taken off. International Monetary Fund figures place growth at 8.5 per cent for 2009, with the first part of 2010 registering more than 11 per cent. Government spending has remained within budgetary targets and improved tax collection rates have resulted in higher than projected domestic tax revenues. Unemployment, close to 20 per cent in 2008, has fallen by nearly a third. More than 120 schools have been built in the past two years, along with 1,100 miles of road and 900 miles of water networks. the prime minister's goal has been for Palestinians to be prepared for de facto statehood by 2011; from an economic and institutional standpoint, he has achieved this.
Mr Fayyad's Palestinian critics accuse him of naivety, however noble his intentions. They argue that Israel will never allow the Palestinians to succeed. They want to declare independence now. Yet proclaiming independence without negotiating with Israel will create a state that controls only 40 per cent of the West Bank, leaving Gaza in Hamas's control and all of Jerusalem in Israel's. Mr Fayyad has repeatedly argued that Palestine must include all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. His efforts are designed to create an environment conducive to negotiations.
Hamas leaders also oppose Mr Fayyad, since the stronger the PA government becomes, and the more it delivers results to the people, the more the PA will be able to minimise Hamas's radical appeal.
Much more should be done – by the Palestinians, Israel and the international community – to strengthen the Fayyadist endeavour. Israel should end its ambivalence and recognise that Mr Fayyad and PA president Mahmoud Abbas are the best Palestinian partners they are likely to find. Mr Fayyad does not seek to establish Palestine unilaterally – he recognises that Israeli partnership is required. Israel should also allow the Palestinian security presence to expand into West Bank areas in which the PA is still barred. This would demonstrate that Palestinian statehood can be an asset and not a threat, delivering effective security and preventing Hamas from taking control.
Palestinian critics should stop resenting Mr Fayyad's successes and abandon failed past approaches, such as the armed struggle or appeals to outsiders to deliver them a state. And the international community should devote more attention to the bottom up approach, rather than focusing solely on diplomacy.
Fayyadism alone will not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only an agreement accepted by Israelis and Palestinians can do that. But Fayyadism is helping support that effort, and preparing the groundwork for peace and Palestinian statehood, in a way that negotiations alone and armed struggle never could.
The writer is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He headed the Jerusalem mission of Quartet Representative Tony Blair from April 2008 to June 2010. A longer version is published in the current issue of Foreign Affairs
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