We Interfere, Palestinians Pay the Price: A Neverending Story

Once again, outside interference in Palestinian affairs caused severe harm to Palestinians, and also set back the very ambitions those outsiders wished to advance.

For at least the past year, Professor Nathan Brown has been putting forth a nuanced view of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with the goal of trying to break the

Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad

Western infatuation with him while trying not to blame the man himself.

It’s an important mission.

Brown’s latest entry at Foreign Policy furthers this line of thinking within the framework of what might turn out to be Fayyad’s denouement on the Palestinian political stage.

Brown sells Fayyad a little short in some ways, but his purpose is to break the mystical aura.

Still, we should note that there have been real accomplishments under Fayyad.

It’s true, for example, that the so-called “economic revival” in Ramallah has been vastly overstated, and even the extent to which it is real is mostly attributable to foreign aid and the lifting of some travel restrictions by Israel. But in the imaginary world where there’s even a possibility of a Palestinian state, its economy is going to require large amounts of external aid for some time, and Fayyad was instrumental in modeling what that early success could look like.

That exercise also did encourage some, albeit small, private sector development, which could theoretically be vastly expanded in an independent Palestinian state. The point is that the economic revival was a smokescreen, because it happened under conditions of total Palestinian dependence and under occupation, but it was Fayyad who forged the framework that did demonstrate the potential for a real economic revival in that sideshow experiment.

As Brown says in his piece, Fayyad did “…win some modest victories in Palestinian governance. The security services became less partisan, public finances became more transparent (even without any domestic oversight), corruption likely decreased, pockets of the civil service were rebuilt on a more professional basis, and basic order in Palestinian cities was improved.”

Brown devoted most of his piece to describing all the ways “Fayyadism” has not delivered improved governance for the Palestinians or moved them closer to independence. But, as Brown also points out, “Fayyadism” has never been the same as Fayyad the man, and the Palestinian Prime Minister has been, for some time, moving away from it.

But Fayyad cannot escape the mystique that has been coalesced around his person, and this will likely be a great loss for the Palestinians.

Fayyad has an understanding of economics and of economic structures that the Palestinians need. Overcoming the deep-seated cronyism and nepotism in the West Bank is no easy task, and he’s made a significant dent in it.

But that doesn’t make him a Prime Minister, and it is a very sad reality that he’s been placed in that role, largely to please American and European leaders.

Brown hardly spends any time in his latest piece recounting the PA’s abject failures on human rights and civil liberties scores. He covered this in an earlier article. But it is emblematic of the failures of the PA to create a functional government for its own people, as opposed to meeting the standards set for it by the US, EU and Israel.

One might point out a poll, reported today in Ha’aretz, where 45% of Palestinians said they preferred Fayyad as Prime Minister. But the only serious option was Hamas’ candidate, and a full 33% offered no opinion at all.

This doesn’t speak of support for Fayyad as much as a preference for him over the option of Hamas.

Fayyad has no political constituency. He is with no party and does not have the following sufficient to form one. He is not a leader of people, but a technocrat.

But, like it or not, Fayyad has become a symbol for Palestinian kowtowing to the West, and this, as much as anything, is why Hamas objects to his continuing to hold the position of Prime Minister.

In fact, Hamas spokespeople have gone further and said that Fayyad’s presence in any significant office would be unacceptable to the party. It’s a stance that will certainly have significant support among Palestinians, especially younger ones. And that’s a shame.

In the role of Finance Minister or a similar position, Fayyad could do a great deal for an independent Palestine. His extensive contacts and the high regard with which he is held in the West would serve them well, and these are the realms that he has both the education and the demonstrated skill and expertise.

But it’s not likely to happen. Fayyad is no longer the issue, as Brown points out; Fayyadism is.

And as always, it’s the Palestinians who lose out. Outsiders, whether in Europe, Washington or Jerusalem, both actively and tacitly pushed for Fayyad to be in a role that he was not suited for, and cared not one whit that it meant it would complicate his ability to do a job he could excel at.

Do we really need another object lesson in this?

There is little understanding, and less caring, in Washington, Brussels and Jerusalem about internal Palestinian politics. The self-serving interference consistently produces more problems than it solves, while the brunt of those problems are borne by the Palestinian people.

There was never a good reason for Salam Fayyad to be Prime Minister, and every reason for him to be charged with strengthening economic institutions and countering corruption and nepotism. But the outsiders wanted “their man” in the job. So now, he’s unlikely to be able to do either what the outsiders want or what the Palestinians need.

The lack of respect by those outsiders for Palestinian ambitions and desires, the notion that they can decide what is best for the Palestinians and, yes, who is or is not going to be allowed to occupy various positions is racist and ethno-centrist on its face. If that’s not enough, it’s also counter-productive.

But then again, if policies and actions being wrong, stupid, and even counter to the interests of those outside powers actually mattered, we wouldn’t have any of the political conditions in the region we do today, would we?

One thought on “We Interfere, Palestinians Pay the Price: A Neverending Story

  1. Mitchell,
    You don’t explain how Fayyad is not doing the job of prime minister, nor how he’s incapable of that job. Also, I don’t know what you’re trying to say in your final paragraph; I may be mistaken, but it doesn’t seem to make logical sense.

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