Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

The Success That Failed

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

The Success That Failed

Article excerpt

The story of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, is a case study in wasted opportunity.

The most progressive and innovative Palestinian thinker on a Middle East peace settlement has been steadily isolated over the past several years. Undercut by Israel, undermined by his own people's factionalism, unable to meet even once with President Obama, this dynamic Palestinian leader is now close to the end of his rope.

The story of Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the enfeebled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is a case study in wasted opportunity. Obama, who chose not to see Fayyad during his first term, may do so during his visit to the region next month. What the president will hear is how bad things happen when America looks away.

Texas-educated, more interested in the future than a tormented past, a former International Monetary Fund official determined to fight corruption and establish security, a doer not a dreamer, Fayyad was a new kind of Palestinian leader: a nonviolent pragmatist with a genuine readiness for territorial compromise.

To Israel he was a conundrum: a potential partner but also the politician from hell. For if Fayyadism was the new reasonable face of Palestine, why could putative Palestine not come into being?

In Ramallah last month I sat down with Fayyad for a couple of hours. I had negotiated the time-warp traverse from Israel to the West Bank, through the barrier into the mess Israelis would rather not think about, past the striking teachers who had not been paid because the Palestinian Authority is starved for cash, and found the prime minister, dapper as ever, in a dark mood. His program of preparation for statehood, which won a World Bank stamp of approval before its completion in August 2011, was a success that failed: It led nowhere.

"Everything evolved negatively," Fayyad told me. "In deeds, Israel never got behind me; in fact it was quite hostile. The occupation regime is more entrenched, with no sign it is beginning to relinquish its grip on our life.

"There are more settlements, more settler violence, more intrusiveness into all aspects of Palestinian life, and there are overlooked actions that are wholly unacceptable, like systematically making the Jordan Valley, about a quarter of our land mass, inhospitable.

"I was in a tent with people there recently -- most Palestinian life in the valley is nomadic -- and they were meters away from a water main. Not only did they not have access to running water, even water tanks were subject to periodic confiscation by the Israeli Army."

As we spoke, three unarmed Palestinians had been killed in the West Bank in disputed circumstances by the Israeli Defense Forces since the start of the year -- two young men aged 15 and 16, and a 22-year-old woman walking on a college campus south of Bethlehem. "The treatment of nonviolent protest has been very violent," Fayyad noted.

Not one Israeli was killed in the West Bank in 2012. Under Fayyad, the U.S.-backed training of Palestinian security forces, with cooperation from Israel, has brought guns into state control -- a prerequisite for statehood. Israel in general enjoys a calm that has allowed jobs and better pay to become Israelis' main preoccupation and the Palestinians a peripheral issue. The West Bank economy has grown in difficult circumstances.

Yet despite speaking for the first time in 2009 of two states for two peoples, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has seemed intent on sending this message to Fayyad: Good behavior brings further punishment.

"People say Netanyahu remains in power for the sake of power," Shlomo Avineri, a prominent political scientist, told me. "I don't agree. He has a core agenda. He is not going to give up one inch of Eretz Israel. He stays in power for that. The speech about two states was a tactic that gained three years of peace and quiet. He said it and did nothing about it." Eretz Israel is a biblical term widely used to refer to the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, encompassing all of the West Bank. …

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