The View from the West Bank: Our Columnist Travels to Ramallah and Meets with Recently Resigned Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Other Top Officials
May, Clifford D., Moment
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, cafes 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. …