The Electronic Intifada 1 September 2009
Late last month, Salam Fayyad, the appointed Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister in Ramallah, made a surprise announcement: he declared his intention to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the end of 2011 regardless of the outcome of negotiations with Israel.
Fayyad told the London Times that he would work to build “facts on the ground, consistent with having our state emerge as a fact that cannot be denied.” His plan was further elaborated in a lengthy document grandly titled “Program of the Thirteenth Government of the Palestinian National Authority.”
The plan contains all sorts of ambitious ideas: an international airport in the Jordan Valley, new rail links to neighboring states, generous tax incentives to attract foreign investment, and of course strengthening the “security forces.” It also speaks boldly of liberating the Palestinian economy from its dependence on Israel, and reducing dependence on foreign aid.
This may sound attractive to some, but Fayyad has neither the political clout nor the financial means to propose such far-reaching plans without a green light from Washington or Tel Aviv.
Fayyad aims to project an image of a competent Palestinian administration already mastering the craft of running a state. He boasts, for instance, that the PA he heads has worked to “develop effective institutions of government based on the principles of good governance, accountability and transparency.”
But what is really taking shape in the West Bank today is a police state, where all sources of opposition or resistance — real or suspected — to either the PA regime, or the Israeli occupation are being systematically repressed by US-funded and trained Palestinian “security forces” in full coordination with Israel. Gaza remains under tight siege because of its refusal to submit to this regime.
In describing the Palestinian utopia he hopes to create, Fayyad’s plan declares that “Palestine will be a stable democratic state with a multi-party political system. Transfer of governing authority is smooth, peaceful and regular in accordance with the will of the people, expressed through free and fair elections conducted in accordance with the law.”
A perfect opportunity to demonstrate such an exemplary transfer would have been right after the January 2006 election which as the entire world knows Hamas won fairly and cleanly. Instead, those who monopolize the PA leadership today colluded with outside powers first to cripple and overthrow the elected Hamas government, and then the “national unity government” formed by the Mecca Agreement in early 2007, entrenching the current internal Palestinian division. (Fayyad’s own party won just two percent at the 2006 election, and his appointment as prime minister by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was never — as required by law — approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council, dozens of whose elected members remain behind Israeli prison bars.)
From 1994 to 2006, more than eight billion US dollars were pumped into the Palestinian economy, making Palestinians the most aid-dependent people on earth, as Anne Le More showed in her important book International Assistance to the Palestinians after Oslo: Political Guilt; Wasted Money (London, Routledge, 2008). The PA received this aid ostensibly to build Palestinian institutions, improve socioeconomic development and support the creation of an independent state. The result however is that Palestinians are more destitute and aid-dependent than ever before, their institutions are totally dysfunctional, and their state remains a distant fantasy.
PA corruption and mismanagement played a big part in squandering this wealth, but by far the largest wealth destroyer was and remains the Israeli occupation. Contrary to what Fayyad imagines, you cannot “end the occupation, despite the occupation.”
A telling fact Le More reveals is that the previous “programs” of the PA (except those offered by the Hamas-led governments) were written and approved by international donor agencies and officials and then given to the PA to present back to the same donors who wrote them as if they were actually written by the PA!
Everything we see suggests Fayyad’s latest scheme follows exactly the same pattern. What is particularly troubling this time is that the plan appears to coincide with a number of other initiatives and trial balloons that present a real danger to the prospects for Palestinian liberation from permanent Israeli subjugation.
Recently, the International Middle East Media Center, an independent Palestinian news organization, published what it said was the leaked outline of a peace plan to be presented by US President Barack Obama.
That plan included international armed forces in most of the Palestinian “state”; Israeli annexation of large parts of East Jerusalem; that “All Palestinian factions would be dissolved and transformed into political parties”; all large Israeli settlements would remain under permanent Israeli control; the Palestinian state would be largely demilitarized and Israel would retain control of its airspace; intensified Palestinian-Israeli “security coordination”; and the entity would not be permitted to have military alliances with other regional countries.
On the central issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the alleged Obama plan allows only an agreed number of refugees to return, not to their original homes, but only to the West Bank, particularly to the cities of Ramallah and Nablus.
It is impossible to confirm that this leaked document actually originates with the Obama administration. What gives that claim credibility, however, is the plan’s very close resemblance to a published proposal sent to Obama last November by a bipartisan group of US elder statesmen headed by former US national security advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Moreover, recent press reports indicate a lively debate within the Obama Administration about whether the US should itself publish specific proposals for a final settlement once negotiations resume; so there is little doubt that concrete proposals are circulating.
Indeed there is little of substance to distinguish these various plans from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concept of “economic peace” and a demilitarized Palestinian statelet under overall Israeli control, with no right of return for refugees. And, since all seem to agree that the Jordan Valley — land and sky — would remain under indefinite Israeli control, so would Fayyad’s airport.
Similar gimmicks have been tried before: who remembers all the early Oslo years’ hullabaloo about the Gaza International Airport that operated briefly under strict Israeli control before Israel destroyed it, and the promised Gaza seaport whose construction Israel forbade?
There are two linked explanations for why Fayyad’s plan was launched now. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has repeatedly defined his goal as a “prompt resumption and early conclusion” of negotiations. If the kinds of recycled ideas coming from the alleged Obama plan, the Scowcroft-Brzezinski document, or Netanyahu, are to have any chance, they need to look as if there is a Palestinian constituency for them. It is Fayyad’s role to provide this.
The second explanation relates to the ongoing struggle over who will succeed Mahmoud Abbas as president of the PA. It has become clear that Fayyad, a former World Bank official unknown to Palestinians before he was boosted by the George W. Bush Administration, appears to be the current favorite of the US and other PA sponsors. Channeling more aid through Fayyad may be these donors’ way of strengthening Fayyad against challengers from Abbas’ Fatah faction (Fayyad is not a member of Fatah) who have no intention of relinquishing their chokehold on the PA patronage machine.
Many in the region and beyond hoped the Obama Administration would be a real honest broker, at last bringing American pressure to bear on Israel, so that Palestinians might be liberated. But instead, the new administration is acting as an efficient laundry service for Israeli ideas; first they become American ones, and then a Palestinian puppet is brought in to wear them.
This is not the first scheme aimed at extinguishing Palestinian rights under the guise of a “peace process,” though it is most disappointing that the Obama Administration seems to have learned nothing from the failures of its predecessors. But just as before, the Palestinian people in their country and in the Diaspora will stand stubbornly in the way of these efforts. They know that real justice, not symbolic and fictitious statehood, remains the only pillar on which peace can be built.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).
A version of this article first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the authors’ permission.