What a week it was! For the first time in Israel’s history a former prime minister was indicted. Two former ministers began serving prison sentences. And the trial of former president Moshe Katzav finally began. Who can blame the Israeli media for paying most of their attention to the visit of pop megastar Madonna?
Israeli newspapers and commentators took only a cursory glance at another significant story—the announcement by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of a new plan to create the infrastructure for a de facto Palestinian state. Leaving aside the unilateral nature of such a step, a matter of grave concern to the Israeli government, the document he presented last week is worthy of examination.
It should be stated at the outset that Fayyad’s reputation is unblemished by terror or corruption. An internationally respected economist, he has led the PA with mixed results, but overall competently and transparently. Although Fayyad punches above his weight in international politics, his party commands a mere 2 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament.
I have previously discussed the comment he made in July that Jews could stay in the West Bank as citizens of a Palestinian state, a suggestion he made in English at the Aspen Institute. While he has not repeated the proposal in Arabic, neither has he recanted.
When compared to the Hamas vision for the future of this region or even that of Fatah as evidenced by its recent congress, Fayyad's new plan reads like a treatise on democracy, transparency, probity and liberalism. It does contain flaws that may jeopardize its success, but it is nonetheless significant as a statement of what is theoretically possible.
Entitled "Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State," Fayyad’s document lays out both a broad set of goals and a detailed ministry-by-ministry description of a road to statehood. The new entity will be a democratic, free-market state that forbids discrimination "for any reason," and Fayyad gives every indication he means it.
The Fatah kleptocracy that enriched itself by monopolizing whole swaths of the economy must have been appalled to read: "Our commitment to a free-market economy is firm. We will not allow monopolies and other forms of economic opportunism and exploitation that undermine social justice and equity."
Unfortunately, this is where Fayyad’s plan basically stops. It does not deal with the social and political changes needed for Palestinian society to make a genuine peace, or even with the question of implementation in the context of a Palestine bifurcated between Gaza and the West Bank.
The word "Hamas" does not appear in Fayyad’s plan, though the document assails Palestinian disunity, stating that "the current state of Palestinian political fragmentation is destructive and contrary to our national interest." It is unclear how Fayyad plans to bring democracy and non-discrimination to the incipient Islamist state in Gaza.
In order to be something more than a visionary, Fayyad will either have to co-opt the power centers of Fatah and Hamas, or defeat them. Can he do either?
What should we make of Israel's role in his plan? “The Occupation” fills the usual role ascribed to Israel in Palestinian discourse, the faceless bad guy. Fayyad seems confused when it comes to dealing with the Israelis. Alongside the call for Palestinians to take full responsibility for their future—“For our part, we have to dedicate ourselves to the task of state-building"—it is still the Occupation, not Palestinian dysfunction, that is the excuse for frustrated Palestinian development.
Is it nit-picking in this context to note that neither the PA Foreign Ministry nor its Education Ministry list peacemaking as one of its institutional goals? Fayyad bases the legitimacy of his government on the "PLO program." Which one? Is this mere convention, an ultimately unimportant tip of the hat to a defunct program for conquering Israel in stages once expounded by the PLO, or an indication (with a wink for those in the know) that for all his liberalism and democracy, Fayyad is still convinced that the old program remains valid, albeit in a more discreet formulation?
The Fayyad plan is certainly important because it presents a choice for the Palestinians different from Fatah corruption or Hamas bigotry—a good-government party led by an honest man.
Perhaps that will suffice. If democratic elections take place as promised next January, if Fayyad's party does well, and if he is reappointed, we may see a chance for progress toward peace. Fayyad is certainly no Zionist sympathizer, but a state led by him and intent on implementing his program could be a different Palestinian polity from what we have seen up to now, and might justify Israeli concessions because it could offer real peace. Maybe.…