The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the wider Middle East what off-Broadway is to Broadway. It is where all good and bad ideas get tested out first. Well, the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a former I.M.F. economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever. I call it “Fayyadism.”
Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.
Fayyad, a former finance minister who became prime minister after Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, is unlike any Arab leader today. He is an ardent Palestinian nationalist, but his whole strategy is to say: the more we build our state with quality institutions — finance, police, social services — the sooner we will secure our right to independence. I see this as a challenge to “Arafatism,” which focused on Palestinian rights first, state institutions later, if ever, and produced neither.
Fayyad is the most interesting new force on the Arab political stage. A former World Bank economist, he is pursuing the exact opposite strategy from Yasir Arafat. Arafat espoused a blend of violence and politics; his plan was to first gain international recognition for a Palestinian state and then build its institutions. Fayyad calls for the opposite — for a nonviolent struggle, for building noncorrupt transparent institutions and effective police and paramilitary units, which even the Israeli Army says are doing a good job; and then, once they are all up and running, declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank by 2011.
The strategy of Fayyad — and his boss, President Mahmoud Abbas — is gaining momentum and is in “direct conflict with the network of resistance: Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas,” said Gidi Grinstein, the president of the Reut Institute, one of the premier Israeli policy research centers.
Meeting in his Ramallah office two weeks ago, I found Fayyad upbeat. The economist-turned-politician seems more comfortable mixing with his constituents in the West Bank, where he has quietly built his popularity by delivering water wells, new schools — so there are no more double shifts — and a waste-water treatment facility. The most senior Israeli military people told me the new security force that Fayyad has built is the real deal — real enough that Israel has taken down most of the checkpoints inside the West Bank. So internal commerce and investment are starting to flow, and even some Gazans are moving there. “We may not be too far from a point of inflection,” Fayyad said to me.
The Abbas-Fayyad state-building effort is still fragile, and it rests on a small team of technocrats, Palestinian business elites and a new professional security force. The stronger this team grows, the more it challenges and will be challenged by some of the old-line Fatah Palestinian cadres in the West Bank, not to mention Hamas in Gaza. It is the only hope left, though, for a two-state solution, so it needs to be quietly supported.
If you read the transcript linked above you won't find a single mention the "exciting" Fayyadism or its "interesting" originator Salam Fayyad. This is interesting because in the past few weeks Fatah and Hamas reached a unity agreement. Hamas has demanded that Fayyad not be the Prime Minister in the joined government. Yet since this agreement has been made, Friedman hasn't written a single column condemning the Palestinians for choosing terrorism over statehood. Regardless over whether Fayyad stays or not, Fatah by joining with an unreformed Hamas has chosen the path of terror, not of peace. So how does Friedman finesse this?
You know, I think we have to step back and really ask the big strategic question, why is Israel popular? Why -- why has this been an enduring relationship all these years? You know, why is that cameraman and, you know, that sound person support Israel, whether they're Jewish or -- or not Jewish?
It's because we see them like us. We see them as a country that shares our -- our values. And, most importantly, we see -- we see Israel as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. That's Israel's greatest strategic strength vis-a-vis the United States. And what, you know, those of us who have been critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu on this issue are basically saying is that's precisely what is imperiled if there is no peace agreement that allows Israel to cede the West Bank to a Palestinian authority in a safe and secure way so it doesn't absorb all those Palestinians, so we don't end up with a situation where a Jewish minority is ruling over an Arab majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. We know where that goes. That's called Jewish apartheid.
That -- that would be the biggest strategic threat to Israel. And the way you know that is if you look at the strategy of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. What is their strategy? It is to make sure Israel must never leave the West Bank. OK? Because as long as Israel's there, that is the key to their strategy for globally de- legitimizing Israel.
This has long been Friedman's line. It's true; Americans see Israelis being like them but not the Arabs generally. But here he's setting up a false choice. Since late 1995 most Palestinians haven't been living under Israeli rule. That's when Israel withdrew from the major Palestinian population centers. So at this point whether or not there's a Palestinian state is really a matter of drawing borders; not whether Israel will continue to occupy the Palestinians. His assertion that the failure to establish a Palestinian state is a goal of Hamas is absurd. If it were true, Hamas would have objected to the withdrawal from Gaza. Hamas rather claimed credit for chasing Israel out. Arguably that was one of the factors that led to its victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. And that's my point, Fareed. I have no idea whether there is a Palestinian partner for a secure peace with Israel, along the lines that President Clinton has laid out. I just know one thing. Given the implications for Israel, if it gets stuck permanently holding the West Bank, it is in Israel's overwhelming interest to test, test and test again, OK? Because that would be a huge strategic threat to Israel if it has no choice but to absorb the West Bank. The Palestinians really aren't a question at this time. They have decided that they will not be a partner for "a secure peace with Israel." What is there to test at this point? Of course this formulation ensures that as long as there's no peace it's Israel's fault. Because without peace Israel's not legitimate, so Israel must make peace at all costs. Later on Friedman says:
But, again, Fareed, I -- I understand. This is complicated. The Palestinians have missed a million opportunities, including with the last Israeli government. And there's a really legitimate question to ask, can they get their act together? Forget for a hard-line deal, for the deal that President Clinton put out, that Olmert, the previous Israeli prime minister -- I don't know.
No it isn't. Perverse is not the same as complicated. Friedman has created a counterfactual framework which means that Israel is always in the wrong. Note how concerned he is with the dubious assertion that continued occupation renders Israel illegitimate, but the legitimacy of a Palestinian state that includes a terrorist organization isn't even an issue with him. Despite his protestation of caring about Israel, Friedman clearly is anti-Israel. 2) When the media wasn't hostile Many of us have been complaining not only about the hostile media coverage of Israel, buthow reporters and pundits make things upas a way of supporting that hostility. It wasn't always like this as bloggerBookworm recently notedherWatcher's Council winning entry. (I include the link because a number of entries had to with the latest spat between President Obama and PM Netanyahu. The cover of the Life Magazine cited by Bookworm wasreproduced here. Here's a review of how thetone of Time Magazine changedover the years. 3) The real pro Israel crowd Adam Serwer, a co-contributor to the Washington Post's The Plum Line, last week chimed in withTime to redefine the term "pro-Israel"
For too long, the term “pro-Israel” in the American political context been used to describe only those who minimize the suffering of Palestinians and actively enable the Israeli right’s attempt to bring the peace process to a halt, even as they offer rhetorical support for the idea of a two state solution. But political changes in the Middle East and demographic changes in the region have created a shrinking window of time for Israel to seek a resolution to the conflict on terms favorable to its long-term survival..
I still remember the first time I was struck by this tendency of yours to assail Israel when you’d been silent about what Israel’s enemies were doing. It was the first day of the Gaza War at the end of 2008. Sederot had been shelled intermittently for eight years, and relentlessly in the days prior to the beginning of the war. It was obvious that this couldn’t go on, for the first obligation of states to their citizens is to protect them. For years, Israel had been failing the citizens of Sederot. But when Israel finally decided to do what any legitimate state would do, J-Street immediately called for a cessation of hostilities. The war was only hours old, nothing had been accomplished and the citizens of Sederot were still no safer than they had been. But J-Street had had enough. Why? Why had you said almost nothing for all the years that Sederot was being shelled, but within hours of the war’s beginning were calling for it to end? What matters more to you – the safety of Israel’s citizens, or advancing your own moral agenda in our region of the world?
Like Thomas Friedman, critics of Israel always seem to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel, even if it means favoring Israel's enemies and downplaying or ignoring the dangers facing Israel. Why don't they simply acknowledge that they're anti-Israel and stop coming up with new ways to redefine "pro-Israel?"