Salam Fayyad, Out of the Ashes of Arafat

07/15/2010 01:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Taylor Marsh Political writer and cultural voyeur, author and speaker.

The usual suspects are not the only ones being blamed, with someone finally rising from the PA ashes of Arafat.

The vampire was not Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. - The New York Times


... It was Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. "We stand today in this furious night to express our intense anger toward this damned policy by the illegitimate so-called Fayyad government," Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, shouted. ...The antagonism between them offers a depth of rivalry and rage that shows no sign of abating. [...] - Trapped by Gaza Blockade, Locked in Despair

The Hamas official can rail against Salam Fayyad (pictured here), Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, but he's getting raves from others, Slate's Michael Weiss calling him "Palestinine's Great Hope." Mr. Fayyad has a degree from the University of Texas and is a former World Bank economist, and is attempting to walk a precarious line, trying to suppress Hamas while gaining Israel's trust, as was reported in May by the Economist. From Slate:

Since his appointment as prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority in 2007, following the Fatah-Hamas civil war that led to Hamas' takeover of Gaza, Salam Fayyad has completely transformed the West Bank from an immiserated backwater into a thriving, integrated society. Ramallah, the capital, where not too long ago Yasser Arafat's compound was encircled by IDF tanks, now resembles an embryonic Tel Aviv, featuring state-of-the-art office buildings, expensive boutiques and shopping malls, and ads for imported luxury goods. The casbahs of Nablus, once the cynosure for the second intifada, are busier than ever, and one can even mark the improved quality of life by the criminal indicators: This year Nablus saw its first arrest for drunken driving. Better that than suicide bombings. [..] read on

The article in yesterday's New York Times will make you want to scream and remind everyone of the dire reality, as well as the hold your breath hope some see in PA's Salam Fayyad.

It will also give you an idea of why Hamas is popular with some Palestinians: "You can't go on your own to apply for a job," he said. "For me, Hamas is about employment," said one man interviewed for the article.

Today, however, two developments have conspired to turn a difficult life into a new torment: a three-year blockade by Israel and Egypt that has locked them in the small enclave and crushed what there was of a formal local economy; and the bitter rivalry between Palestinian factions, which has undermined identity and purpose, divided families and caused a severe shortage of electricity in the middle of summer.

There are plenty of things to buy in Gaza; goods are brought over the border or smuggled through the tunnels with Egypt. That is not the problem.

In fact, talk about food and people here get angry because it implies that their struggle is over subsistence rather than quality of life. The issue is not hunger. It is idleness, uncertainty and despair.

It reveals what Sen. Schumer said about the Palestinians, that "to strangle them economically until they see that's not the way to go, makes sense" is nothing less than stark unenlightened perspective.

That Mr. Schumer seems to represent the Democratic elite line makes you wonder what will happen, not just with Israelis and Palestinians, but also in the wider region, especially since Bill Kristol is now beginning to swiftboat Democrats, with Sarah Palin's Jewish friends joining in.

The focus on settlements is important and the most visible impediment to progress on two-states, with PA's Fayyad moving aggressively forward.

From the New York Times:

Ask Gazans how to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- two states? One state? -- and the answer is mostly a reflexive call to drive Israel out. "Hamas and Fatah are two sides of the same coin," Ramzi, a public school teacher from the city of Rafah, said in a widely expressed sentiment. "All the land is ours. We should turn the Jews into refugees and then let the international community take care of them."

Intractable seems to rule the day.

For Palestinian women it's far worse (again from the Times):

After that, Mr. Ju'bas found small jobs around Gaza, but with the blockade that dried up. His only source of work is at the United Nations relief agency, where two months a year he is a security guard.

He admits that at times he lashes out at his family. Domestic violence is on the rise. The strain is acute for women. Men can go out and sit in parks, in chairs right on the sidewalk or visit friends. Women are expected to stay off the streets.

The women at the stress clinic gathered about 10 a.m. They entered silently, wearing the ubiquitous hijab head scarf and ankle-length button-down overcoat known as the jilbab. Two wore the niqab over their faces.

They spoke of sending their children to work just to get them out of the house and of husbands who grew morose and violent.

They blamed Hamas for their misery, for seizing the Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, which led to the blockade. But they also blamed Fatah for failing them.

In April 2009, I was on a conference call arranged by Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation. I asked about the plight of women, with what was said still worth reading today.

It is a paralyzed way of life.

Economists here say what is most needed now is not more goods coming in, as the easing of the blockade has permitted, but people and exports getting out. That is not going to happen soon.

"Our position against the movement of people is unchanged," said Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the Israeli in charge of policy to Gaza's civilians. "As to exports, not now. Security is paramount, so that will have to wait."

Keep looking towards Palestinian leader Salam Fayyad, who has talked about ""ending the occupation, despite the occupation." But can he win in Beit Omar? From the Economist (May 2010), which also says Mr. Fayyad has given the Palestinians a "fair start" on a state.

[...] His sit-downs in Beit Omar, on the main road that Jewish settlers use between Jerusalem and Hebron, the biggest Palestinian city in the southern part of the West Bank, chime with the PA's own boycott of anything to do with the settlements. The PA recently gave the 25,000-odd Palestinians who work in them until the end of the year to give up their jobs or face up to five years in jail. And both the protesters and the PA share the common aim of ending the occupation in the 80% of the West Bank, known as Areas B and C, that are controlled directly by the Israeli army. [...] Some suspect that, as well as suppressing Hamas, Mr Fayyad's forces also want to prove their effectiveness and thus gain Israel's trust. In a few places Israel's army has already expanded the territory where PA security forces can operate outside the cities to which the Oslo Accords of 1993 had confined them, particularly around Hebron. Israel has also hinted that as reward for the current proximity talks more territorial extensions could be in the offing. But the protesters complain that Mr Fayyad's men are doing the occupier's dirty work. Worryingly for Mr Abu Mariya, Israel's military authorities are even considering a PA request to build a police station in Beit Omar.

Israel benefits as well as the PA. After all, the fiercest challenges to its rule have been in the villages of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, all places that have been under Israel's military control. Israel would be only too happy to let Mr Fayyad's men rid them of havens for Hamas and car thieves. [...]

More on P.M. Fayyad below from Michael Weiss, including invoking historic Middle East times and one particularly Jewish hero, below:

Indeed, what Fayyad is doing in the West Bank resembles nothing so much as what Zionists were doing in the Mandatory Palestine of the 1920s, that is to say, focusing on a careful ground-up state-building enterprise in order to make actual statehood an inevitability. As with Ben Gurion and the early architects of the Histadrut and Haganah--respectively, the trade union organization that handled everything from health care to housing to banking in the Mandate's Jewish community, and the security force that later evolved into the IDF--Fayyad walks a knife edge of antagonism and accommodation with an occupying authority that has it in its power to prolong or hasten that inevitability.

...and remember that Hamas is still holding Gilad Shalit.

Taylor Marsh is a political analyst and writer out of Washington, D.C.