Why is the West Bank quiet?
While the Middle East continues to be in turmoil, one region maintains an amazing degree of tranquility. This is the West Bank, ruled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), under the leadership of president Abbas and PM Fayyad. Are we witnessing another miracle made in the holy land, or are there more mundane reasons? I go with the latter.
The economy of the West Bank is booming, with Chinese-like growth rates and decreasing unemployment. Political repression may still exist, but far less than that which prevails in all the neighboring states. President Abbas was elected with just 62 percent of votes, compared with Bashar Assad in Syria, whose support, when "elected", was 99.97 percent... but then, this kind of "election," is exactly what the Arab masses have revolted against.
The political stability in the West Bank is particularly exemplary, when seen against the backdrop of the relentless efforts of Hamas, as well as other like-minded bad guys, to inflame troubles in the West Bank.
Just recently, Al-Jazeera published secret PA documents pertaining to the secret Palestinian-Israeli negotiations of recent years. These documents clearly indicated a more moderate negotiation position than the more militant public posture displayed by the PA. To be sure, the revelations did not go down well, and the chief Palestinian negotiator, the veteran Saib Eraikat was forced to step down. No major demonstrations, no harassment of the fallen diplomat, no charges of treason against him, rather a process much more resembling the western world than the Middle East. Put in sum, the PA seems to be coming of age, showing an encouraging level of political maturity.
Let's remember also that the Palestinian population has free access to the social communication networks, and that shows that rebels need a cause, and in its absence, even Facebook is not enough to send people to the streets.
There are three main reasons to this state of affairs, and alongside them the lessons to be drawn.
First, in recent years, there has been a dramatic improvement in the security situation in the West Bank, the result of growing fruitful cooperation between the respective Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
Second, the performance of the Palestinian P.M Fayyad is exceptionally effective and won the praise of the international community, as well as Israel. Its called "Fayyadism," and it is a winning formula. Fayyad is a great believer in the concept of building the Palestinian state and economy from the bottom up. In the absence of a comprehensive political settlement, so the concept goes, the Palestinians should shift their focus from violence to the gradual construction of the institutions that will the basis for the future Palestinian state. Fayyad gave up on the Kassam rockets and the AK-47'S, instead opting for the creation of a viable civic society. Here again, Israeli cooperation is vital, particularly in the economic sphere.
Third, the international community, particularly the U.S., is giving a helping, generous hand. The U.S. does it through agencies like the USAID. Take for example, the USAID effort in support of Palestinian and Israeli agricultural projects in the disputed Jordan valley. When politics runs supreme, this area is a major bone of contention between Israelis and Palestinians. When development and building are on top, the parties have a lot in common, and the results are much in display.
With that, let's examine the lessons. Israel and the PA must find the areas of cooperation beneficial to both of them, exactly at a time when they still find it impossible to resolve the thorny, sensitive political issues. Security is of prime importance, as this is the key to stability, without which foreign investments will not come.
And then, there is the American role. It is the immediate instinct of every new administration to come up with a peace initiative,as if this is the mission of U.S. administrations to invent the wheel anew whenever they come to power. In most cases, these initiatives are an exercise in futility and a waste of time.
The two parties are the ones who need to mobilize the political audacity required to make the mutual far-reaching concessions conducive to the achievement of lasting peace. In the absence of that they need to do what is second best, to create, maintain and cement those areas of cooperation on which they agree. This is where American political support, as well as financial inducement can make the difference.
So, are we in the promised land of lasting peaceful coexistence? Not really, and not in the very near future, but the parties continue to inch forward and the PA gains growing respectability, and so long that they do it, we can realistically expect to see a stable West Bank.