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After Fayyad

3:30 PM, Apr 16, 2013 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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But Fayyad always understood that it would be an uphill fight to get this message adopted as the Palestinian agenda. He needs no lectures about Palestinian political culture. It is of course disappointing that his message has proved uninspiring to too many Palestinians, in Hamas and also in Fatah. State-building after all sounds like hard work, without any drama or immediate gratification—and without the emotional rewards that come to very many Palestinians from verbal and physical attacks on the Israelis. But Fayyad went in knowing all that. If he is disappointed today, it is with the levels of support the message and the approach got from Arab governments, Israel, and the United States.

From the Arabs, Fayyad always got remarkably little. American and European foreign aid levels were very high, but Arab support was always a day late and a few hundred million dollars short. Fayyad’s own integrity and his insistence on rooting out corruption largely killed the old excuse of the rich Arab oil exporting nations, that they would not give because their money would be stolen. But very few of them ever met their pledges, or met them on time, or increased them when the price of oil and therefore their own budget surpluses jumped. The cause of Palestine was great for speeches but less alluring when it came to writing checks. So month after month Fayyad was weakened by his inability to meet the PA payroll on which so many (far too many, in fact) Palestinians are dependent. For this reason he should have resigned a year or two ago, before the financial problems cut into his own popularity and his reputation as a man who could deliver.

Israeli governments also gave him less cooperation than he deserved. Had life been improving very tangibly for Palestinians in the West Bank, perhaps Fayyad and Fayyadism would have gotten more credit. This would have required that the Israelis keep the flow of PA tax revenues (much of which they collect and theoretically pass on) moving regularly, without the frequent delays they have imposed. It should have led to quicker action to remove checkpoints and barriers in the West Bank that interfere with mobility and commerce while doing little to protect Israeli security (something the Netanyahu government has in fact been doing, but could have begun earlier and gone further). It should have led to greater steps to increase Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank, and to greater efforts to reduce the number and size of Israeli raids into Palestinian cities.

Fayyad is probably most disappointed in the United States, the foreign power that has spent the greatest time, money, and energy to promote the two-state solution. During his years as finance and then prime minister, we have concentrated far more on the negotiating track than on actually building Palestinian institutions. After one American visit to Ramallah leading up to the Annapolis conference, Fayyad flatly told me “you guys are not helping me. This is all about Abbas and the PLO and the talks, not what I am trying to build here.” He was right: our priority has always been a comprehensive agreement signed on the White House lawn, and while we have always lauded Fayyad and his efforts they have never been central to American policy. The concessions we have intermittently sought from Israel have too often been steps like the freeing of prisoners, something that strengthens Fatah leaders but does nothing to advance state-building.

When Fayyad is gone, at least two effects are probable. First, donors will be even more reluctant to give. Now it really will be true that we cannot be sure where the money goes, a complaint that will be heard in European parliaments, the U.S. Congress, and Gulf Arab palaces. Corruption among top Fatah officials has never gone away and without Fayyad to fight it, it will grow. Some of the people tipped as his possible successors are known to the United States government to be corrupt and perhaps we can block them, but a new, little-known prime minister will have little clout in keeping big hands out of the many official tills.

Second, those Palestinian police forces may revert to what such groups were under Arafat: Fatah gangs. In the last year they had already begun to slip from Fayyad’s control and report more to Abbas, and this dangerous trend will now develop faster. This threatens the human rights situation in the West Bank, will make law and order there more tenuous, will likely reduce Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, and runs some risk that the police will actually end up in confrontations with Israeli forces.

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