Salam Fayyad’s resignation is most unfortunate. The Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority since 2007, this American-educated technocrat has been the most constructive, most visionary, Palestinian leader and the one most associated with state-building, ever—with, I regret to say, very few rivals in those realms. His departure is a blow to peace—and to Palestinian hopes for national independence.
Fayyad brought “transparency, accountability and stability” to the often chaotic PA, in the words of the New York Times. He was, in many ways, the un-Arafat. Fayyad was honest, whereas the longtime PLO leader Yasir Arafat was corrupt; Fayyad sought order, while Arafat thrived on chaos; Fayyad focused his energies on building a Palestinian national entity, Arafat ultimately preferred focusing on trying to destroy the Jewish State.
Ironically, Fayyad ended up bearing the brunt of the blame for the continuing bedlam and economic distress on the West Bank. This distortion is the political equivalent of firing a doctor who has alleviated but not yet eliminated the symptoms of a chronic illness—then blaming the doctor as the cause of the affliction rather than part of the cure.
This dodge is part of a broader Palestinian blame game, whereby too many leaders fail to take responsibility for their own failures and miscalculations. It is always easier to blame the big bad Israelis—or a non-violent, non-demagogic, not very charismatic leader like Fayyad. Even the Times article helped perpetuate the continuing infantilization of Palestinians—a form of national self-indulgence and liberal condescension which grades them on a curve rather than holding them to the usual national standards morally, politically, economically. The Times reported: “The Palestinian Authority has been mired in financial crisis for two years, in part because of a shortfall in donations and Israel’s withholding of tax revenues in response to Mr. Abbas’s bid for enhanced status for the Palestinians at the United Nations.” The assumption here is that the norm is a culture of economic dependency, addicted to handouts.
I am well aware that the West Bank is not independent. But the Palestinians are able, if they so choose, to generate more revenue on their own, and divert less of it to lining officials’ pockets and perpetuating, in too many ways, the kleptocratic, terrorist mini-state Arafat created. Fayyad, along with Mahmoud Abbas, made some progress—but the Arafatian cancer has yet to be removed from Palestinians political culture or Palestinian statecraft.
In his important, authoritative, all-too-often overlooked, 2010 book, Palestine Betrayed, Efraim Karsh argues that back in 1947, many Arabs and Jews enjoyed warm friendships and enduring ties, with many believing they could coexist together. The “betrayal” of Arab Palestine Karsh references in the title, came from the demagogic, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist leaders like the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin-al Husseini, who failed their own people by rejecting compromise and choosing violent confrontation.
The Palestinians have never had a David Ben-Gurion, a leader who preferred pragmatic problem-solving to posturing and chose in November 1947—as well as other times—to take what Zionists considered half-a-loaf, in that case with the UN’s Partition Plan, rather than holding out for the maximum. Moreover, while they certainly have a vigorous culture of criticism, which apparently has engulfed Fayyad, the Palestinians lack a culture of constructive democratic criticism, which activates democracy’s self-correcting mechanism peacefully and, usually, surprisingly effectively.
Israeli democracy certainly has its flaws. Israel has not always been blessed with the right leaders, and no leader is perfect. But starting with Ben-Gurion, continuing with the fact that Israel held free democratic elections shortly after its founding with 21 political parties competing, each with its own party newspaper, along with half a dozen independent papers, Israel’s free-wheeling politics has helped the country forge ahead and thrive.
Years ago, an Israeli-born friend of mine arguing with a Palestinian colleague said, “Your problem is that you seek justice, blaming Israelis for your statelessness; all we as Zionists sought was a solution to our statelessness, hoping to end that sorry state.” Seeking justice in the international arena often encourages an immature maximalism with a destructive and ultimately self-defeating punitive streak. Problem-solving entails accepting realities, splitting differences, and moving forward.
It is ironic and tragic, therefore, that just as Israel celebrates its 65th anniversary—testifying to a pretty high batting average of good decisions over bad and this necessary mature pragmatism—that the Palestinians lose Fayyad. His loss is a blow to both peoples, both of whom would benefit from visionary, constructive, nation-building democrats at the helm of each nation, emphasizing problem-solving not conflict, more concerned with maximizing quality of life for their own people rather than punishing or inhibiting their neighbors.