Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 September 2009
Issue No. 963
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Fayyad's pseudo state

The West's preferred Palestinian announces that he will build a state regardless of the outcome of peace talks. But what kind of state, asks Saleh Al-Naami

During his usual weekly meeting with leaders of his government, Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian caretaker government, urged his ministers to help him realise his promise to the Palestinians to build a Palestinian state within two years by building the institutions for a state. Fayyad previously announced his intention to build a nation state during a speech he gave two months ago in the University of Jerusalem, in response to a speech given by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the University of Bar-Ilan. Statements made by Fayyad on a number of occasions indicate that his plan to build a Palestinian state will depend heavily on international donations, promising that such grants will build "real foundations and economic infrastructure". He also promised to "build an independent economy by translating ideas for independence into policy, programmes and a concrete plan of action that will outline the work that must be done to complete the state and to remove the stigma that the occupation has left."

Fayyad stressed that he would not wait for the occupation to end to launch his plans for an independent Palestinian state. He added, "Palestinians must initiate the building of a nation themselves, for they are the ones who really want it. This will be a test of their merit, their ability to govern and their commitment to fulfilling agreements between the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] and Israel. Their success in this test will mean a huge leap in international and Israeli awareness."

Faisal Abu Shahla, a Fatah lawmaker and chairman of the Oversight Committee in the Legislative Council, defended Fayyad's plan, saying: "He should be commended, not criticised." In a statement to Al-Ahram Weekly, Abu Shahla denied that Fayyad lacked legitimacy. He said that Fayyad was appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas, who Palestinians consider to be "their legitimate president". Abu Shahla thinks that Israel's attitudes and behaviour and its refusal to recognise Palestinians' right to a separate state should be no excuse for inertia -- Palestinians should prepare for statehood anyway. Using Israeli attitudes as an excuse means that Palestinians have submitted to Tel Aviv's plans and have not attempted to put an end to the existing occupation. He says it is no mystery why Israel does not want a Palestinian state, and tries every way it can to maintain the occupation: "It is natural for the occupation to want to stand in the way of this plan, for the plan constitutes a different sort of challenge. This is our only chance. Any other way and we would neither achieve an independent state nor be able to build the foundations of a financially and economically independent Palestinian society."

Hamas considers Fayyad's project an attempt at "dismantling" the Palestinian national cause. Yehia Moussa, deputy head of the Hamas faction in the Palestinian Legislative Council, does not think that Fayyad is legally authorised to deal with building a state, stressing that according to Palestinian Basic Law, Fayyad has "little legitimate power". In a statement to the Weekly, Moussa said: "Fayyad's alternative to liberation is a reconsideration of the idea of building a state, an idea that our people have already refused. He is trying to confuse the people with his slogans about building a state."

Moussa thinks that Fayyad desires that Palestinians continue living under the occupation, stressing that Fayyad did not react to Israeli behaviour in the West Bank or to its continuing settlement projects. Moussa also notes Israel's complete rejection of recognising the right of Palestinian refugees to return. Moussa thinks that Fayyad's plan is part of a local and international movement to dismantle the Palestinian cause by trying to force reconsideration of a Palestinian state. He points out that Fayyad's statements come at the same time that the US is about to confer legitimacy on continued Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Moussa emphasises that Fayyad's talks about preparing for the declaration of a state are tied to a determination to continue security coordination with the occupation, suppression of the resistance, and the arrest of people based on their political and organisational affiliations, as per instructions from US Security Coordinator Keith Dayton.

Hani Al-Masri, a Palestinian writer and researcher, thinks that the fault with Fayyad's plan "is that state- building must come only after resolution of the conflict, and in this case, conflict is still at its peak". By focussing on state building, Fayyad relieves the occupation of its responsibilities and puts the responsibility on Palestinians twice over: first for the failure of prior negotiations, and second for the coming failure in building a state under the occupation.

Fayyad justifies his plan by saying that negotiations have failed to reach a peace deal, despite it being 16 years since the Oslo Accords were signed. This means that Palestinians should take the lead and begin building state institutions, establishing a state, and be the impetus for the political effort to end the occupation. Al-Masri says: "Fayyad should have concluded that the adoption of negotiations as the only choice was the reason behind its failure, and Fayyad should have provided more choices and other alternatives." As for Fayyad claiming that statehood represents a test of Palestinian merit, Al-Masri says: "The idea of a test distorts the nature of the conflict. It makes it seem as though it was a conflict to prove Palestinian merit, or a conflict over land, rather than a conflict between Palestinians and the settlement building which has taken over their land and displaced most of their people." He added: "Fayyad is betting on the world and Israel recognising the necessity of a Palestinian state, because it would be in Israel's interest and in the interests of US national security. It would help to bring security and stability to the region and the world. But this is not enough. The establishment of a state must be the product of forcing Israel to recognise Palestinian rights."

Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has confirmed Israel's denial of Palestinian refugees' right of return and Israel's refusal to withdraw to 1967 borders. Netanyahu has also insisted that Jerusalem is the "undivided" capital of a united Israel and that Israel has the right to a political settlement that will maintain its hold on its settlements, the Jordan Valley, areas located west of the annexation wall, the tops of West Bank mountains, and regions which include fresh water reserves, meaning that Israel will grant the Palestinians little more than 45 per cent of the West Bank. In addition, Israel is backed by the US in insisting that any Palestinian political entity in the West Bank should only have autonomy, not state sovereignty. This means that this entity will be not be allowed to arm or defend itself, will be unable to establish sovereign relations with neighbouring countries, and will not have control of its borders.

It seems that Fayyad is betting on the US role in supporting his plans, despite that six months have passed since the US administration tried to dissuade Israel from continuing the construction of Jewish settlements. The Obama administration achieved only a temporary suspension of the construction of settlements in the West Bank for three months, excluding housing units under construction -- some 2,500 units and public institutions. The Obama administration has also recognised Israel's right to continue building freely in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, on the basis of a temporary suspension of settlement building, the US has acted to pressure Arab states to normalise relations with Israel. At the same time, Washington is trying to convince the world to impose sanctions on Iran in order to halt its nuclear programme -- a key demand of Israel.

The question that presents itself is: How many settlers will move to the West Bank within the next two years? This is the date set by Fayyad to establish a Palestinian state. Many Palestinians do not believe Fayyad when he claims that his state will pose a challenge to Israel. As Fayyad said himself, this state will be committed to "the roadmap", according to which the first priority is to continue security coordination with Israel and to strike down Palestinian resistance movements. Further, every sign indicates that Fayyad's state will have temporary borders, which Palestinian President Abbas rejected earlier. Many of Israel's political elites, and especially right-wing Likud Party members, support this kind of state on strategic grounds. Put another way, many Palestinians see the state that Fayyad proposes as being built and run according to Israel's designs.

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