Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has picked up on the April 4 – Easter Sunday – greeting to the Palestinian people of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In it, Fayyad promised that next year, the people will hold the (Islamic) Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “capital” of the Palestinian state.
Fayyad, of course, has made his reputation over the last decade as a Western-friendly moderate, praised by Thomas Friedman for advocating that the Palestinian Arabs focus on building their institutions to prepare for viable statehood rather than on armed struggle against Israel. Friedman calls this approach “Fayyadism,” but as Jonathan Tobin pointed out in March, Fayyadism is a policy without a constituency among the Palestinian Arabs. It isn’t something that can be counted on or appealed to in the clutch.
Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting is a reminder that it could be more problematic if Fayyadism did have a constituency. The statehood proposal announced by Fayyad in August 2009 might de-emphasize armed resistance, but its provision for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967, border is hardly uncontroversial.
One element of such a declaration – to be made in 2011, according to Fayyad’s two-year timetable – would be unilaterally assuming Arab control of Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem. The text of Fayyad’s April 4 greeting could hardly be more pointed regarding the import of that. His words are a reminder of the years 1948 to 1967, when Jordan’s occupation force destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter and denied Jews access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. More than half of Old Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants left the city during that period because of religious restrictions and harassment.
Today, the ancient iron key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is kept and wielded daily by a Muslim family under a centuries-old charter from the Ottoman Empire. While Israel administers civil life in the Old City, this is merely a tradition with an aspect of historical charm to it. Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting reminds us, however, that under Arab Islamic rule, this tradition represents the power to prohibit the free exercise of religion.
Fayyad’s provocative greeting can’t be dismissed as meaningless demagoguery. He has already put forward an actual plan to declare East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state in 2011, the “next year” referred to in his greeting. He himself may or may not be the leader around whom Palestinians and their foreign sponsors can coalesce, but he has for the first time overlaid the Palestinians’ long-vague aspirations with the organizing agent of a true, state-oriented strategy.
Thomas Friedman is typical of Western observers in welcoming this as a sign of seriousness. But we would be perilously shortsighted to mistake the Fayyad strategy’s de-emphasis on the tactics of armed insurgency for a moderation of Palestinian objectives. Palestinian leaders continue to promise a great deal they either can’t deliver, or could only deliver if conditions were radically different. Approaching immoderate objectives with a revised strategy isn’t actually a sign of moderation.