The popularity of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad among Israeli and American observers has always greatly exceeded his standing among his own people. Both dovish and hawkish analysts hold the American-educated technocrat as a unique Palestinian politician: honest, skilled at economics and governing, and dedicated to peace. But lately, even his Israeli and American fans have begun to notice that Fayyad’s dedication to peace is being undermined by his efforts to make himself more loved by Palestinians.
Fayyad is at a disadvantage when he competes with Hamas and other factions because the bona fides of any Palestinian political faction has always been defined by the amount of Jewish blood spilled. Unlike other major Palestinian figures, the University of Texas-trained economist has no gunmen or terrorist cadres at his disposal. So instead, he must wage war against the Jews using the tools of his own trade — by championing the boycott of Israeli goods produced in Jewish communities in the territories.
Even an admirer like Dalia Itzik, an important figure in Kadima – the party that the Obama administration hopes will somehow eventually replace Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud – thinks Fayyad’s decision to embrace such tactics is a blow to the hopes for peace that Fayyad has done so much to encourage in the past. No right-winger, Itzik is a former Labor Party speaker of the Knesset, but even she understands that what Fayyad is doing when he allows himself to be photographed throwing Israeli products into a bonfire is burning the chances for cooperation between the two peoples. As Itzik writes in the Jerusalem Post, it is “hope that is being boycotted” most of all in this campaign.
As to be expected, Fayyad’s bonfire photo-op got more sympathetic coverage in the New York Times last week as its article played along with the notion that his mobilization of the slender resources of the PA to conduct a witch hunt weeding out Israeli goods in Palestinian stores was merely a matter of “nonviolent resistance.”
But Fayyad’s administration was supposed to focus on development, heightened security, and the promise of peaceful interaction with Israel. But as both Itzik and other Israelis have rightly noted, the whole premise behind the boycott is a campaign of incitement in which anything created or sold by Jews is seen as illegitimate. It also feeds into the Palestinian notion that, despite Fayyad’s talk of peace, the Jewish state is, itself, illegitimate.
If Fayyad’s notion of peace rests on the premise of the expulsion of every single Jew from the territories and a Palestinian boycott of Israel, it is hard to see how even this paragon of Palestinian politicians is doing much to foster a spirit of peace. Rather than fighting to create a saner Palestinian political culture, Fayyad appears to be attempting to gain points with his public by pandering to the basest Palestinian instincts. The problem with such a plan is that no matter how many bonfires of Jewish products Fayyad builds, he can never really compete with the guys who have the guns and the explosives for the affection of the Palestinian public. All of which ought to lead us to wonder why so much attention and so much hope is being wagered by both Israel and the United States on his success.