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The Myth of the Palestinian Authority’s Readiness for Statehood

One great mystery of the Palestinian Authority’s bid for recognition as a state in September is why reputable agencies like the World Bank and the IMF would discredit themselves by declaring the PA ready for statehood. That assertion was belied once again this weekend, when Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced PA employees will get only half their salaries this month because international donors have thus far coughed up only $330 million of the $970 million they pledged, and foreign aid accounts for fully a quarter of the PA budget.

As Omri noted here last month, one requirement for being a functioning state rather than a failed one is being able to pay the bills, so it’s hard to claim the PA is ready for statehood when it depends on donations that frequently don’t materialize. And the Arab states responsible for the current shortfall are serial defaulters on their pledges to the PA.

Indeed, Palestinians themselves don’t consider their government(s) functional, which makes it even harder to see the PA as ready for statehood. Last month, for instance, Gaza residents blocked access to UNRWA summer camps to demand the UN agency rebuild their houses, which were destroyed during the second intifada. They didn’t address this demand to Gaza’s official Hamas-run government. Nor did they address it to the PA, though Hamas and the Fatah-led PA recently signed a unity deal whose stated purposes include reconstructing Gaza. Faced with two Palestinian governments that could credibly be deemed responsible, the demonstrators dismissed them both as useless and pinned their hopes on UNRWA.

Compounding the problem is the fact that continued donations from Western countries – which generally do honor their pledges, and hence constitute the mainstay of the PA’s budget – depend largely on the presence of one man: Fayyad. This is widely recognized by Palestinians: A poll last month found they preferred Fayyad as the unity government’s prime minister by a two-to-one margin over Hamas’ candidate; the pollster attributed this to the belief Fayyad’s presence would reduce or eliminate the danger of international sanctions against the unity government. PA President Mahmoud Abbas also recognizes this. Indeed, he warned Hamas this weekend that its opposition to Fayyad endangered the statehood bid, because “we are subject to very sensitive and fateful conditions.” Translation: To continue donating, the West needs a government with a non-corrupt, non-terrorist facade, and Fayyad is the only man who can provide it.

It’s hard to see how the PA can be deemed ready for statehood if its financial viability depends on the continued tenure of one individual. After all, Fayyad isn’t immortal; what happens if he dies? And it’s especially hard when one partner in the unity government is adamantly demanding his ouster.

In sum, we have a would-be state whose viability depends on unreliable donations plus a single individual whom half  his government wants to oust, and whose own citizens don’t see as capable of addressing basic needs. In what conceivable sense does that constitute readiness for statehood?


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