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The Misleading Fayyad Blame Game

The political demise of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad continues to drive much of the discussion about the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process in the media. Thus, it’s no surprise that Fayyad’s No. 1 fan at the New York Times would weigh in today on the paper’s op-ed page to perform his own postmortem on the death of “Fayyadism.” Thomas Friedman, who modestly takes credit for coining the term, writes today that there is plenty of blame to go around for his favorite’s failure. He rightly notes that both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party and their Hamas rivals always wanted to get rid of Fayyad–the factor that I wrote last week was the main reason Fayyadism was doomed from the start. But Friedman also puts forward a theory about the American and Israeli responsibility for Fayyad’s failure.

According to this line of argument, which is rapidly being incorporated into the catechism of Israel-bashers, the cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority by Congress as well as the withholding of various revenues by the Israelis precipitated Fayyad’s end. In this telling, without the cash to keep the Palestinian economy afloat, Fayyad’s reform agenda and administration rapidly collapsed, allowing his enemies to force him out. This narrative holds that it was these cuts, which were implemented to punish the PA for its decision to go to the United Nations to pursue independence rather than to negotiate for it in peace talks, were counterproductive and ultimately responsible for the exit of the only Palestinian leader who could be said to care about his people or peace.

But while this way of looking at things is convenient for those who always prefer to blame the Israelis and the pro-Israel community in the United States for everything that happens in the Middle East, it is completely illogical.

As even Friedman admits, Fayyad was adamantly opposed to the PA’s UN gambit that was nothing more than a way to evade peace talks since Abbas was unable and/or unwilling to ever make a deal with the Israelis. By placing the full force of U.S. policy on the same side as Fayyad, the Obama administration, Congress and Israel were backing up the PA prime minister, not undermining him. The PA remains completely dependent on foreign aid from the West, and using this leverage was the only way for President Obama and the Israelis to convey to Abbas that he should listen to Fayyad rather than make a grand gesture at the UN that would do nothing for the Palestinian people.

Fayyad was, of course, completely right. Abbas’s end run around the U.S.-sponsored peace process did nothing for the Palestinians. Though, after more than a year of effort, they got the UN General Assembly to pass a symbolic measure that upgraded the PA’s observer status at the world body, that did not bring them the independence that could only be won by ending the conflict with Israel.

But instead of admitting that Fayyad was correct, the Fatah Party blamed him for the collapse of the kleptocracy that was funded by foreign money. Palestinian woes were not the fault of Fayyad’s austerity policies but the fruit of a system in which no-work and no-show jobs for a vast army of Fatah backers was the backbone of the West Bank’s economy. For all of Fayyad’s much-praised efforts to improve the PA’s government and to create economic growth, he remained unable to change that fundamental fact of Palestinian life. The so-called “diplomatic tsunami” that was supposed to overwhelm Israel as a result of this debate also fizzled.

Friedman acknowledges that there is no hope for the Palestinians so long as “there is no place” for a man like Fayyad in their government. But he fails to draw the proper conclusions from this point. The Fatah party that had no use for a person who was an obstacle to their corrupt practices sabotaged Fayyad. But the reason why they could get away with this is that Fayyad had no political constituency of his own. That was not just because he was more of a technocrat than a politician. The lack of any appreciable support for Fayyad demonstrates that the Palestinian political culture remains hostile to his message of development and coexistence. Though left-wing critics of Israel continue to pretend that Palestinians want peace, terror-oriented groups like Fatah and Hamas can count on a virtual monopoly of public support in both the West Bank and Gaza.

While Friedman admits that Arab dissatisfaction with autocrats like Hosni Mubarak or Mahmoud Abbas won’t inevitably lead to liberalism, he still holds to the idea that if Fayyad had been given enough foreign support, he might have prevailed. In fact, he did have the support of the U.S. and Israel, but there isn’t enough money in the United States or Israel to buy Fayyad a loyal base of Palestinian supporters. Blaming the pro-Israel community in the United States—Friedman’s favorite whipping boy that he alleges has “bought” Congress—for seeking to hold the PA accountable for its actions is absurd.

If the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict is dead, it is not because some Israelis and Americans have not tried hard enough to help a friendly Palestinian. It is because that favored Palestinian hadn’t the support at home to keep him going. Until there is a sea change in Palestinian culture to allow a Fayyad to succeed, no amount of U.S. aid or Israeli diplomatic concessions will create a viable partner with whom the Jewish state can make peace. 



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