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The End of Palestinian Reform

Many in the West have been in denial about the demise of the one genuine moderate in Palestinian politics. But it’s no longer possible to deny that Fayyadism is officially dead and buried. The long anticipated replacement of Salam Fayyad as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority finally happened yesterday. PA head Mahmoud Abbas named Rami Hamdallah as Fayyad’s successor. But not even those news outlets most dedicated to publishing happy talk about the PA and downplaying its endemic corruption could pretend that this is anything but a retrograde move. Far from continuing the American-educated technocrat’s policies aimed at stopping corruption and facilitating development, even the New York Times admits that Hamdallah is likely to keep foreign donations “in the family” and return the PA back to the bad old days when Yasir Arafat and his cronies were pocketing billions intended to better the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Some Palestinians questioned the effect of Mr. Hamdallah’s appointment on the confidence of foreign donor nations whose funds keep the Palestinian Authority functioning. Some also suggested that Mr. Hamdallah’s closeness to Fatah meant that there would be fewer checks and balances. Mr. Fayyad was a political independent that was often at loggerheads with Fatah. The Palestinian Parliament has not functioned since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections.

One Palestinian expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly, said that Mr. Abbas had appointed a prime minister “from within the family,” harking back to the era of Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas’s predecessor. Then, the expert said, things were run “like a family business, and that was not healthy.”

The Fayyad experiment in reform was largely the result of pressure from the Bush administration to democratize the PA and to get it working on improving the lives of Palestinians in order to strengthen its case for independence. But by appointing Hamdallah, Abbas is showing that he not only doesn’t give a damn what the Obama administration thinks but that he believes a return to Arafat’s ways won’t bring about any consequences from Washington.

The most credible observer of Palestinian politics, Khaled Abu Toameh, was even more pointed than the Times:

For Abbas and Fatah, Fayyad, a widely respected economist, posed a real problem and threat. As long as Fayyad was prime minister, it was almost impossible for Abbas and Fatah to lay their hands on hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid. …

Yet more important than getting rid of Fayyad was finding an uncharismatic and inexperienced figure that would play the role of the loyal and dutiful servant of Abbas and Fatah leaders. …

In this regard, Hamdallah will not be different from any official working in Abbas’s office. In fact, some Palestinians reacted jokingly to the appointment by saying that a secretary in Abbas’s office has more powers than the new prime minister.

Fayyad’s intentions as far as changing the political culture of the Palestinians were clear. He wanted to clean up the PA’s act and create a new constituency for policies oriented toward prosperity and peace, rather than the perpetual war fever and hatred for Israelis and Jews that keep both Fatah and Hamas afloat. But rather than being sandbagged by the U.S. and Israel, as Fayyad and some of his foreign supporters falsely claimed, his problem was always Abbas and the Fatah Party that bitterly resented his interference in their plans to keep foreign money from falling into the hands of the party and its leaders as had been the case when Arafat ruled.

Fayyad’s activities were also a threat to Abbas’s continued refusal to negotiate with Israel since the development plans he championed were predicated on the notion of a two-state solution. Without him, Abbas can continue to talk about peace to Western audiences while continuing to fuel the fires of hatred among Palestinians with no worries about Fayyad’s efforts undermining his strategy.

Without Fayyad, the pretense that the PA is anything but a kleptocracy is now gone. So, too, should the flow of American and European money to Abbas.

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