Tom Friedman Has Seen the Great Arabic Hope

And, believe it or not, it’s the Palestinian Authority

By Jesse Oxfeld|August 5, 2009 4:00 PM

Mustachioed New York Times foreign-affairs guru Thomas Friedman trotted to one of his favorite corners of the globe for today’s column, a dispatch from the Palestinian capital of Ramallah, in the West Bank. From there, he recounts the findings of the U.N Development Program’s new Arab Human Development report, which contains all sorts of dispiriting, if not entirely surprising, details. Throughout the Arab world, there’s huge unemployment, huge illiteracy, and stagnant economies, and things have only gotten worse since the last similar report, in 2002. It’s evidence for traditional Friedmanian points: Arab leaders must embrace modernity rather than fight it, they must focus on their own people not their enemies, and other similar ideas, more pithily sloganized by Friedman than by your humble blogger. But, interestingly, this column offers a bright spot—and, even more interestingly, that bright spot is the Palestinian Authority. “The whole report would have left me feeling hopeless,” Friedman writes, “had I not come to Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government in the West Bank, to find some good cheer.” (“I’m serious,” he adds.) As it turns out, “Salam Fayyad, a former I.M.F. economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever,” Friedman writes. “Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services…. He is an ardent Palestinian nationalist, but his whole strategy is to say: the more we build our state with quality institutions—finance, police, social services—the sooner we will secure our right to independence.” And, Friedman points out, the strategy seems to be bearing fruit: The number of new businesses in the West Bank is skyrocketing this year, and the economy there should grow by 7 percent, according to the IMF. Who knew?

Green Shoots in Palestine [NYT]

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