The ghost at the White House banquet tomorrow night—the most conspicuous non-guest—may well be Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the man whom Israeli President Shimon Peres crowned the “Palestinian Ben-Gurion” and who, wrote Ben Smith in his conventional wisdom-making article last week, is “the guy who in our fantasy world would have [Palestinian President Abbas]’s job.” Fayyad has been trying to make himself heard nonetheless, questioning Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sincerity and releasing a plan (“Towards Liberty”) for further state-building. Abbas negotiates while Fayyad builds a viable state: That could potentially be the strategy.
This strategy has a name: The Fayyad Plan. Fayyad has repudiated it, except he seems to have taken a renewed liking to it. Under it, Fayyad, a Westernized technocrat who is not a member of Fatah, builds the infrastructure essential to statehood in the West Bank so that unilateral Palestinian independence seems credible, if only as a bargaining chip. In fact, columnist Yossi Alpher notices that the original timeline of the Fayyad Plan—Fayyad had said a Palestinian state would be viable by August 2011—seems to coincide immaculately with the one-year goal set by the Obama administration for this round of direct talks.
And the problem with the Fayyad Plan—in addition to the fact that unilateral statehood would probably not be recognized by the United States or Israel and therefore isn’t really credible anyway; that it does nothing to address Gaza; and that it could give Hamas an opening in the West Bank—is that, according to a comprehensive and neutral report, Fayyad’s nascent “state-building” is mostly not all it is cracked up to be; and even where it has been all it is cracked up to be, it has been imposed via a toxic mixture of corruption, favoritism, and authoritarianism. “He’s honest, he’s competent,” writes Ben Smith, channeling Secretary of State Clinton, “he’s really getting things done and the situation on the ground in the West Bank—security, economy—is better than it’s been in memory.” It is hardly clear that all of that is actually true, although this morning the Times‘s Ethan Bronner did report that the West Bank has experienced increased security and prosperity of late. (Fayyad has probably been most effective organizing boycotts of settlement-produced products, which nonviolently and moderately oppose the settlements as well as help forge national identity.)
So as (if?) direct talks continue beyond this week, it is worth keeping the Fayyad Plan (and the problems with it) in the back of your mind. It’s a fair bet the main players will be.
Fayyad: Netanyahu Must Explain His Definition of Palestinian State [Reuters/Haaretz]
Fayyad: PA Will Be Prepared To Establish a State in a Year [Ynet]
Where The Negotiations Could Be Useful [JPost]
Related: Decoding the Mideast Peace Rhetoric [Politico]
Are Palestinians Building a State? [Carnegie Endowment for International Peace]
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.