April 22, 2013 | Quoted by Chicago Tribune
Last weekend, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned. We understand if that wasn't a sizzling news bulletin for most Americans.
But Fayyad was important. He drew international respect for introducing “Fayyadism” — financial transparency and accountability in a system long known for corruption and cronyism. Instead of asking the United Nations to declare a state of Palestine, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did in 2011, Fayyad was trying to build a modern Palestinian state from the ground up. He constructed financial institutions necessary for such a state. He attacked entrenched corruption. He insisted on transparency.
Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian pollster, told The New York Times something worth underscoring: “Fayyadism is about Palestinians finding a new source of legitimacy — one that is based on competence, not on a legacy of resistance or on religion. But given where the Palestinians are in pursuing their national goals, competence does not make national heroes.”
It should. Fayyad helped revive a moribund Palestinian economy in the West Bank and set the stage for robust double-digit GDP growth. The International Monetary Fund credited that growth in part to “private-sector confidence due to good management by the Palestinian Authority,” according to a 2011 report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Example: Before Fayyad, security personnel were paid “via paper bags full of cash,” Middle East analyst David Makovsky of the Washington Institute writes. “Fayyad insisted that every such employee have a bank account and be paid on time.”
Fayyad “was a quintessential state builder,” Makovsky tells us. “He was someone who brought order to a system rife with chaos and corruption. He projected a sense of confidence and professionalism that won the hearts not just of donors who contributed in increasing numbers, but also of … the Palestinian people, who saw that he cared about them.”
Fayyad, a former International Monetary Fund official with a doctorate in economics from the University of Texas, made some powerful enemies among the Palestinian elite by attacking corruption. He alone among top Palestinian leaders publicly opposed Abbas' disastrous bid for U.N. statehood in 2011. Passing a nonbinding resolution would do nothing to change the situation on the ground “unless Israel is part of that consensus,” he said. He was right.
That ill-considered U.N. gambit — and a successful bid for upgraded U.N. recognition in 2012 — led the U.S. to cut off millions in funding and Israel to temporarily suspend transfers of some tax revenues. Result: The Palestinian Authority has struggled to meet its payrolls. Fayyad became the scapegoat for public anger. “Ultimately he was stymied by the ossified system that he alone could not reform,” Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tells us.
So what now? With Fayyad gone, there is renewed chatter about a rapprochement between Fatah and its rival Hamas, which controls Gaza. That alliance could push the Palestinians even further from peace talks since Hamas has refused to recognize Israel or abandon violence, both ironclad preconditions for any peace talks. The prospects for a modern and functional Palestinian state, too, look to be receding.
But if the Palestinians ever do return to the peace table, if a deal is ever reached, let history show that Fayyad helped blaze that path with smart economic policies, not violence. That's heroism in our book.