Monday, September 14, 2009

The Thirteenth Palestinian Government

Ambassador Blog
Edward Walkwe

From the earliest days, once the Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat forced the United States back in 1978 to take an active role in resolving the Palestinian problem, we have largely focused our efforts on security and the key final status issues like borders and Jerusalem. President Bush embraced the policy of a two state solution, but aside from some discussions in the context of the Autonomy negotiations and in the Oslo process years ago, there has been very little focus on what the Palestinian State will look like, how it will be organized and what are the premises on which it will be based. Presumably, these are questions that the Palestinians will have to answer in due course. But, it is very hard for me to imagine that Israel, or for that matter the United States, is a disinterested party. Will the Palestinian state look like Gaza under Hamas? If that is the expectation then it is not very likely that negotiations on the final status, even if started, would ever result in an agreement.

What we have all known for a long time is that Israel will not accept a hostile, independent state in the West Bank and Gaza and nor should it. If there was ever any doubt of this, all we need to do is to examine the Israeli and US reaction to Hamas' rule over Gaza. The Israelis will have to know who their neighbors are and will have to have a high degree of confidence that once a Palestinian state is established, it will not become a launching pad for attacks on Israel. Without a substantial degree of mutual confidence, issues like security, settlements, borders, Jerusalem and refugees cannot be resolved. This is not only a question of lines on a map. It is also a question of intentions.

Certainly, the Palestinian record thus far does not fill one with confidence. The divided polity, the clinging to rhetoric instead of reality, the record of corruption in the Palestinian National Authority, and failure to govern effectively even in areas where the Authority has sway, creates the expectation of failure, instability, and continued hostility toward Israel as the path of least resistance. Palestinians have been reluctant to take on the hard issues of coming to grips with their internal differences using the excuse that with the Israelis hovering over every decision and intervening at will, the Palestinians cannot determine their own vision or begin the construction of their own state. They have been unwilling to take the difficult steps of forging a common Palestinian vision and policy in the absence of the concrete governmental structure of a State in being - until now.

Now the Palestinian National Authority is advancing a new approach in its program of the thirteenth government entitled "Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State" published in August 2009. This is a document that has received little notice in the media, but which lays out a picture of a Palestinian state that could, if implemented, enable a constructive process of peace making. The document includes a forward by Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister that sets out the objectives of the Government for the next two years as a "full commitment to this state-building endeavor" and emphasizes that such a program is "critical" to the "creation of the independent state of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital." Fayyad's formulation in his cover letter is interesting since it is not found in the document itself. He refers to "East" Jerualem - the document consistently refers to "Jerusalem" without any modifier. The document itself has problems such as repeated references to UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which established the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to their homes based on their free choice. However, the document assigns responsibility of dealing with the refugees to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and not to the Palestinian Authority or its government.

The agenda that the program of the 13th government has set out is surprisingly detailed, which is unusual for political documents that have to appeal to a broad constituency. What is even more surprising is the level of self-criticism that is implied by the document. Repeated references to the need for auditing government functions would appear to be in response to the heavy criticism of the Authority as being corrupt. It would also tend to indicate that over the 17 years that the Palestinian Authority has been in existence, virtually no reforms have taken place, no strategic plan has been developed, no consensus on goals and vision has been reached, and that there has been little or no effort to establish the foundation for a viable Palestinian state. A lot of the credit for this dysfunctional history has to be laid at the feet of Yasser Arafat whose style of governing was divide, conquer and never decide.

While one could nit-pick the program. Certainly there are aspects that will cause heartburn particularly within the Palestinian community, but also among some Israelis. Furthermore, there is a long distance between statements of intention and facts on the ground. It remains to be seen if Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad can deliver on the vision and reform. But it is virtually certain, in my view, that without such an effort on the part of the Palestinians, there will be no peace agreement, no Palestinian state, and no respite from terrorism. The program's success is, as Prime Minister Fayyad says, essential if a peace agreement is to be reached. The program is predicated on and designed to help achieve the unification of the Palestinian polity, without which I do not give the peace process a snowball's chance of succeeding. This is the very first time that we have seen a concrete, rational, official Palestinian projection of what a Palestinian state might look like and how it could sustain peace as a democracy based on the rule of law. That has been an important missing ingredient in all the past efforts to concoct a peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. We should give Salam Fayyad our full support and help him make his vision real.

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