In 2007, a new Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority was presented by their President, Mahmoud Abbas. His name was Salam Fayyad, a former employee of the Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Fayyad was a western educated man who saw the economic development and emergence into the world economy as the key to leading into the two-state solution. It is not difficult to understand why he was so well-liked, especially in the west. He was an international actor announcing to the world that Palestine was officially open for business – a statement that brought great change to the Middle-Eastern state.
Many who supported the Palestinian cause for statehood thought that Fayyad – with his close relationship to Western powers – could succeed where others before him had failed. It is clear that he was a very different individual from those who had led the struggle before him.
Fayyad’s Development plan
This plan involved the development of legal institutions, a trained Palestinian security force that would be able to keep the peace when the Israelis left, and quality infrastructure that would spur economic activity and trade within the Palestinian territories. This reform plan saw economic prosperity and the consumerist lifestyle as the cure to the radicalism that has led the struggle for Palestinian statehood.
But one of the major problems with these plans was the fact that in 2007, the Gaza Strip was effectively lost by the Palestinian Authority. They had lost the legitimacy to govern there, which saw Hamas take control.
From this point forward, the two Palestinian territories have been governed as two separate entities. The West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the Gaza Strip by Hamas. But the program for reform carried on in the West Bank, and was, praised internationally as what was needed to bring an end to the long-standing conflict.
This reform plan was praised around the world. US Presidents, both Obama and Bush, spoke highly of the economic revolution taking place under Fayyad’s leadership, as did Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Between 2008 and 2010, it seemed that everyone was praising the economic revolution taking place in the West Bank, everyone that is except the Palestinians themselves. It is true that this period saw a massive construction boom where shopping centers, restaurants, fast food establishments, telecommunications companies, and resort hotels were popping up throughout the region, but high rates of unemployment still persisted.
To make matters worse, these reforms included a wide expansion of credit and encouraged citizens to borrow in order begin living the type of western lifestyle they had never before dreamed of. They bought houses, luxury cars, property, businesses, and large stocks under the assumption large foreign investments would soon make paying this off as easy it was borrowing it. However, the foreign investment never came.
From the outside, the West Bank looked as though it was thriving, streets full of cars, big hotels, fancy shops, and an international airport was in the works. Unfortunately, the people were suffering under the weight of the debt they had amassed. This boom was based on credit, and it soon ran out. People were driving expensive cars, but no longer had the ability to purchase food for their families. There was a large emergence of the elite and working classes within the West Bank. One class was living easy, while the other was not able to obtain basic foods – wealth disparity only continued to grow.
While the Hamas-led Gaza Strip was facing very harsh conditions of food shortages and international sanctions, the majority of residents of the West Bank were dealing with the same levels of food insecurity.
These new reforms were benefiting the transnational elite classes but were not helping the majority of the workers living in these territories. These reforms didn’t bring the stability to the region, but actually added to the instability. It is clear that this quick sweep into marketization, neoliberalism, consumer choice, and a tax system that benefits the rich is not what Palestine needs to find its footing in the world community.
Enacting a new tax code that benefited foreign investors meant that the Palestinian Authority was not bringing in enough to construct the high quality, modern infrastructure they put forth in the plan.
Without reliable infrastructure, economic development is much more difficult. Before tax breaks and corporate havens, this should have been their number one priority. In April of 2013, Fayyad resigned from the post of Prime Minister in a time of growing government debt and dissension. The ambitious goals that Fayyad had attempted to achieve were just too much for a statelet to overcome.
Fayyad himself is a man that is nearly a walking contradiction; He is a figure who calls for the growth of transparency and accountability within the Palestinian Authority, despite the fact that he was appointed and not elected.
Furthermore, his notions for dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict are much more in line with the Israelis than with the Palestinians. He criticized the Authority for gaining observer status in the United Nations as a step in the wrong direction. While Fayyad himself is not a Westerner, his ideas about statecraft and governance do come from the deep seeded Western tradition, and this kind of thinking has not been fruitful in bringing an end to the crisis so far.
Western initiatives and pursuits have always been promoted as what was needed to bring a just and lasting peace to the region, yet this has never succeeded. Nowhere was this exhibited more than the Oslo Accords of 1993, which was lauded as the end to the conflict.
Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with each other on the White House lawn in front of smiling Bill Clinton, and the American press rang its praises that Clinton had brought peace to the Middle East.
The Oslo Accords were documents in which Arafat legalized some of the worst crimes that had been committed against the Palestinians through history. The West Bank settlements were declared legitimate Israeli dwellings, this breaks up the Palestinian areas of the West Bank into different zones. Western ideas and initiatives, even when put forth in the best intentions, have not helped to resolve the situation. One of the major problems that remains is that many are still holding on to the notion that a two-state solution is possible. A nation of Palestine made up of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, two chunks of land that do not even touch, would hardly be adequate in the long run.
It would only finalize the massive segregation of two populations, as Palestinians would have to travel on specialized roads that go directly through Israel. Roads that would be under heavy guard at all times. Such segregation and security would work to destroy any chance of these populations living in unforced calm.
These two populations inhabit the same piece of earth, and neither side is going away anytime soon. They must act as one to reach for equality, security, and stability. Otherwise, they are bound to continue the cycle of destruction on which they are currently trapped. The West Bank can not develop and integrate into the world economy alone, it needs supporting neighbors.