(Page 2 of 2)
The P.A.’s financial situation, however, is no laughing matter. Foreign aid is shrinking, and tax revenues are at the mercy of the Israeli government, which collects them monthly but has handed them over to Ramallah only erratically, occasionally withholding the money as a form of punishment. Since those revenues comprise two-thirds of the Palestinian budget, the effects can be devastating.
“It’s something that should not have been,” Fayyad said. “It really should not even be contemplated. Because unlike aid, this is not a sovereign choice. This is Palestinian money, collected under arrangement by the government of Israel…. You hear Israeli politicians refer to this money as if it’s Israeli money. Some actually say we want to punish the Palestinians. Language like this, it’s not language that one would expect to still hear in the 21st century.”
Unfortunately, we hear American politicians talking like that, too.
The matter of the money transfer is not Fayyad’s only frustration with his next-door neighbor. Although by all accounts the P.A. has done a credible job of assuming responsibility for security in the West Bank, the Israeli military still makes repeated incursions into Palestinian territory. “Somebody needs to convince me as to why it should continue to be found justifiable for the Israeli army to be sent to our own areas,” Fayyad said. “And somebody needs to explain to me why is it that the government of Israel deals one way with nonviolent demonstrations on the streets of Tel Aviv and another on the streets of Jerusalem or elsewhere on the West Bank.”
The Israelis have plenty of frustrations of their own with Fayyad and his boss, P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, beginning with the unilateral bid for statehood, which many viewed as an end-run around the kind of negotiated settlement that can truly bring this stubborn conflict to a close. And while the predictions of a diplomatic tsunami in September were not realized, neither was the U.N.’s endorsement of Abbas’s request for recognition.
This has left Fayyad in a precarious political situation that, made more uncertain by his government’s unity talks with Hamas, has signaled its dislike for the wonkish prime minister whom Western leaders love to embrace. If a forced retirement is in his future, Fayyad is not saying. On the contrary, he speaks with enthusiasm about the strides that his government has made to become more efficient, to reach Western standards of accountability, to include women at all levels and to act, in his words, “in a mature way.”
He mentions that although public opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians still want a two-state solution, there is also a majority that think it won’t happen.
“Part of what I’ve been trying to do, consciously, is bridge the gap between these two positions: one where you prefer to see it happen, the other where you don’t think it’s going to happen,” Fayyad said. “Well, guess what? Unless you believe it will happen, it’s not going to happen. This is one of those evolutionary events that are most unlikely to be realized unless you create a sense of inevitability. Because that’s what’s going to provide the transformative power to really convert this from something we’d like to have to reality.”
His words sound an awful lot like Theodor Herzl’s famous dictum, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Yet Fayyad is not just a dreamer. As the region churns with conflict, and peace talks barely limp along, his persistent drive to build the institutions of Palestinian statehood may be the future’s best, and only, hope.