In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Aida refugee camp, home to nearly 4,000 displaced Palestinians, is snugly situated between the ever-expanding separation wall and a dazzling five-star hotel that is only financially feasible to the economically privileged Palestinian elite. Trapped between a vulgar display of wealth and a towering symbol of their 45-year imprisonment under suffocating martial law, Aida’s residents live in conditions which are a microcosm of life under the governance of the Palestinian Authority.
Rather than advancing the struggle for Palestinian self-determination, an economic-peace approach under the direction of Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has greatly hastened Israel’s ongoing colonization of the West Bank.
In 2007, following Hamas-dominated parliamentary elections the previous year, PA President Mahmoud Abbas illegally dismissed the democratically-chosen Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh of Hamas. Under immense pressure from Israel and its Western allies, Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank economist with extensive ties to Western politicians, as prime minister of a new emergency government. Until today, no elections have taken place.
Abbas’s absurdly undemocratic –and illegal – display of autocracy was prompted by American and European threats to cut off the PA’s financial lifeline. Unsurprisingly, as American and European politicians were delivering speeches chastising countries such as Iran and Syria for their lack of representative governance, they were bribing the PA to abandon its democratic mandate.Corporate media outlets eagerly played chorus to the choir, shining an almost entirely uncritical light on Fayyad and his plan to establish an independent Palestinian state through an economic peace approach, labeled by many commentators as “Fayyadism.”
New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman, who praised Fayyad in a series of editorials, referred to Fayyad’s economic peace approach as “the real Palestinian revolution.” Friedman wrote that Fayyad, unlike America’s other Arab allies, does not “lack both courage and vision,” and is “popular” because he aims to build honest institutions and “effective police and paramilitary units.”
In short, through accelerated industrialization and a concentrated focus on the private sector, Fayyad sought to reach a level of economic independence which once achieved would render Israel incapable of denying Palestinians an independent state in the West Bank (ostensibly leaving Gaza for a later date). His strategy included cleansing the PA of corruption, encouraging nonviolent struggle against the Israeli occupation, attracting investment in urban centers, and close cooperation with the Israelis on security issues. Through all of this, Fayyad boldly pronounced, long awaited Palestinian sovereignty would materialize by 2011.
Influenced by disastrous neoliberal myths, the development born from the unelected Fayyad’s policies – ironically praised by Israeli economist Yitzhak Gal as “bottom up” – is proving to be as enduring as sandcastles.
Supporters of the progress made under Fayyad’s supervision, who point to the almost eight percent rise in Gross Domestic Production (GDP) between 2008 and 2011, tend to overlook its impermanence – GDP growth has been driven almost entirely by international donor aid, on which the PA is wholly dependent to stay afloat.
The financial inequality gap of Palestinians in the West Bank has widened drastically, creating an economic impediment that serves as yet another barrier to genuine grassroots unity. Furthermore, as the Abbas-Fayad government encourages development projects such as Rawabi, a planned city near Ramallah, struggling families are being asked to move, put their assets up as debt collateral, and make dangerous investments in a trembling economic environment.Because of the overwhelming emphasis on urban development, the rural countryside, large swaths of which are under the 60 percent of the West Bank completely controlled by Israel, has been subjected to an astounding degree of negligence. The overwhelming economic pressure faced by many Palestinians who are desperate for employment has resulted in large scale migration to urban centers such as Ramallah.
In other words, the same treacherous economic policies of many Western countries – those which led to the extreme concentration of wealth into the hands of a tiny elite, housing crises, and an economic meltdown that caused global damage – are now being applied in Palestine.
When considered alongside the rapid expansion of Israeli settlements, Fayyad’s approach seems to assist the Israeli government in its efforts at ethnic cleansing by pushing Palestinians into semi-sovereign enclaves that are effectively Bantustans.
The Palestinian economy cannot blossom under the heel of Israel, which completely controls the flow of all imports and exports, collects and transfers taxes (often withholding these taxes as political punishment), and restricts the movement of human capital. Now that the average purchasing power of Palestinians is less than it was in 2005, at the tail end of the Second Intifada, it ought to be clear that this is a nauseating display of non-logic.
The basic premise on which Fayyad’s entire strategic edifice is built is flawed to its very core: there is not a shred of credibility to the notion that development would somehow force the Israelis to withdraw.
To make matters worse, the PA’s security forces are reportedly operating at a level of efficiency which has allowed the Israeli army to remove hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank. In effect, Palestinians are being hired to enforce Israel’s illegal occupation, while the United States and other donors foot the bill for both development and security.The impact of popular grassroots struggles against Israel’s iron-fist grip has been directly undermined by Fayyad’s economic-peace approach.
Although the last few years ushered in an inspirational new period of nonviolent Palestinian resistance, the challenges the Palestinian struggle pose to the Israeli occupation have been mitigated by the economic and political efforts of the Abbas-Fayyad regime. In other words, despite the vast expansion of settlements, the uptick in home demolitions, and the increased confiscation of Palestinian lands, the occupation has become less rather than more costly for Israel.
Particularly over the last year, Palestinians have reenacted many of the nonviolent strategies of the First Intifada – sit-ins, marches, hunger strikes – and developed creative new means of resisting the horrifying system of segregation that was imposed on the West Bank after the Oslo Accords. If these courageous struggles are complimented by a complete economic and political disengagement from Israel, Palestinians could deliver a potentially stultifying blow to the institutions of occupation.
The alternative is to continue on the present path, personified by Abbas and Fayyad: an utter lack of political progress, accelerated economic stratification, and the expedited colonization of the last embattled swaths of Palestinian land. If a new method is not adopted, the PA will develop the urban centers of the West Bank just in time for Israel to once and for all annex the cringing remains of Palestine at a discounted rate.
Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance journalist and a weekly Israel-Palestine correspondent for BikyaMasr.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar’s editorial policy.
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