America Has Lost a Trusted Ally in the Middle East

The resignation of Salem Fayyad as Palestinian prime minister bodes ill for the well-being of Palestinians and hopes for a two-state political solution.

Former Palestinian Prime Minister Salem Fayyad.
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What now? Secretary Kerry, after his meetings with the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian president, says they agreed on very specific efforts to promote economic development "and to remove some of the bottlenecks and barriers" to commerce, specific plans to be announced in a week. That is all to the good, but the secretary rightly stressed that these cannot be in lieu of getting back on the political track.

Will Fayyad's successor inspire sufficient trust among U.S. and European donors? Any drift back to pre-Fayyad economic corruption will signal more poverty for Palestinians. That, and any slackening of security, will bring back a climate for terrorism that has previously marked the Palestinian regime and/or institute an authoritarian political system, which would be a disaster for the West Bank. It would produce an economic crisis and undermine Israelis' confidence that they can entrust their own future to a Palestinian state that would be a reasonable neighbor.

Can the Palestinians find a man like Fayyad, who understands what state building is about, who clearly sees that violence will get nowhere, who will dedicate himself to achieving a state by building institution by institution? Can a new prime minister create a law-abiding national police force? Under Fayyad, the police were told to keep the peace with an eye toward the best future for the people, not to protect Fatah or confront the Israeli forces. The risk is that the police may now revert to what they were under Yasser Arafat, ending Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation and in fact returning to the point of confrontation.

The American goal remains a two-state solution, a decent, democratic, Palestinian state at peace with Israel. But today there is no obvious, nationally recognized figure or cadre of respected senior officials to hold the P.A. together. There is a serious risk that Fatah and Hamas will eventually form a unity government, leaving the Israelis to feel they have no partner. Ironically, it was the Fatah officials who resented Fayyad and came to regard him as an adversary.

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Fayyad's resignation is a huge blow to prospects for a re-resumed negotiation for a two-state solution. Beyond that, if it is possible to persuade him to return to his previous position as head of finance, there will have to be an expanded commitment of donor funds, particularly from the Arab governments, because Fayyad's acceptance came about as long as he kept aid flowing.

Otherwise, those who nourished the kleptocracy will be at the center of the Palestinian government. No one can now be sure where the money goes, given the corruption among Fatah officials and, without Fayyad to fight it, that corruption will grow. Equally critical is to retain Fayyad's policy that police officers are made to understand that they are to keep the peace and help build a state.

Washington has lost a trusted ally in Fayyad. The administration pressed him to stay, rightly believing that Fayyad had an important role to play in seeing that their wishes were carried out. U.S. attempts to promote various economic projects in the West Bank will be much more difficult to achieve without a credible partner. What is more, we concentrated far more on the negotiating track than on actually reviving and building Palestinian institutions. Our priority has always been on the political benefits of a comprehensive agreement signed on the White House lawn.

Fayyad said that a Palestinian state is something that will have "to grow on both sides as a reality," and "from the bottom up and the top down." It must be created inch by inch, on the ground. Without him, the prospects have dimmed.

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