In recent years it has become popular among liberal commentators in the US to celebrate Salam Fayyad and his plan for Palestine. Despite evidence of widespread human rights abuses under his watch, or more accurately at his and US Lieutenant General Keith Dayton’s command, Fayyad’s state building plan has been lauded, mainly because it prioritizes building the Palestinian economy over securing Palestinian rights. In the words of the New York Times‘ Roger Cohen “he’s getting things done, improving people’s lives, and Palestinians are tired of going nowhere.”
This perspective has been best summarized by none other than Thomas Friedman, who has dubbed the phenomena “Fayyadism.” Here Friedman describes Fayyadism as only he can:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the wider Middle East what off-Broadway is to Broadway. It is where all good and bad ideas get tested out first. Well, the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a former I.M.F. economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever. I call it “Fayyadism.”
Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.
Fayyad, a former finance minister who became prime minister after Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, is unlike any Arab leader today. He is an ardent Palestinian nationalist, but his whole strategy is to say: the more we build our state with quality institutions — finance, police, social services — the sooner we will secure our right to independence. I see this as a challenge to “Arafatism,” which focused on Palestinian rights first, state institutions later, if ever, and produced neither.
Things are truly getting better in the West Bank, thanks to a combination of Fayyadism, improved Palestinian security and a lifting of checkpoints by Israel. In all of 2008, about 1,200 new companies registered for licenses here. In the first six months of this year, almost 900 have registered. According to the I.M.F., the West Bank economy should grow by 7 percent this year.
The last point is the most common one raised by Fayyad’s supporters. This economic growth is supposed to prove Palestinians worthiness for a state in international eyes, and was even been seized upon by Benjamin Netanyahu in his recent address to Congress as a sign that the occupation is not a hinderance to Palestinian aspirations. After giving Fayyad props for leading the charge, Netanyahu also took credit for the Palestinian’s economic growth
We’ve helped, on our side, we’ve helped the Palestinian economic growth by removing hundreds of barriers and roadblocks to the free flow of goods and people, and the results have been nothing short of remarkable. The Palestinian economy is booming. It’s growing by more than 10 percent a year. And Palestinian cities — they look very different today than what they looked just few — a few years ago. They have shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, banks. They even have e-businesses, but you can’t see that when you visit them.
It all sounds wonderful, but it isn’t true.
I’m not saying that there aren’t restaurants or banks, and it is even possible that the Palestinian economy grew 7% by some measure in the West Bank during the last year, but a new UN report released today reveals the truth behind the sloganeering. The report issued by UNRWA shows that unemployment in the West Bank stands near 24%, and is even higher for refugees, while the “West Bank miracle” is based almost entirely on international aid. From Reuters:
The report by the agency UNRWA shows that unemployment in the second half of 2010 grew much faster than employment, and average purchasing power continued to decline.
Of six major private sector activities, only two recorded employment gains during the second half of last year. Overall, one in four Palestinians in the workforce was unemployed.
“While there was modest employment growth, such growth was on the wane in 2010 while the number of unemployed accelerated in the second half of the year,” said author Salem Ajluni.
The report’s findings challenge assertions that the Palestinian economy is growing, helped by the removal of Israeli roadblocks and other movement restrictions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech to the U.S. Congress last month that the Palestinian economy was booming.
Palestinian policymakers have projected growth of 7 percent in 2011 for both the West Bank and Gaza, though they point out that high growth rates in recent years have largely been dependent on international aid for the Palestinians.
The UNRWA report said: “The average broad refugee unemployment rate rose by more than a percentage point to 27.9 percent relative to first-half 2009 as compared to 24.1 per cent rate for non-refugees.”
A UNRWA spokesman goes on to say, “The occupation and its related infrastructure such as settlements and settler-only roads that encroach on and divide Palestinian land, settler violence and the West Bank barrier have diminished prospects for Palestinians in general and especially for refugees.”
This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Last year around this time Save the Children UK released a report saying that poverty was worse in parts of the West Bank than in Gaza. Still, I imagine it might come as a shock to some on the Times editorial page. Although international aid has made some enclaves in the occupied territories, especially parts of Ramallah, feel as though they’re booming, this money has flowed mostly through the Palestinian Authority patronage system and enriched a few. This story would have been more obvious if reporters had travelled a bit off the beaten path, but I guess that’s a bit too far off Broadway.