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If Fayyad is so great, why not let Israelis vote for him too?

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A number of writers I respect, including Roger Cohen, have lately embraced Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the hope for peace in Israel/Palestine. I’ve read that Fayyad is the George Washington of Palestine (per Shimon Peres) and that he is western-educated and wants to build up the West Bank brick by brick and not live in the past.

As someone who agrees that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, I have no doubt that I’d find Fayyad personally appealing. But these are ultimately political questions, and the central issues for me as a liberal are a, whether Fayyad represents the popular will and b, whether it is desirable to normalize a relationship (Israel and Palestine’s) as long as one country is the occupier, endlessly colonizing Palestine and establishing Jim Crow conditions there. And in the liberal hope that this situation ends as Jim Crow did (legislative/political reform) and not slavery (calamitous war), I wish the freedom to imagine this Fayyad moment Americanly…

If you look at the situation in coldly political terms, the division of power, you have to acknowledge that many of the problems in Israel/Palestine reflect the fact that only half the population has political freedom. Israel/Palestine today is unpartitioned as Ali Abunimah likes to say, there is really only one effective political entity there: the governing structure of the Israeli state. It occupies all of Palestine, controls who comes and goes, controls the air space and borders, and imprisons 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and nearly 10,000 inside Israel (many of them children, on such charges as stone-throwing).

If American Jews were true to our own experience, of the civil rights movement, we would analyze the situation politically and say: Look, the reason you have a rightwing government in Israel that includes out-and-out racists and a bible-and-Auschwitz-thumping boor at the top is that Only half the population here governs the whole; only Jews get to make up the government of the empowered state, and– limited in your political building materials to half the lumber in the shed— you are inevitably hostage to rightwing crazies in the parliamentary process. Hey we lived through Lester Maddox and George Wallace.

And yes, surely one reason that Palestinians choose the rightwing Islamist party Hamas to represent them (for I don’t think that Fayyad can be said to represent the popular will any more than Chalabi in Iraq) is because of the unending occupation and the same political bifurcation–which grants extremists political power stemming from their role in the Palestinian resistance.

What better way to reform both societies than to try to politically integrate them? Allow the broad reasonable middles on both sides to find one another. As any American can tell you, impressive leaders are hard to come by; and if Fayyad is such a metsieh (that’s Yiddish for prize), why not share him? Let Fayyad, a western-oriented politician, appeal to both Jews and Palestinians with a reform list. See what that would do to defeat the frightful rightwing monsters and frightful Islamists in their respective societies.

In a word, work to combine the political processes and give this man you so admire the freedom to try to emulate Obama– who, I would remind the fearful, ceased to say a word about his own race as soon as he was placed in a position of representing all Americans.

I know I’m dreaming. As I know that the writers who embrace Fayyad do so in large part because they believe that we/they need a Jewish state. (Myself I don’t think it’s necessary.) But it’s Sunday morning. And one is allowed to dream about democracy.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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