2003 May 26 Monday
Reviving Palestinian Security Thru Purse String Control?

Writing in The New York Times Magazine James Bennet has written a very enlightening profile of the new Palestinian minister of finance, Salam Fayyad, entitled The Radical Bean Counter.

Ismail Abu Shanab, a senior political leader of Hamas, made an astonishing criticism of Palestinian self-rule to me recently in his home in Gaza City: ''When the Israelis were here, we lived our lives better than now, in every way. Believe me.

''Look how the streets of Gaza are not clean,'' he complained.

This is a basic political point that Hamas understands as well as any Chicago alderman, but that the Palestinian Authority has not quite grasped. Hamas has gained strength not only through violence, but also through its schools, health clinics and reputation for incorruptibility. Arafat's failure is also a failure of the Israelis and the Americans, and it holds lessons for the United States as it tries to rebuild Iraq.

Palestinian Authority corruption and mismanagement combined with the absence of such corruption in Hamas has allowed Hamas's influence to grow. Hamas provided services that the PA didn't (leading to the very interesting question: where does Hamas's funding come from?). If the Palestinian Authority could be cleaned up (and the article reports on extensive efforts by Fayyad to do just that) and do a better job of providing the basic services of government it would regain at least some of the legitimacy it has lost over the last several years.

Fayyad is probably a more important figure than Prime Minister Abbas because Fayyad's decisions are having a much larger impact on how the Palestinian Authority operates. As Fayyad's control of PA funding has increased the United States has pressured Israel to release more funds to the PA (Israel collects taxes from Palestinians working in Israel and passes the money to the PA). As a result the PA now has more money flowing in and a larger portion of that money is flowing to legitimate purposes.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of the funding for terrorist attacks on Israel came from the PA budget. One goal of US policy in supporting the creation of Fayyad's position in the PA is to decrease the attacks. If Fayyad can greatly reduce the funneling of PA money toward that purpose will that make a major impact on the ability of the terrorist groups to stage attacks? It is not at all clear.

Another motive (at least in the minds of US policy makers) for pushing thru political and financial reforms of the PA is to give the Palestinian people a better government. The thinking is that if the government works better it will be able to get more support from the Palestinian populace to accept a negotiated deal with Israel. The US strategy for doing that is to try to take power away from Arafat and give it to technocrats.

One article can not explain everything that is happening between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. One can not tell from it just how far Fayyad will be able to go with his attempts to reform the PA. One can not tell how well money can be cut off from the terrorists, whether Arafat can be stripped of much of his power, what Sharon really intends to do, or what Bush is willing to do to lean on either side. Suppose Fayyad's reforms and other developments led to a huge reduction in terrorist attacks. Could a deal then be done between Israel and the Palestinians? I have no idea. Still, Bennet's article is a lot more enlightening about what is happening than the endless media reports about "road map" plans and the public posturing of assorted major figures in this drama.

Update: Ariel Sharon sounds like he's trying to prepare the Israeli public for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

"I have not hidden my position on the issue of the future Palestinian state," Mr. Sharon, 75, told the newspaper Yediot Ahronot. "I am no less connected to those tracts of land that we will be forced to leave in time than any of those who speak loftily. But you have to be realistic, what can and what cannot stay in our hands."

But then there are the questions of under what conditions, with how much land, and with how many of the attributes of sovereignty. Still, this is a Likud Party Prime Minister saying this.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 May 26 01:04 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis

Yehudit said at May 27, 2003 2:19 AM:

I have some comments on the NYT article, with lots of links:

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