A Third Way to Palestine

Fayyadism and Its Discontents

This past September, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down in Washington to dine with U.S. President Barack Obama, a barely noticed event took place in Ramallah. With little fanfare, the 13th Palestinian Authority (PA) government, headed by Salam Fayyad, issued its one-year countdown to independence. This brief and understated document is likely to prove far more significant for the future of Palestine than the White House dinner and reflects nothing short of a revolutionary new approach to Palestinian statehood.

For nearly a century, "armed struggle" was the dominant leitmotif of the Palestinian nationalist movement. This strategy was supplemented and ostensibly replaced by peace negotiations after the Oslo accords of 1993. The newest approach, adopted by Prime Minister Fayyad, a U.S.-educated former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economist, signifies the rise of a third and highly pragmatic form of Palestinian nationalism. Fayyad's strategy is one of self-reliance and self-empowerment; his focus is on providing good government, economic opportunity, and law and order for the Palestinians -- and security for Israel by extension -- and so removing whatever pretexts may exist for Israel's continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. Fayyad's aim is to make the process of institution building transformative for Palestinians, thereby instilling a sense that statehood is inevitable. Elegant in its simplicity and seemingly unassailable in its reasonableness, this third way -- dubbed "Fayyadism" by some Western observers -- has nevertheless precipitated serious opposition. Some Palestinians fear Fayyad is only making life better under Israel's occupation, Israelis accuse him of becoming increasingly confrontational, and a growing number of international democracy advocates blame him for Palestinian political paralysis.

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