News from the Middle East has rightly been drowned out by the pro-democracy protests and subsequent crackdown in Iran. Amidst all the attention to Iran, a speech by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad at Al Quds University in the West Bank responding to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations has been lost in the shuffle. But Fayyad’s speech represents a strong embrace of Palestinian state building as a way of moving forward toward a two state solution, despite the daunting obstacles lying in its path.
In his speech, Fayyad called on Palestinians to “unite around the project of establishing a state and to strengthening its institutions… so that the Palestinian state becomes, by the end of next year or within two years at most, a reality.”
This schedule is extremely ambitious, given that any attempt to build Palestinian state institutions will face the everyday obstacles of the occupation – checkpoints, the separation wall, closures, and the like – as well as the likely hostility of the current Israeli government. While the United States Security Coordinator under Gen. Keith Dayton is currently working to build coordinate the building of professional Palestinian security forces, the United States will have to lead a more robust diplomatic effort to both ease the problems the occupation poses to state building and provide the necessary support to the Palestinian Authority to actually build the necessary state institutions.
In other words, the United States needs to get Israel to trust that the Palestinian Authority can effectively govern and control the West Bank. It’s ironic that this situation exists, considering Israel apparently trusts Hamas – the group that’s committed to Israel’s destruction – to run the Gaza Strip, while not affording the same trust to the PA, which has been negotiating on the basis of the two-state solution since the early 1990s. Via the USSC, the United States has played a valuable role in soothing some Israeli fears about Palestinian security forces, but more could be done on a broader scale.
What Fayyad is proposing will require a crash program that both builds long-term institutions while ameliorating current conditions in the West Bank. These two efforts are complementary, given that effective state institutions will be worthless if they’re unable to function properly due to the restrictions imposed by the fact of the occupation. Working out a realistic plan for Palestinian state building in Fayyad’s timeframe will require coordination between the United States, the PA, and Israel, as well as coordination between executive departments and agencies and Congress and the White House here in Washington. Senator Mitchell’s team will have its work cut out for it.
Beyond the difficulties inherent in state building and the burdens of the occupation, the other huge hurdle Fayyad’s plan will have to overcome is the political split between the PA-ruled West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. While it’s possible for the United States and PA to confine state building efforts to the West Bank, Fayyad (along with most observers) believe reuniting the Palestinian Territories is critical to the effort. As Fayyad stated in his speech, “ending the occupation and building the state requires ending the split.”
But he’s staked out his own markers for what a successful intra-Palestinian reconciliation will entail. “There is no pluralism in security. The Palestinian Authority is solely responsible.” The state having a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is pretty much State Building 101, and it would mean that Hamas would have to renounce its own armed forces for a potential reconciliation to work. For their part, Hamas didn’t giving any indication of bending in their predictable rejection of Fayyad’s speech.
Despite these titanic obstacles, Fayyad is basically on the right approach. If there’s going to be a Palestinian state, then there are going to have to be effective Palestinian state institutions. But despite 16 years since the start of the peace process, too many of these institutions are still grappling with the basics. Making a Palestinian state (and thus the two-state solution) work will require intensive effort by the United States to build these institutions, and there’s no time like the present.