Fayyad exit must not derail Palestine development

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Author: Emma Lodes

Last Saturday, Salam Fayyadthe United States’ last political friend in Palestine, the West Bank’s champion of economic development and Palestine’s greatest proponent of a two state solution – resigned from the Palestinian government. Former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and internationally respected economist, Fayyad is internationally revered and trusted for his efforts against corruption in the PA.

It is clear that his resignation has disastrous implications for Palestine-U.S. relations and for Palestine’s negotiations with Israel for a two-state solution. However, many overlook the fact that Fayyad’s resignation could also have devastating affects for the Palestinian people living in the West Bank: Because of Fayyad’s departure, the U.S. might withdraw aid from Palestine. The U.S. must turn its attention to the livelihoods of the PA’s constituents. Washington cannot allow its desire for influence over Palestinian politics to stand in the way of what really matters: the poverty in the West Bank and its peoples’ subsequently low standard of living.

Thanks to Fayyad’s commitment to honesty and accountability, Palestinians currently benefit from $200 million worth of aid from the U.S. and E.U. Fayyad has since channeled the money into pro-Western reforms and economic development, which are critical for Palestine’s prosperity. In the last few weeks the U.S. tried and failed to keep Fayyad in power, but the efforts only angered Abbas. If the U.S. wants to see a two-state solution, it must separate aid from politics. Washington must remove itself from Palestine’s political situation and instead focus on the prosperity of the Palestinian people, on developing infrastructure and on strengthening public institutions in Palestine.

The fact that Hamas – a US-recognized terrorist organization – is applauding Fayyad’s resignation does not bode well for the upcoming elections. It’s clear that Hamas and Fatah have issues with any Palestinian officials who have connections with or are influenced by the U.S. According to the Jerusalem Post, Fatah leaders urged President Mahmoud Abbas to dismiss Fayyad for seeking to undermine Abbas’s authority with the U.S.’ help. That’s why the U.S. should continue delivering aid without overly pressuring Palestinian politicians. Attempting to control Palestinian officials will only lead to more anger and resentment.

Hamas and Fatah have seemingly resolved their prior conflicts and are discussing forming a Palestinian unity government, an idea that was revived upon Fayyad’s resignation. As Abbas is a member of Fatah and the election of the next Prime Minister lies in his hands, there is a daunting possibility that the next Prime Minister will not be as independent as Fayyad. The U.S. strongly opposes the idea of Abbas joining forces with Hamas unless the unified government recognizes Israel’s right to exist, but according to the Jerusalem Post, officials from the Palestinian Authority will not allow for any input on their internal affairs from the U.S.

During his appointment, Salam Fayyad inspired significant progress in the PA. He is politically independent, U.S. educated and a former International Monetary Fund executive. In 2009, he unveiled the proposal called “Palestine – Ending Occupation, Establishing the State,” a plan to run the West Bank as if it were a sovereign state. Under Fayyad, the PA built infrastructure and strengthened institutions while negotiating peace with Israel and cracking down on corruption within the PA, which was rampant under the former leader Yasser Arafat. If the U.S. doesn’t continue to push for Palestine’s economic development, Fayyad’s reforms will have been for nothing.

Following Fayyad’s leave, questions have been raised as to whether or not the U.S. will continue to send aid to the PA. According to Zid Asali, the president of the American Task Force for Palestine, John Kerry’s efforts to convince Fayyad to stay in office angered Fatah, who accused Kerry of pressuring Abbas not to accept Fayyad’s resignation. They considered such interference in internal Palestinian politics an insult. Fatah leader Sufian Abu Zayda said that American meddling actually contributed to Fayyad’s resignation; according to Zayda, Fayyad didn’t want to look like he was being controlled by the U.S.

Donor funds add up to nearly one-third of the PA’s 2013 budget; without aid, the PA government’s GDP would face a 7 percent deficit. According to the International Monetary Fund, unemployment in the West Bank rose to 19 percent last year. In the last few months, the U.S. didn’t deliver all the aid it promised, forcing government workers to go without their salaries. Without international aid, Palestinians living in the West Bank will continue to suffer. But according to Asali, if Abbas doesn’t choose a suitable new Palestinian leader who runs a transparent and accountable administration, the international community may stop donating. The U.S., the E.U. and the rest of the international community must set politics aside and consider the Palestinian people, their well-being and their chances for a two-state solution.

While Fayyad’s resignation reverberates throughout the PA and the West Bank, western observers, particularly the US, must remain acutely aware of the West Bank’s citizens and their quality of life. As it looks to toe the line between responsible oversight and egregious meddling, the US’s first and foremost priority must be ensuring that the Palestinian people do not absorb the costs of their government’s political maneuvering. Often understated and seldom discussed is the simple fact that human dignity is the fundamental building block for a sustainable peace.

Emma Lodes is an undeclared first-year. She can be reached at lodes@oxy.edu. Do you have an opinion on this issue? If so, keep the conversation going and comment on this article at occidentalweekly.com or write a Letter to the Editor.

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