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Palestinian Nation-Building Reaches Halfway Point

Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority speaks in a panel discussion 'Peace and Beyond in the Middle East' as Israeli President Shimon Peres, right, listens during Clinton Global Initiative Meetings in New York, 21 Sep 2010 (fil

Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority speaks in a panel discussion 'Peace and Beyond in the Middle East' as Israeli President Shimon Peres, right, listens during Clinton Global Initiative Meetings in New York, 21 Sep 2010 (fil

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is midway through an ambitious two-year effort to build his government's institutions in order to build a viable Palestinian state if peace negotiations with Israel are successful. Analysts are mixed in their reviews about the results of this nation-building.

The outlines of a Palestinian state have begun to emerge in the West Bank. Palestinian security forces have become more dependable. A transparent and disciplined government is providing a growing number of essential services, and economic growth has been strong.

Preparing for statehood

This is all part of a plan by the Palestinian prime minister to prepare for the future. "Namely to get ready for statehood, to get ready for that key deliverable of the political process, for that state of Palestine we thought was not going to be founded against a backdrop of a vacuum, but on the strength of solid, well functioning, efficient institutions of government," said Fayyad.

The West Bank remains occupied by Israel with soldiers and Jewish settlements scattered throughout the territory. Many analysts remain skeptical that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will yield an agreement leading to Israel handing over control of much of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.

But observers such as Howard Sumka, the former director of the USAID Mission to the West Bank and Gaza, say now is the time to build the foundations needed for Palestinian statehood. "They cannot start to learn their jobs or build their institutions the day after independence. They will need to be already proficient. In spite of the formidable obstacles, it is imperative that they stay on this track of state building," said Sumka.

Pragmatic approach

Challenging the Palestinian Authority is Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, which is home to 1.5 million Palestinians. Hamas opposes peace efforts and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and other nations.

Critics of Prime Minister Fayyad's program argue he is operating in an authoritarian, rather than a democratic, context because of the division of Gaza and the West Bank.

Professor Nathan Brown teaches political science and international affairs at George Washington University. He said, "The political split between the West Bank and Gaza is so severe, that you cannot even have any kind of democratic procedures. When you move outside the realm of administration you find real serious political diseases. The political party system is basically disintegrated. It does not really exist in any healthy form anymore. Palestinian politics, if you compare it to the 1990's, is in a state of serious decay."

Brown argues that even if there is a peace agreement within the next year, the Palestinian political system is so broken there would be no way to ratify or implement it. "Why are we pretending that there is a viable diplomatic process? You have got no parliament, you have got a PLO that is dead, and you have got a president whose term is expired. He has no authority to negotiate this agreement and certainly to implement it, even if he had the authority to negotiate it. What you have got to do is fix the Palestinian political system first."

Safety net

During talks in 2000 at the U.S. presidential retreat Camp David, the Israelis and Palestinians failed to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. That failure is often cited as a reason for the breakout of the second intifada, the violent Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

Advocacy Director Ghaith Al-Omari of the American Task Force on Palestine was a Palestinian negotiator at Camp David in 2000. He supports Mr. Fayyad's state-building effort, even if the U.S.-led peace negotiations fall short of a comprehensive deal.

"It creates a safety net in case of a stalemate or collapse. There is a likelihood, there is a possibility that this peace process might collapse, come the spring, come next summer, we might realize it is not going to get us to a deal. Do we go back to a Camp David kind of scenario - negotiations fail, everything is over. Or do we start investing right now in a process that can help us sustain a degree of hope as we start to reassemble negotiations?" asked Al-Omari.

Mr. Fayyad thinks his state-building efforts will bolster the chances for a positive outcome in the peace process, despite decades of failure. "There is a whole lot to complain about in Palestine, believe me, and even to cry about, and I do a lot of both. But that is not enough as a matter of fact. Alongside all of that I think we all can agree that we Palestinians should try in the best possible way to do the best we can to get ready for that rendezvous with freedom."

Mr. Fayyad said Palestinians feel closer to the day they will have their own state, not because they underestimate the difficulties associated with the peace negotiations, but because there is a growing sense of self-empowerment as ordinary citizens in the West Bank can count on their government to provide the basic security and services a new nation will require.