Friedman on Fayyadism


Thomas Friedman reports from the Ramallah that the one bright spot in an Arab world whose state of human development is actually worsening (according to a recent U.N. study) is the Palestinian territories. In particular, he singles out the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who Friedman gushes is "testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever."

Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.

Fayyad, a former finance minister who became prime minister after Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, is unlike any Arab leader today. He is an ardent Palestinian nationalist, but his whole strategy is to say: the more we build our state with quality institutions — finance, police, social services — the sooner we will secure our right to independence. I see this as a challenge to “Arafatism,” which focused on Palestinian rights first, state institutions later, if ever, and produced neither.

Things are truly getting better in the West Bank, thanks to a combination of Fayyadism, improved Palestinian security and a lifting of checkpoints by Israel. In all of 2008, about 1,200 new companies registered for licenses here. In the first six months of this year, almost 900 have registered. According to the I.M.F., the West Bank economy should grow by 7 percent this year.

Fayyad, famous here for his incorruptibility, says his approach is “to tell people who you are, what you are about and what you intend to do and then actually do it.” At a time when all the big ideologies have failed to deliver for Arabs, Fayyad says he wants a government based on “legitimacy by achievement.”

Something quite new is happening here. And given the centrality of the Palestinian cause in Arab eyes, if Fayyadism works, maybe it could start a trend in this part of the world — one that would do the most to improve Arab human security — good, accountable government.

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