Some reason for optimism?


Writing in The New Republic, Shmuel Rosner says some Israeli officials believe Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is on the right track with his plan to create a de facto Palestinian state by 2011:

Earlier this week, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced his intention to “establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years.” On the face of it, his plan sounds quite detached from reality, eliciting guffaws from Israeli politicians such as Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who said that "[t]here is no place for unilateral actions.” The plan ignores “a central component of the framework in which Fayyad himself is permitted to function, and from which he derives his own authority,” warned Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry.

However, other Israeli officials with whom I spoke were less apprehensive about Fayyad’s announcement. His general approach, they said, should be supported, as Fayyad is the one Palestinian leader who understands that Palestinian efforts are necessary before the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. That approach has been key in making Fayyad the darling of American officials in recent years, focusing on building infrastructure and governance rather than on resistance and intransigence. It also makes him the most valuable partner in Lieutenant General Keith Dayton’s efforts to help the Palestinian Authority establish a reliable security force.

Dayton’s process shows many signs of success, but it is also a momentum-based scheme. Reform of Palestinian forces and other institutions will only continue if they are building toward something–real improvement in Palestinian lives, and, ideally, from a Palestinian point of view, the establishment of a state. Hence, Fayyad felt it was necessary to lay out the goal toward which he’s working. He has always downplayed (though not publicly) the importance of symbolic battles against “settlements” and “occupation,” understanding that these are more likely to be resolved with the establishment of credible Palestinian governance.

And that’s why Rosner sees some cause for optimism:

Thus, despite the cynicism and low expectations greeting the announcement of new peace talks, this week’s news seems to signify a positive development: that the moment of unrealistic dreams–a total freeze, final agreements, and prompt establishment of a Palestinian state–has passed. Based on the details of the understanding reached by Netanyahu and Mitchell, it seems that we’re finally returning to the better approach of gradual progress, rather than attempting to achieve too much in one decisive stroke. And if that is the outcome of many months of U.S.-Israeli bickering and tension–the outcome of a period in which all parties have learned the limitations and tested the red lines of the others–it was worth it.

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