IMGXYZ5328IMGZYXThe international community’s understandable admiration for Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his efforts to rebuild the West Bank obscures a dangerous regression in democracy and human rights. Just back from the West Bank, Nathan J. Brown contends that the United States is once again confusing support for an admirable individual with that of a sound policy.

Key Conclusions

  • Government circumventing democracy. The unaccountable governing process that Fayyad has had to invent is not just postponing a democratic system—it is actively denying it.
  • Isolated successes do not create rule of law. The increasing number of cases seen and submitted to the courts indicates growing efficiency and confidence, but security services continue to act outside the law under the guise of cracking down on Hamas.
  • Lack of institution building. While Fayyad’s cabinet has managed to make a few existing institutions more effective and less corrupt, there has been regression in other governing bodies. Palestinian civil society is showing signs of decay as well.  Ironically, there was more institution building and civil society development under Yasser Arafat than there has been since the West Bank-Gaza split in 2007.
  • Disillusionment increasing among Palestinians. Popular support for Fayyad is growing but he still has no organized base. And Palestinians are increasingly cynical about the prospects for long-term development.
  • Fatah is in disarray. The party remains bitterly divided. Party leaders recently forced Fayyad’s cabinet to cancel local elections when Fatah could not organize itself on time.

“To the extent that Fayyadism is building institutions, it is unmistakably doing so in an authoritarian context,” writes Brown. “There is no reason to associate Fayyad personally with the most egregious aspects of this new authoritarianism, but there is no way his cabinet could have been created or sustained in a more democratic environment.”

“Palestinian authoritarianism in 2010 is different from Palestinian authoritarianism under Arafat—it is less venal and probably less capricious. But it is also more stultifying.”