Requiem for Fayyadism

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad never had a chance to meet the outlandishly high expectations placed on him by his international boosters.

This past weekend, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the resignation of Salam Fayyad, caretaker prime minister since June 2007. Abbas also asked Fayyad to stay on as caretaker -- until a new caretaker prime minister could be found.

Why did all this make news? In a superficial sense, nothing had changed -- at most, Palestine might eventually get a new caretaker prime minister. And despite the praise "Fayyadism" received from enthusiastic foreign supporters, there may be no change in a deeper sense as well.

The attention given to Fayyad's departure obscures the fact that his state-building reform program had largely been in abeyance for two years. Even when it was in full swing -- between 2009 and 2011 -- Fayyad himself was expansive in tone, but his promises were carefully hedged when one read the fine print.

It was his foreign backers who were less restrained. The problem was that Fayyad's international boosters had built their expectations for the state-building program on contradictions that went well past the point of absurdity. Fayyadism was supposed to constitute Palestinian self-reliance, but it was sustained only because foreign countries bankrolled it. Unsurprisingly, then, it decayed as international attention began to wander.

Fayyadism was said to promise political reform, but it was based on the denial of democracy and the continuation of authoritarian rule. Fayyad was only appointed, after all, as an emergency measure when the constitutional order had collapsed. In the absence of elections or even a viable electoral framework, he ruled by decree.

Fayyadism was supposed to be based on building institutions, but it was completely dependent on a single, indispensable individual. After six years of Fayyad's premiership, some institutions on the West Bank -- especially those that donors cared about most, related to public finances and security -- function much better. Other institutions, generally in places where the international community did not care to look, function worse.

This isn't all Fayyad's fault. He simply did not have the tools to do more of what his backers expected. Even in two areas that were his forte -- public finance and economic management -- he was utterly dependent on other actors. A very significant part of the Palestinian Authority's funds came from abroad, while significant tax revenues came through Israel. Those sources were both unreliable and highly conditional. In the economic realm, the West Bank is effectively annexed by Israel, allowing Fayyad only the ability to manage within the terms of this dependency.

The most important changes that have taken place over the past six years are based on accentuation of earlier trends. Disillusionment has been replaced by despair. Palestine's leaders have grown older while Israeli settlements have grown larger. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has not been taken seriously by most of its supposed beneficiaries for years, has ground to a full halt. Division between the West Bank and Gaza has become routinized.

As prime minister, Fayyad managed to ameliorate some of the short-term effects of these developments. However, none of the parties seems to have used his ability to manage Palestinian affairs for any purpose other than procrastination and self-delusion. He will have done his people a tremendous service if his resignation challenges the inexplicable complacency that prevails today.

But will Fayyad's resignation serve as a wake-up call? There is a hopeful way to use this juncture to move things forward, though it may strain credulity.

Recent events suggest a possible path forward: A Palestinian leader, with significant support abroad but without much of a constituency at home (and who has not lived much of his life at "home"), grows tired of the backbiting and personal rivalries and makes clear that he wishes to leave office. His foreign backers, however, insist that their continued support -- financial and diplomatic -- hinges on his continued leadership. And so leading Palestinian decision-makers, bereft of any realistic plan of their own, feel forced to ask the leader to stay on.

That is what happened this month when Hamas decided to retain Khaled Meshaal as head of its political bureau.

Neither Meshaal nor Fayyad would likely appreciate the ways in which they came to resemble each other, but the parallels show that the international community's ability to guide Palestinian leadership is still alive. The point may be to use this fact in a coordinated and realistic fashion, acknowledging existing realities while helping build new ones.

There are no easy alternatives to offer. The basic building blocks of any resolution to the situation are now simply absent. The best path for international actors might therefore be to encourage Palestinians to construct some of those blocks themselves, by giving them the political space and support to rebuild the basic elements of their politics.

In more concrete terms, that means coordinated international sponsorship of reconciliation between Gaza and the West Bank. If this process is to hold out hope for eventual movement rather than paralysis, it must include elections that give the Palestinian people -- and not merely the stultified leaders of Hamas and Fatah -- a real voice.

The pitfalls along such a path are numerous, but renewed Palestinian voting could have real salutary effects. Both halves of the Palestinian leadership would be compelled to reorient themselves toward soliciting people's support rather than simply entrenching themselves. A Hamas movement that had to ask for Palestinians' votes would likely behave differently -- paying attention to public opinion, articulating its strategic vision, and seeking to persuade those outside Islamist circles. A Fatah movement encountering the same need would either have to adapt, or continue its slow fade from the scene.

As long as Palestinians remain voiceless in their own affairs, it is difficult to see any path forward. But it must be frankly acknowledged that attention to Palestinian reconciliation would probably make progress on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations impossible in the short term. An approach that takes Palestinian politics seriously and prioritizes the issues of Gaza and Hamas would be uncertain in its effectiveness, distasteful in its implications, and necessarily slow in its progress. But at least it would be grounded in the realities of today rather than pretending that conditions that died in 2000 -- a viable peace process and a slowly emerging Palestinian polity -- still offer hope.

Fayyad's latest resignation offers all actors the opportunity to wake up to long-denied facts. But it will be far easier to punch the "snooze" button and wait to be woken again.

David Silverman/Getty Images


A Few Bad Men

Why America doesn’t really have a terrorism problem.

As law enforcement and counterterrorism officials continue the massive manhunt and investigation into the twin bombings in Boston, there's speculation as to whether the attacks were the work of "homegrown" actors, that is, terrorists residing in the country.

Right-wing extremists are possible culprits. After all, they like to come out of the woodwork in the month of April. Recall the Waco siege ended on April 19, 1993. Timothy McVeigh honored that ignominious day by blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City two years later, inspiring the Columbine high school students to go ballistic on April 20, 1999.

Alternatively, al Qaeda-inspired terrorists may be responsible for the Boston massacre. For years now, the leadership has called on its foot-soldiers to strike the homeland from within rather than to partake in risky operations abroad.

When Americans think of terrorism, they naturally think of the international variety (in which the perpetrators are not from the target country). The United States has historically been the leading target of international terrorism, while incurring relatively little bloodshed at home. Embassies -- not sporting events -- have been the preferred target of terrorists looking to take American lives. For this reason, terrorism datasets such as the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism and ITERATE have historically been limited to incidents of international terrorism, ignoring domestic attacks entirely. Yet this national experience is actually anomalous. Each year, domestic terrorists kill far more people across the globe than do international terrorists.

Why do domestic groups have superior killing power? There is power in numbers. And unlike international terrorist groups, domestic actors can hope to draw supporters from local populations, helping to challenge government policy. But do the Boston attacks herald a newfound wave of domestic terrorism? Will they attract enough supporters to test Washington or our fundamental way of life? Not a chance. And here's why.

Simply put, too few terrorists exist within our borders to pose an existential problem. The policy community is fond of saying how lone wolf terrorists are hardest to stop. This is no doubt true. But left unsaid is they are also inherently weak, incapable of mounting complex operations. Lone wolves like Faizal Shazhad and the underwear bomber have tended to be quite feckless. Timothy McVeigh did manage to kill 168 people in one shot. But his first bombing was his last. Smaller groups may be able to launch such attacks from time to time, but are ultimately unable to sustain a proper campaign.

The United States is relatively terrorist-free for several reasons. For starters, democratic channels enable citizens to peacefully address their political problems. Without question, the aggrieved in the United States are better off going to the ballot box than planting IEDs. Indeed, American minorities are pretty happy here, including Muslim Americans. This contentment translates into moderation in not only their tactics, but also in their political preferences. Domestic terrorist groups are hence unattractive political outlets.

Evidence suggests that terrorism's appeal may actually be on the wane worldwide. Across countries, people have turned to terrorism when it seemed to offer the best chances of achieving their demands. But with so few recent terrorist victories, the tactic no longer holds the promise of profitable political change.

Take al Qaeda, the most salient example. Osama bin Laden stated in his 1996 and 1998 fatwas that the purpose of the violence was fourfold: 1) to eject the United States from the Persian Gulf; 2) to end U.S. support for pro-Western apostate regimes; 3) to sever U.S.-Israeli relations; and 4) to end "Crusader" wars that kill countless Muslims.

In response to 9/11, though, the George W. Bush administration did the exact opposite. It increased U.S. military personnel in the Gulf by a factor of 15. It strengthened U.S. relations with pro-Western leaders in Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, all in the name of counterterrorism. The U.S.-Israeli special relationship blossomed, with President Bush granting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unprecedented leeway to occupy the West Bank. And, of course, 9/11 led to battles throughout the world resulting in greater -- not fewer -- Muslim deaths.     

The most fearsome terrorist group in world history has achieved none of its political demands. Al Qaeda's pitiful political record stands in stark contrast to the Arab Spring, in which nonviolent movements toppled governments from Egypt to Tunisia, in just a fraction of the time.

Research shows that terrorism is not just correlated with political failure -- it actually causes it. And that's even after taking into account the strength of the perpetrators, government opposition, and other relevant confounds. Terrorism is a losing political tactic for a simple reason -- it is deeply unpopular among potential supporters. In the parlance of political science, terrorism carries prohibitive "audience costs." Rather than attracting supporters, terrorism actually reduces them, starving the organization of essential manpower. Ironically, the best antidote to terrorism is terrorism itself -- not hardening targets or invading foreign countries.

The lesson to terrorists is becoming ever clearer. Lay down your arms and you stand a better chance of prevailing politically. Such thinking is already firmly entrenched in Boston and the U.S. polity broadly, reducing the potential of a homegrown threat from ever really materializing. Of course this assumes the terrorists are rational political actors, but that's for another day.