Fayyad, Maliki, the Americans

Over the weekend I finished reading the 37-page program that Salam Fayyad, the PM in the Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority (PA) produced for the new, and still western-funded ‘government’ that he heads in Ramallah.
Readers can find the text of the program here. (HT: John Knight.)
It is a typical technocrat’s document– lengthy, larded with Jargon-of-the-Month formulations, and resembling nothing so much as the overly wordy “workplans” that people applying for grants from western funding organizations are required to submit to them. (Wonder why?) Much of it even sounds very admirable: lots of emphasis on things like “accountability” and “good governance” and other equally worthy goals.
But to note only that is to completely miss the point of this document, I think. Despite the strong emphasis on technocracy, this is an intensely political document. Indeed, the skirting of the most evident political issues facing the Palestinian people is, in a sense, the main point of this document. It embodies the politics of “anti-politics”; that is, it aims to provide an alternative to the division between Fateh and Hamas that currently– along with, of course, Israel’s continued massive campaign against all manifestations of Palestinian rights or interests– plagues the Palestinian people.
That is what we should expect, perhaps, of Fayyad, a personally decent man who made the choice to be parachuted into Ramallah as, essentially, the tool of the Americans back in 2005.
He’s been playing a complicated game ever since. He is not a man with a history in any branch of the extremely lengthy and hard-fought campaign of resistance to Israeli occupation. He comes without his own political network, and has to rely almost completely on the US-mobilized funding that comes to him as PM of the PA in order to try to build support from Palestinians.
In the 2006 parliamentary elections, he and Hanan Ashrawi were the only two people elected to the parliament from the list that they’d formed. Hamas won those elections handily, of course. Fayyad and all other non-Hamas people were warned strongly away from participating in the Hamas-backed government. However, in the National Unity Government formed in March 2007, he was named Finance Minister– indicating, presumably, that he had the confidence of both Fateh and Hamas at that time.
But in June 2007, when the US-backed forces of Fateh/Contra leader Dahlan launched the disastrous coup that broke up the NUG, Fayyad was the US-backed figure who was thereafter installed in Ramallah as ‘Prime Minister’, in a completely unconstitutional way.
So for him now to speak of “accountability” and “good governance”, etc is inherently non-credible.
He has, however, been trying to pull off what we might call the “Nuri al-Maliki move”. Over in Iraq, Maliki was installed as Prime Minister as a result of elections administered by the occupying US military and according to constitutional “rules” that had been largely dictated by the US occupation. Nonetheless, Maliki has tried to carve out a space for independent Iraqi decisionmaking that is not totally dominated by Washington; and he has had some success in that, I think.
Most notably, during the tough negotiations of last fall over the SOFA agreement long demanded by the Americans, Maliki succeeded in transforming the SOFA into a Withdrawal Agreement; and he got written into it a date certain for the complete withdrawal of all US forces from the country, which the Bushites had never wanted.
So the first question has to be: Is Maliki’s success in that regard replicable by Fayyad (or anyone else) in Palestine?
There are structural differences, to be sure. The US, when it intervenes in Palestinian politics, does so not as the direct occupying power– as it has done in Iraq– but as a sort of proxy for the Israeli occupying power. The consequence of this is that regardless of what Keith Dayton or other Americans who work very closely with Fayyad might want to do, actually the IOF is a far bigger presence. And though the Americans might want to see Fayyad “succeed” as a PM, there’s a large chunk of opinion in the Israeli political elite that really does not want to see any Palestinian administration “succeed” anywhere west of the River Jordan, whether in Ramallah or Gaza City.
That’s one big difference.
Another difference that stems from the fact that in Palestine the US is really a proxy for the real occupier whereas in Iraq it was the real occupier is that in Iraq, the dynamics of the situation got around to the place where even the people in the Bush administration ultimately judged that it was in the US’s interest to withdraw from the damaging and expensive confrontation in Iraq, and therefore from Iraq itself. So they had, if you like, an increasingly strong incentive to see Maliki (or someone!) succeed in building something of a sustainable indigenous governing capacity there.
In Palestine, however, the US is taking no losses in blood or even, in any direct way, treasure, from the continuation of the occupation. Hey, they and the Israelis even got the Europeans to pick up most of the tab for running the apparently endless occupation! (And the occupying army’s own forces, meanwhile, are suffering almost no casualties there.)
But this indicates that the US has correspondingly less strong of an interest in “withdrawing” from its role in Palestine, and therefore less of a motivation for seeing a sustainable indigenous government “succeed”. It becomes more optional for them, if you like.
Though in the broader regional and international context, I would say that the American people’s interest in seeing a fair and sustainable resolution of the Palestine Question is quite compelling. But that’s a broader argument; and maybe it doesn’t hit the decisionmakers in the Obama White House with quite the same urgency as the need to stanch the erosion of US blood and treasure in Iraq but getting the heck out of the country has done to them, and even before them, the Bushies.
So, can Fayyad pull off the “Nuri al-Maliki move”?
Other factors, I think, intervene as well. Maliki had two distinct advantages when it came to arm-wrestling with the Americans who’d installed him. (And we should remember that he wasn’t even their first choice. He was imposed on them back in early 2006 by a situation in which the Americans already demonstrated their inability to control all the key levers of political power inside Iraq.)
The first of his advantages has been the parliament there. despite all the evident problems in the electotal system, nonetheless the parliamentarians developed some real capability as a force overseeing some of the key actions and initiatives of the Maliki government. As I understand it, it was largely the very nationalist-minded pressure from the parliamentarians that stiffened Maliki’s spine on the SOFA issue and resulted in him winning the Withdrawal Agreement.
Fayyad, for obvious reasons, looks unlikely to be able to rely on allies in parliament to act as a counter-weight to US pressure.
And the second of Maliki’s “advantages” in his relationship with his country’s occupiers– I put that word in scare-quotes, advisedly– has been the strong influence that Iran won inside the Iraqi political system from the very moment that the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein. I am not privy to the extent to which Maliki (like most other figures inside the current Iraqi political firmament) has become reliant on Iranian help in, often, even the most basic aspects of personal and political survival. But the fact that the Iranians have been able to sustain webs of significant influence throughout just about all the different parts of the reconstituted Iraqi forces means that most Iraqi pols today are not completely reliant on the Americans for their physical survival. Which of course, has made it easier for them to “stand up to” the Americans on key issues like the WA.
Iran’s influence deep within Iraq’s security structures is, however, a very mixed “blessing” for many Iraqis: one that will most likely cause deep problems within the country for many years to come.
Fayyad, for his part, has no such “counter” to any pressures the Americans and Israelis might put on him…

6 thoughts on “Fayyad, Maliki, the Americans”

  1. Maliki was also a long way from being Iran’s first choice but, I believe, one they can live with despite having far less of a say in what he chooses to do with the country.
    In the Palestinian context: he’d probably have ended up on the wrong side of a missile long before now. After all, we can’t go having credible “partners for peace”, can we……

  2. “Fayyad, for his part, has no such “counter” to any pressures the Americans and Israelis might put on him”
    This points directly at the fundamental weakness of the arab governments which might offer any form of counterbalance- they are for the most part dependent on US support.
    The fundamental strength of Iran as an effective counterbalance in the affairs of Iraq is its very independence, an attribute it has achieved through hardship and sacrifice.
    The cooperation between Iran and Iraq shouldn’t necessarily be placed in scare-quotes. For without the effective counterbalance offered by Iran, Iraq may have become just another Arab regime propped up and dependent on American support. A mere element of an extra-regional, imposed order, with its own regional interests taking second stage, if that. Ineffective Arab influence on the Palestinian issue today serves as an embarrassing example of just such an order.
    Iranian-Iraqi cooperation is full of potential, offering someday a regional order based upon regional self-interests. From a recent history of discord, it may yet offer the hope of union.

  3. Oh, come on, Helena. You know as well as I do that Iraq is not much like I/P. There is no colonial population in Iraq.
    Maliki’s game has been to play the nationalist card. That works in Iraq because the whole population, other than the Kurds, agrees. Play that in Palestine, and you are no further forward, as the obstacle is Israel.
    That is not to say there are not relevant sub-issues. There were many Israeli partisans who supported the invasion of Iraq, helped in the planning. The US treatment of Iraqis was based on Israeli practices with Palestinians. Many Israelis have shuttled to and fro from Kurdistan.
    All that has failed. And now the US is apparently on the way out, though we wait to see if it actually happens. I think it will, the US has no choice.
    All that means is that Israeli-style policy has failed. Iraq was a “bridge too far” for Israel. A foolish over-advance. Whether there are negative consequences we will see.

  4. Alex_no,
    “Iraq was a ‘bridge too far’ for Israel.” You lost me on that one. As a matter of fact, other that a general theme that the US and Israel are the greatest evils on the planet, I didn’t understand a lot of your post.

  5. Iranian-Iraqi cooperation is full of potential, offering someday a regional order based upon regional self-interests. From a recent history of discord, it may yet offer the hope of union.
    Yes if the following happen:
    1- Iran changed its attitude toward Arabs and respect as brother in religion not looking of deep history grievance and revenge.
    2- Respecting others way of life, i.e. not imposing Wilayat e Faqih on others as Iranian’s way of life which clearly brought Iran downward more than forward as a society and as a state were people inspired by Islam living in 21 century.
    I didn’t understand a lot of your post.
    Ohhh David this Alex not Salah post…. native English speaker…

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