If You Build It They Will Come | Making the Middle East Pay

Building a State
“The state of Palestine has to be built. And if we Palestinians do not do it, who is going to do it for us?”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
— September 23, 2010

After Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad concluded his talk at the New America Foundation‘s Washington offices, a reporter from a Middle Eastern newspaper asked him a question he frequently encounters:

“Suppose that a year from today the process is stalled and the current negotiations don’t yield anything, like the preceding ones. Will you go through — will you pledge — to declare a state unilaterally?”

“Declaration of statehood is above my pay grade,” Fayyad said to bemused laughter.

“This is about preparing for statehood, not about declaring one.” That wasn’t yes. But it wasn’t no.

Fayyad is a love-him or hate-him politician.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman describes “Fayyadism” — building the physical and governmental infrastructure of a Palestinian state — as the best hope for resolving the 40-year stalemate between the State of Israel and Palestinians struggling to create a state of their own.

The Times columnist Roger Cohen is equally enthusiastic. “The argument for him is that he’s getting things done, improving people’s lives, and Palestinians are tired of going nowhere,” Cohen wrote.

Yet when I asked Palestinian author and political analyst Nadia Hijab about Fayyad, she was dismissive of him and his program. “There was building on the West Bank long before he started,” she said. Hijab is an outspoken critic of the “Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority” (PA), a phrase that refers to the Balkanized government or governments of what would be a Palestinian state.

She worries that an imbalanced Israeli-Palestinian power dynamic will result in a ceremony at which Palestinian leaders sign away the right of return and other critical rights in an agreement that will do little to improve the facts on the ground. “The plan of the PA’s appointed prime minister, Salam Fayyad,” Hijab wrote, “to declare a Palestinian state in 2011, could unwittingly contribute to this outcome by providing the appearance of an ‘end of conflict’ while the reality remains unchanged.”

Writing in the October 14 issue of The New York Review of Books, Nathan Thrall praised Fayyad’s development projects, while depicting him as far too collaborative with the United States and Israel in building a Palestinian security force under the direction of Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Thrall concludes his article with an observation by independent Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti, that Fayyad’s support for an American-trained security force that guarantees Israel’s security has resulted in “not one occupation, but two.”

Fayyad is the antithesis of the old guard of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He’s a technocrat who earned his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Texas at Austin.

He has worked for the Federal Reserve Bank, the World Bank, and the IMF. (He did work for the PLO old guard, as Yasser Arafat’s finance minister.) He is, as Hijab describes him, an “appointed” prime minister, put in office in 2007 by Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is the chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the elected president of the Palestinian National Authority — a position to which he unilaterally extended his tenure when his term of office expired in 2009. Legislative politics in Palestine have been on hold since the extremist group Hamas won control of the parliament in 2006.

DE FACTO ON THE GROUND—In Washington, on the day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed the 10-month partial moratorium on West Bank settlement-building to expire, Fayyad was making the case for his own building program. It’s a seductive concept that should be familiar to both old-school Zionists and the West Bank settlers who began pouring concrete at midnight on the final day of the building moratorium: Building a state is a prelude to the declaration of statehood.

Fayyad said that two years ago, with prospects for negotiations with Israel dim, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority decided to build a state “in spite of the Israeli occupation, with a view of bringing it to an end.”

“Capacity building,” he said, is not something that is done in lieu of the political process, but a complement to it. “It is an act of unilateralism relative to the goal at hand,” he said. “The goal at hand is to prepare for statehood. The state of Palestine has to be built. And if we Palestinians do not do it, who is going to do it for us?”

Fayyad can be poetic when he describes “the preparation for the Palestinian people’s rendezvous with freedom.” But he is more comfortable speaking in concrete terms: “120 schools built over the past two years, 1,700 kilometers of roads, 1,400 kilometers of water networks.”

His two-year plan involves the construction of government offices, a stock market (which is up and going and celebrated by Thomas Friedman), an airport, highways, etc. In the absence of a negotiated settlement and statehood, Fayyad has undertaken the creation of a de facto Palestinian state.

If his accommodationist politics make him unpopular at home, they make him irresistible in the United States and the European Union, and with funders such as the World Bank and the IMF.

Yet he’s not all numbers. There was, in fact, something poignant in Fayyad’s response to a question about tactics the Palestinian people should be using to end the Israeli occupation and create their own state.

“Let me tell you what we are for, what we are about,” he said. “We are not about steadfastness as a slogan. We are about steadfastness acted upon to make it a reality. It is one thing for all our people from thousands of miles away to be steadfast in the face of occupation and adversity. It is another thing to get something done. …

“What this program does, on the path to freedom, is to provide the means for our people to persevere and withstand the adversity of this occupation. And stick around on our land, exercise our right to live on it, for one day longer, and the day that follows and the one that comes after that, until we get to that point where we are able to exercise our right to self-determination in a country that is our own.

“That is what this is about.”

Making the Middle East Pay

About the time the U.S. combat mission “ended” in Iraq, the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (GAP) published a detailed account of the creation of a “private” foundation intended promote the freedom agenda.

Remember the “Freedom Agenda”?

It would begin with regime change in Iraq. Once the U.S. military and diplomatic missions there were wrapped up, democracy would spread across the region. Vice President Cheney said as much at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in 2002.

Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace. … Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced. […]

Using the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — now unraveling after Israel refused to extend a partial freeze on West Bank settlements — might be an unreasonable metric, considering the history of negotiations since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. However, Iraq’s inability to form a government seven months after a national election, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s ability to kill 50 and injure 250 in coordinated attacks in 13 Iraqi cities on one day in August, suggest that the freedom agenda might have been oversold.

The Foundation for the Future (FFF) involved the toxic mix of extremist ideology, incestuous staffing, and contempt for law for which the Bush-Cheney administration will be remembered. State Department officials either misrepresented — or lied about — its funding sources. It was sold to the Congress as a pro-democracy organization funded largely by foreign governments, which was untrue. Its founders encouraged at least one of its board members to lobby Congress on behalf of the foundation, which is illegal. And the foundation paid the lover of one of the architects of the Iraq war an extravagant salary for a modest amount of work.

At the center of the story is Elizabeth Cheney, the elder daughter of the former vice president. As Iraq and Afghanistan — the two foreign policy set pieces of the previous administration — distort and define the foreign policy of the Obama administration, the GAP report is instructive.

The Foundation for the Future was created on orders from Cheney in late 2005, while she was the Principal Deputy Assistant for Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department. She described it as a response to “civil society groups [in the Middle East and Northern Africa that] have asked for some sort of entity that is not connected with any one government, that can provide support for their efforts to open up their societies” — a claim that appears to be entirely untrue.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was brought on to serve on the foundation’s board of directors at Cheney’s request, offered to speak with then-Senator Joe Biden on behalf of the foundation, probably unaware that such lobbying is illegal.

Cheney represented, as did David Welch, her boss at the State Department, that the foundation would be funded by more than 10 foreign governments. A $10 million pledge from Qatar was cited as proof of the groundswell of enthusiasm in the region. In his request for a $35 million appropriation, Welch informed members of Congress that the contribution from the U.S. would be made available to the extent foreign governments provided matching funds.

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

In 2005, Cheney sent a cable to 14 American embassies informing them that partner countries had pledged $56 million. In fact, the foundation received a total of $27,785,222 from 2006 through 2009, according to FFF annual reports published by GAP. Yet only $6,397,165 were contributions from foreign governments, while $21,388,057 came from U.S. government funds. The $10 million Qatari pledge appears to have been a complete fabrication; Qatar contributed nothing.

GAP reports that Shaha Ali Riza was Liz Cheney’s personal choice to run the Foundation for the Future. (It was GAP reporting that resulted in Bush administration foreign policy advisor Paul Wolfowitz’s resignation from the World Bank, after it was revealed that on another occasion he had Riza, with whom he was romantically involved, transferred from the bank to an “external service” position at the State Department.) At the foundation, Riza was well compensated for her work. According to one document obtained by GAP, between April 1 and June 20 of 2006 Riza reviewed and approved: a translated draft of FFF bylaws; a memo detailing the political and regulatory environment of countries that might house the foundation; a Power Point presentation of the business plan; and a translated policies manual. According to GAP, she performed similar tasks in the following quarter. For these six months she was paid a net salary of $180,000. (The secretary of state earned approximately $185,000 for a full-time job at the time.)

What I find surprising in this account is the ease with which Cheney bent a distinguished State Department official to her will. David Welch, the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, is the son of two foreign service officers and had made a career in the State Department. Yet for the short time that Cheney was his deputy, it appeared that he answered both to her and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Liz Cheney left her mark on U.S. foreign policy in other ways. She was her father’s eyes and ears at the State Department. Her work inflamed the volatile politics of the Middle East. Most notably, as first reported in 2006 in a book I wrote with Jake Bernstein, in the months before Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian government in 2005, Cheney opposed any contingency plan to deal with a government in which Hamas would be the majority. She also went out of her way to inflame tensions between the U.S. and Iran, at a time when Vice President Cheney was pressing for U.S. bombing raids on the country.

The Foundation for the Future is still up and running. However, with no annual appropriations, no support from foreign governments, and no apparent patrons in the Congress, it is not expected to survive.

Cheney, however, is thriving. Catch her on Fox News. Look for her as a collaborator with Bill Kristol in the right-wing organization Keep America Safe; on the short list for secretary of state in the next Republican administration; or as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming, where the family brand remains untarnished.

THE $624 MILLION QUESTION—Was START — the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that will reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals — ratified by continuing resolution? In “Obama Drops the Bomb” (Washington SpectatorJune 1, 2010) we reported that the Obama administration had sweetened treaty negotiations in the Senate, with weapons-modernization funding intended to win over Arizona Republican John Kyl. At the time, $80 billion for weapons-modernization appeared to keep Kyl from going nuclear. It could be that President Obama closed the deal when he signed a continuing resolution on October 1. It is common practice for the Congress to pass continuing resolutions (CR) to provide interim funding for the government when appropriations bills are not completed on schedule. It appears that Kyl is still on board. He was at the center of last-minute CR negotiations that added $624 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration to fund several nuclear programs — some of which are necessary to implement the arms-reduction treaty. Republicans Richard Lugar of Indiana (a treaty proponent) and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee were also involved in the negotiations.

Two weeks earlier, Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Johnny Isakson of Georgia had joined Lugar and the Democratic majority on the Foreign Relations Committee in a vote to approve the treaty.

Eight Republicans in the full Senate will have to break ranks with their party to provide the 67 votes required for ratification. Assuming the aforementioned Republican senators will vote to ratify, treaty proponents are four votes short. That narrow margin sets up a lobbying effort by progressive organizations. And an intramural fight between the few moderate Republicans in the Senate who might vote to ratify START, and Heritage Foundation Republicans led by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who will use every mechanism available to block a vote. The show begins when senators return for a lame duck session after the elections.