BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Mark Urban
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West Bank development strategy begins to bear fruit

Mark Urban | 17:38 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

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NABLUS: Talking to people in a park here on a quiet Friday afternoon you really get the sense that the West Bank is moving forward under the prime ministership of Salam Fayyad and his Palestinian Authority (PA).

The progress does not get reported much, firstly because it is a slow incremental business and secondly because hemmed in Gaza, under its Hamas leadership, has produced all the spectacular news of late.

Nylam Koudoura, enjoying the early evening cool of Friday in the park told us, "things are much better today", following a security crackdown by Mr Fayyad's government.

"I can see the Palestinian state is there, it is coming along. We feel it in the street," she added.

Mrs Koudoura seems to echo the policy of the Palestinian Authority, that rather than waiting for diplomacy to produce the long awaited state, they should start building it themselves.

Clampdown on the militants

There could be no doubting Mrs Koudoura's sincerity - she spoke passionately, her eyes ablaze.

Everyone else we talked to in the park said similar things.

Anan Fahed for example remarked that "things are so much better now the Palestinian Authority has taken control".

The place where we spoke is just half a mile from Balata, a refugee camp long regarded as one of the West Bank's epicentres of militancy.

Journalists used to tread there with trepidation, because masked gunmen from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or the al-Aqsa Brigades could appear at any moment.

It is clear, talking to many in Nablus, that while the gunmen claimed a shroud of patriotic legitimacy, many of them combined crime with their political activism.

When Mr Fayyad sent his re-built police force into Balata last year to disarm the militants they were killing two birds with one stone - bringing better order to the streets of the town and cutting down to size those who regard the PA as collaborators with the Israelis and US.

Indeed the success of the PA in the West Bank marks the fruition of a Western strategy started three years ago when, following Hamas' strong showing in parliamentary elections, the Islamist movement seized power in Gaza and the two parts of the Palestinian Occupied Territories veered apart under different leaders.

Limits on investment

The flipside of tightening the Gaza blockade and refusing to talk to Hamas was a determination by the US, Israel and EU to turn the West Bank into a showcase for those who did want a two-state solution.

To a considerable extent that strategy has worked - but of course it can only get so far without a peace process that yields serious results from Israel.

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Awash with donor cash, projects and the zeal of Palestinian entrepreneurs, the West Bank economy has grown substantially since Mr Fayyad became prime minister three years ago.

But with access to Palestinian centres via Israeli ports or checkpoints still subject to the vicissitudes of the security situation, foreign investment is distinctly limited.

"I do believe we are fast approaching those limits", Mr Fayyad told me in an interview in his office in Ramallah, alluding to the point where economic growth would stall without a political solution.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair who, in his role as Middle East peace envoy, has been painted by some as the midwife of the future Palestinian state is sanguine about how much further progress can be made without a diplomatic breakthrough:

"I think the next year will be pretty crucial to be frank," Mr Blair told me, adding that the Israelis have to see the creation of the Palestinian state as "a strategic objective for them [Israel] and for their security".

There are some painful ironies in what Mr Fayyad, aided by Mr Blair and the international community, has achieved in the West Bank.

The White House mantra that spreading democracy would bring peace in the Middle East actually helped trigger the schism between Gaza and the West Bank.

But now the Palestinian Authority is bringing improved security and economic conditions in the West Bank, it is actually behaving more like those old style Arab governments frowned upon by American neo-cons a few years ago.

Mr Fayyad's forces have arrested dozens of Islamic militants and his nominal boss, Mahmoud Abbas, declines to hold presidential or parliamentary elections despite his mandate having expired.

Need to heal rift with Hamas

So, the PA may have climbed a couple of rungs towards statehood, but further progress up that ladder is now conditioned not just by the long-term question of finding a productive way to negotiate with Israel but by the split with Gaza.

Israelis sometimes call the alternative government that governs that coastal territory "Hamas-istan".

With its policy of defiance towards Israel and close relationship with Iran, that Hamas alternative appeals to many Palestinians or Arabs more widely.

Now somehow there has to be reconciliation with the PA for the project of statehood to move further.

"There is only ever going to be one Palestinian state not two," explains Mr Blair on why this schism marks such a difficult challenge, "it's got to include Gaza and the West Bank together".

So the achievements of Mr Fayyad's government may have won the approval of people in Nablus or elsewhere, but the road to statehood is still daunting.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Overseeing the worst government the uk has ever had Blairism is bankrupt. No one takes him seriously. How can someone who is patron of the JNF be an honest broker?

    the israeli political class cannot deliver the settlers. if we remember the israeli interpretation of two state solution means israel and jordan. So their only plan is to buy time why they make facts on the ground.

    as for some making out it those who are being occupied are 'the problem' that is a neat trick.

    the uk supplies munitions to israel. why do that unless the uk wants to support occupation?

  • Comment number 2.

    one peace boat did more for the people of Gaza in one week than Blair did in two years...what a phoney...

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Sadly, Fayyad's extraordinary efforts are undermined by the failed diplomacy of his superior, president Abbas (Abu-Mazen). The Palestinians realize that they need a diplomatic breakthrough and the PA knows that without it it'll fall out of grace with the Palestinian population.

    And yet, they refuse direct talks with Israel and use every possible excuse to delay even the indirect talks. What an absurdity it is, that Israel's right wing leader wants to negotiate a peace deal that would create a Palestinian state, and he's turned down by the Palestinian leaders who claim such a state is their ultimate goal.

    As long as the Palestinians refuse direct negotiations, and as long as they make every attempt at delaying these talks, there can't be any significany diplomatic progress. Israel's population has a large majority supporting a two state solution (including among Netanyahu's likud voters). The Knesset has a large majority of PMs supporting such a solution. The only thing blocking us from advancing towards a peace deal and a Palestinian state is, sadly, the Palestinian leaders.

  • Comment number 5.

    Whatever position Tony supports is wrong.

  • Comment number 6.

    So despite an effort to spin Blair's economic peace, we still see Palestinian police officers asking Israel for permission to police their own country.
    Blair was instrumental in getting the EU to outlaw Hamas and was a keen supporter of the blockade. His pleas have fallen on Netayahu's deaf ears and had no answer to the blockade, just empty platitudes.

    The reason Palestinians can't sell their produce abroad easily is that Israel blocks it.

    Sadly no mention of the violence by extremist religious settlers or house demolitions and the daily theft of land.

    I'm very disappointed in Mark's report as he missed the elephant in the room, The Occupation.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    I still cannot forget Blair turning a blind eye to the suffering in Gaza.
    We would do well to remember that Hamas won the election to run the Palestinian people because of Fatahs corruption.A corruption Blair also blind eyed.

  • Comment number 9.

    The UK and the USA both support Israel who has shown to be a "bully" (if you will) but that is done to have an ally in the Mid-East. The USA and UK want to forge peace in the Mid-East and some support Palestinians and that seems to contradict what the US or UK have been showing. It is a very confusing conflict and problem.
    Palestinians don't have a nation and it could be nice if they have one but they are not united under one banner or idea. Some want a "Slamic Republic" and other want a Democratic Republic, and others want something in between.
    Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and other Mid-East nations are not sure about making a real Palestine nation since Jordan wants the West Bank to become Jordan and other people of Jordan don't want that.
    Israelis are split up, there are "radical Israelis" who only want an Israel. There are also peaceful Israelis who want to compromise and make a Palestine.
    As one can note it is one very confusing "puzzle" or conflict and Problem.

  • Comment number 10.

    Either Gaza and the West Bank have to separate indefinetely as two separate entities or the PA has to reconcile with Hamas and Hamas has to recognize Israel. Israel cannot make a deal with the PA over Gaza without Hamas backing and with Hamas the PA can't make a deal with Israel. My suggestion is for the PA to make a deal with Israel and show the Gazans what they can create for themselves once they abandon their hatred. Perhaps Gaza will eventually hold their own elections and elect a peace-loving government that loves their children more than they hate Israel.

  • Comment number 11.

    Tony's 'plea' to israel? sums it up. his position is one of supplicant. Yet Milliband and Blair in respect to iran uses the 'dog state' approach that its a country to be 'brought to heel'? no tip toeing there?

    there is no strategic interest for israel to accept a palestinian state. their object is greater israel. the israeli political class cannot deliver the settlers nor human rights for all. any who try get attacked. so they don't.

  • Comment number 12.

    This article says so much about Mark Urban's and the BBC's loaded view of the issue. It offers no serious analysis of the West's and Israel's expedient efforts to promote Fatah and help drive a wedge between them and Hamas in order to isolate Gaza.

    It skirts around the collaborationist roles of Abbas and Fayyad in this process and the problem of the PA having no effective mandate to speak for the Palestinian people.

    And, in the usual default deference from BBC journalists, it has nothing to say about the staggering affront of Tony Blair's role as a 'peace envoy'.

    Mark Urban also notes:

    "The progress does not get reported much, firstly because it is a slow incremental business and secondly because hemmed in Gaza, under its Hamas leadership, has produced all the spectacular news of late."

    Mr Urban should think, more immediately, about all the daily Israeli brutality that never gets reported from the West Bank. Moreover, it's not Hamas that's "produced all the spectacular news of late." It's - despite skewed reporting by the BBC - Israel's assault on Gaza and the aid flotilla. The BBC, in lipservice mode, has made it appear like a 'Hamas issue' rather than an 'Israel issue'.

    He also talks of Balata refugee camp - a place I am reasonably well acquainted with. Perhaps if BBC journalists ventured there more often to report honestly on the gross poverty, isolation and brutal treatment of its people by Israeli forces, they wouldn't feel such "trepidation". How easy, and lazy, just to cast Balata as an 'epicentre of militancy', rather than as a potent illustration of Israel's cruel occupation - and the PA's role in policing/enforcing it.

    He goes on:

    "Indeed the success of the PA in the West Bank marks the fruition of a Western strategy started three years ago when, following Hamas' strong showing in parliamentary elections, the Islamist movement seized power in Gaza and the two parts of the Palestinian Occupied Territories veered apart under different leaders."

    That's a conveniently cursory reading of what happened, serving to disguise Hamas's legitimate mandate and the real sequence of events.

    Here's some of the key context missing from Mark Urban's piece regarding the Fatah-Hamas issue, as previously stated in a complaint exchange with the BBC:

    In fact, Hamas were elected after one of the cleanest elections ever seen in the region. The only problem was the West's refusal to recognise a democratic government it didn't like.

    As widely documented, the US was eager to see elections in the West Bank and Gaza in order to assert Fatah rule and undermine Hamas. The point was to prop-up Abbas's collapsing mandate and further isolate Hamas, all part of the mendacious agenda to fragment and divide the Palestinians.

    Taken aback by the unexpected Hamas victory in Gaza and the West Bank, the US and Israel began imposing punitive sanctions, withdrawing tax revenues and aid, intensifying their support for Fatah and actively funding, training and arming the contingent around Fatah henchman Mohammed Dahlan.

    In 2007, with the situation further disintegrating, various Arab states intervened to help form a national unity Palestinian government (the Mecca Accords). It's on record that Condoleezza Rice “was apoplectic” with rage when she discovered this plan. Here's a flavour of the furious US mood as Hamas and Fatah prepared to meet in Mecca, as indicated in a leaked report by the retiring UN Envoy for the Middle East, Alvoro de Soto:

    Quote:
    “The US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy [David Welch] declared twice in an envoys meeting in Washington 'how much I like this violence', referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured because 'it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas'.”(Cited, Jonathan Cook, Disappearing Palestine, p 113.)

    Having cultivated Dahlan over many years, the US and Israel conspired to see Fatah overthrow the elected Hamas government. As a key article in Vanity Fair, drawing on official US documents, subsequently revealed, a bankroll $1 billion budget was allocated for Fatah arms, training and salaries, all pushing for the “desired outcome” of giving Abbas “the capability to take the required strategic political decisions...such as dismissing the [Hamas] cabinet and establishing an emergency cabinet”.(Cited, ibid, 114.)

    Alerted to the planned putsch by the increased arrival of US weaponry to Fatah, Hamas saw-off the threat, in effect pre-empting a Western-backed Fatah coup in Gaza.

    Thereafter, Israeli and US leaders resolved to use the split to best advantage by stressing the divisions between the 'co-operative' Fatah administration in the West Bank and the 'militant' entity in Gaza - the 'Hamastan' which they are ever-eager to portray. All classic divide and conquer tactics, none of which the BBC seems willing to air or explain to its viewers.

    http://medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2925

    John

  • Comment number 13.

    All the 'progress' made within the West Bank could be halted within - literally - minutes on the whim of the Israelis, who control all access into it, even the crossing direct from Jordan at Allenby Bridge, and movement within it, even if some of the checkpoints have been moved. There's absolutely nothing to stop the Israelis entering any part of the West Bank, even those designated Area A (ie 'Palestinian control') under the Oslo agreement, and arresting - or assassinating - any palestinian they like, even members of the Palestinian police, and PA ministers. And, of course, the Israelis are doing rock-all about the settlements, apart, of course, from letting them expand. In fact, there are some people, including some in the peace movements in israel, who claim that the Israeli authorities don;t actually want peace, because the longer there is no peace, the more time they have to consolidate the settlements, including tose far from Jerusalem.
    The whole Gaza thing might have been a PR disaster for the Israelis, but it's provided a pretty good smokescreen to obscure the view of what they are continuing to do in the West Bank.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thank you, Mark, for an excellent, evidence-based report that actually gives Tony Blair a fair hearing for once. This strategy of giving people hope by building from the ground up and actually making life worth living has got to be the right one - it shows people what they are fighting for.

    I have been sick of the negativity, poison and lack of balance around Tony Blair (led by a hostile media - thanks BBC for bucking this). Meanwhile, he's just got out there and got on with it. Just as he did in Northern Ireland, for those juvenile commentators above who see the word Tony Blair and reach for the cheap shot button. All the players in Northern Ireland, from Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, Bertie Ahern and David Trimble, and even Ian Paisley, recognise that Blair's personal negotiation - his own brain, his own words, his own time - made a crucial difference.

    I wish him and everyone else involved in the Palestine / Israel peace process the very best of luck.

  • Comment number 15.

    Isn’t it ironic? Whenever West is trying to install a democracy in the ME it ends up with a theocracy. Iran and Gaza as a latest example. Is Turkey next? People disaffected with military dictatorships vote for mullahs. I am not a big fan of Mubarak, but he seems to be more pragmatic than “Muslim brothers“. Mr Fayyad seems to be a pragmatic too.

  • Comment number 16.

    What about the ilegal Occupation of Ireland?

  • Comment number 17.

    What happened to John Hilley's comment?
    it has been under consideration for days now. What's the problem?

  • Comment number 18.

    Please could you publish my comment (at number 12, above) or provide the reason why it's been referred for further consideration since 10 June. I have asked repeatedly for an explanation, but received no reply.

    John

  • Comment number 19.

    Just for the record, my comments at #12, above, were finally published on 21 June. Despite prior emails to the BBC asking why it was referred and held up, no explanation has been offered.

    John

  • Comment number 20.

    Mark Urban: ... following Hamas' strong showing in parliamentary elections.


    Did Hamas win that election? Did they win most seats?

    Here's a quote from a wiki page that was easy to find:

    "Final results show that Hamas won the election, with 74 seats to the ruling-Fatah's 45, providing Hamas with the majority of the 132 available seats and the ability to form a majority government on their own. "

    That's a veritable landslide compared with uk election results, and quite disingenuous for anyone to sum that up as simply a "strong showing".

    And the reason that the Hamas members did not take their rightful place in power in the West Bank was down to Western interference, and that Israel, with the collaboration of Fatah, simply had many of them (if not all of them) arrested and imprisoned. It obviously wasn't so easy in the Gaza strip where the coup failed.

    And it should be noted that it is Fatah's military wing that continues to fire rockets from Gaza, not Hamas's. Another quick google search brings up:

    " Thai national Manee Singmueangphon was killed by a Palestinian Qassam rocket ... al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, claimed responsibility for the attack."

    Imagine that, Israel and the West are backing the guy who's party are still firing rockets in a ceasefire period.

    I doubt you'll find that sort of "essential background" at the BBC.


    Shame ...

  • Comment number 21.

    Hurrah (hoorah?) for Vichy France, the parks were much better there than in the Northern zone. Yes, yes, the French police may have organised raids to capture those considered "undesirables" by their occupiers, but think of the parks man, think of the parks.

    ...

  • Comment number 22.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 23.

    I do agree with you"Sadly, Fayyad's extraordinary efforts are undermined by the failed diplomacy of his superior, president Abbas (Abu-Mazen). The Palestinians realize that they need a diplomatic breakthrough and the PA knows that without it it'll fall out of grace with the Palestinian population.And yet, they refuse direct talks with Israel and use every possible excuse to delay even the indirect talks. What an absurdity it is, that Israel's right wing leader wants to negotiate a peace deal that would create a Palestinian state, and he's turned down by the Palestinian leaders who claim such a state is their ultimate goal.As long as the Palestinians refuse direct negotiations, and as long as they make every attempt at delaying these talks, there can't be any significany diplomatic progress. Israel's population has a large majority supporting a two state solution (including among Netanyahu's likud voters). The Knesset has a large majority of PMs supporting such a solution. The only thing blocking us from advancing towards a peace deal and a Palestinian state is, sadly, the Palestinian leaders."

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    West Bankers have gradually expressed more confidence in West Bank Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and less trust in the government of Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh, whereas the perception of the two governments in the Gaza population, while fluctuating somewhat, has been stable.
    The UN agency for Palestine refugees is a much trusted institution.
    Despite many problems, since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority considerable progress has been made in providing the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with public services. Two particular challenges in Gaza are electricity and water.
    Two major developments are a steady reduction in the appreciation of the performance of President Abbas, and the increased appreciation of the achievements of the government of Prime Minister Fayyad. A narrow majority acknowledged the positive impact of the ‘Fayyad plan’ on people’s living conditions and the chance of reaching Palestinian statehood which must be based on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and must be economically viable.

 

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