The Fayyad Opportunity Is Fading

Maybe he'll survive the rebellion against him, maybe he won't. But the flicker of hope embodied in the first Mapainik Palestinian is fading away.

The news generated by the Middle East in recent years has usually been bad. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, the Muslim Brotherhood took over Egypt and Turkey became an aggressive neo-Ottoman power. The Iranian rebellion was quashed, Iraq was drawn into the Shi'ite sphere of influence and Syria turned into a gruesome slaughterhouse. Even in Libya, which raised hopes for a while, the American ambassador was murdered on Wednesday.

In most parts of the Arab world, extremism is on the rise, moderation is sagging and the future seems darker and darker. Despite the expectations raised by the Arab Spring, most countries in the region are less enlightened, less stable or less calm than they were.

Only in one area have things looked different. Only one place in the Arab world has generated more and more good news in the past five years. Under Salam Fayyad's leadership, the West Bank has seen prosperity since 2007 as it has never seen before. Law and order have been restored. The economy has burgeoned by up to 10 percent a year. The relative normalization has spread gradually from Ramallah to Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin, Qalqilyah and Tul Karm.

After the first intifada's chaos years, Yasser Arafat's corruption years and the second intifada's nightmare years, a kind of calm has prevailed. Radicals have become pragmatists, terrorists have become entrepreneurs and a love-of-life ethos once again stands at the center of life. The Palestinian prime minister has performed an economic miracle in the West Bank, with far-reaching implications.

The importance of Fayyad's project is not merely economic or local. Throughout their history, the Palestinians have never had a national leadership that did them good and improved their quality of life. Neither Haj Amin al-Husseini nor Ahmad Shukeiri nor Arafat saw to their people's everyday well-being. Their liberation movement fiercely fought the British, the Zionists and the Israelis but did not nurture the Palestinians themselves. It did not act for the education and health systems or build infrastructure enabling a life with dignity.

Fayyad changed all that. The West Bank-born economist who was educated in Texas and matured in the International Monetary Fund became the first Palestinian leader committed to building and growth. He relinquished no national goals but aspired to reach them by empowering life rather than sacrificing it.

So Fayyad's five good years have been a time of golden opportunity. With Fayyad you could talk. With Fayyad you could do business. With Fayyad you could build a state - a Palestinian one.

True, officially the Palestinian Authority's prime minister was subordinate to that ingenious peace dissenter, President Mahmoud Abbas. He did not have the legal or moral authority to sign a peace agreement. He lacked the required political power to bring about a historic reconciliation. But Fayyad could have been an ideal partner to the cautious, gradual process of dividing the land. Fayyad could have been the silent partner to whom we entrust parts of the West Bank for building a peace-seeking Palestinian entity. Fayyad was the Palestinian we always dreamed of, with whom we could have worked pragmatically to realize the dream of coexistence.

But Benjamin Netanyahu's government missed the golden opportunity. Although Netanyhahu made lofty statements about an economic peace, he did not expand Fayyad's economic peace to a viable strategic peace. Although Ehud Barak is committed to dividing the country, he did not advance a process of dividing it with Fayyad.

The Israelis turned the path of growth and construction that has been built in Ramallah into a dead end. So now, before our eyes, Fayyad has been pushed into a corner. Maybe he'll survive the rebellion against him, maybe he won't. But the flicker of hope that was embodied in the first Mapainik Palestinian is fading away.