Cliff May

Hamas leaders — who do receive support from both Iran and Qatar — openly detest Fayyad. Finally, though Fayyad was appointed by Abbas, he is not close to Abbas, who, in addition to heading the Palestinian Authority, leads the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization which holds the reins — more or less — on the West Bank.

Halfway through our conversation, Fayyad asked not be quoted, so I’ll respect that. But I’m revealing nothing new if I say he gets that Hamas’s openly declared threat to exterminate Israel is not conducive to peace processing. He understands, too, that there is a desperate need for political reform and institution-building in the Palestinian territories. He has been working toward that goal determinedly, if not entirely successfully.

As we leave the prime minister’s offices, we see that demonstrators have gathered outside, mostly civil servants peacefully protesting the fact that it has been a long time since they have received their paychecks.

Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank, lies six miles north of Jerusalem in the Judean Mountains. By the standards of non-oil producing Middle Eastern countries, it is neither depressed nor depressing. Buildings are of white Jerusalem stone with red tile roofs. There are mosques with tall minarets and green domes; palm trees and stone walls; modern hotels and good restaurants that serve cold, locally brewed beer. A fair amount of new construction is underway, but there also are empty lots, strewn with rubble. In some of them, goats graze.

Ramallah may not be the ideal Palestinian city of the future, but, as it happens, an attempt to build that metropolis is underway on hilltops less than six miles to the northwest. It’s called Rawabi and it’s the first planned city in the West Bank, a project that will cost $1 billion, most of which is coming from Qatar. The first residents are to begin moving in within a year. In five to seven years, it is to have homes for 10,000 Palestinian families, as well as a commercial center, a cultural center, medical facilities, stores, cafes, and a giant amphitheater.

Bashar Masri, the elegant and eloquent entrepreneur behind this project, acknowledges that, to succeed, Rawabi will need businesses and jobs — high-tech would be his preference. That will require foreign investors confident that their money will not end up in the foreign bank accounts of corrupt officials. It would help, too, if Rawabi and all of what Masri calls Palestine were to enjoy not just peaceful but cooperative relations with the little start-up nation to its west.

Both Masri and Fayyad favor that outcome — of that I have little doubt. But with Palestinian power divided between a jihadist Hamas and a vacillating Fatah, and with Islamists who are committed to Israel’s extermination ascendant throughout much of the Middle East, I have no idea how they get there from here.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.