When I interviewed Salam Fayyad in Ramallah at the end of February, he was a worried man–and with reason. In June 2007 Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah movement and the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, had installed Fayyad as the PA’s “emergency” prime minister. That was right after the clashes in which US-trained Fatah forces were thrown out of the Gaza Strip by security forces loyal to elected Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.
Abbas hoped that the marriage of Fayyad’s widely publicized managerial skills with large amounts of US and US-encouraged funding–$1.8 billion delivered in 2007, for the West Bank’s population of just 2.5 million–would enable the Fatah-controlled West Bank to flourish. Palestinian voters in Gaza, squeezed tight by the illegal blockade Israel had imposed following the 2006 election there, would then renounce the preference for Hamas they had displayed in the elections and restore Fatah to power.
But it did not work out. Opinion polls conducted in late January–shortly after the end of Israel’s devastating twenty-two-day assault on Gaza–found Hamas more popular than Fatah. Indeed, Hamas was more popular in the West Bank than it was in war-shattered Gaza. No wonder Fayyad was gloomy. He greeted me by saying, in the economist-speak that is his preferred jargon, “Things are, as always, getting incrementally worse. But now the increments are getting bigger.” Two weeks later he tendered his resignation.
In the interview, Fayyad focused on the Israeli authorities’ failure to let him do his job, in two key respects. First, Israel’s continued building of settlements in the West Bank was limiting the possibility that a viable Palestinian state could be salvaged from the land that remained. And second, frequent Israeli military incursions were hampering the PA’s ability to govern in areas that are supposed to be under Palestinian control. “We have proved we have restored law and order throughout the West Bank, so they have no pretext to send their own forces in,” Fayyad told me. “Every time they do that, it undermines us very seriously.”
Fayyad is far from alone in thinking the clock might be running out for the two-state solution. The prospect of building an independent Palestinian state in all or nearly all of the territories occupied by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in June 1967–the goal that most Palestinian secular nationalists have adhered to since 1974–looks very remote absent a major change of behavior by Israel. As this prospect has dimmed, many Palestinians and a small group of stalwarts in the ruins of Israel’s peace movement have returned to an older idea that was once more popular in both cultures: that of a single, binational state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
As secular Palestinians’ hopes for a two-state solution have receded, a surprising degree of support for it has come from an unlikely source: Hamas. Given that Hamas has always formally adhered to the goal of a single Islamic state in the whole of historical (Mandate-era) Palestine, this seems paradoxical. Further, if there’s truth to the widely held argument that Palestinian statehood is necessary to Israel’s long-term continuation as a Jewish state, then it is only Hamas’s continued adherence to the PA project that is keeping alive the prospect of Israel’s survival as a Jewish state.