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Different Yet Similar: Governance in the West Bank and Gaza

Friday, March 19, 2010

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Edited Transcript of Remarks by Dr. Yazid Sayigh
Transcript No. 325 (1 April 2010)

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The Palestine Center
Washington, D.C.
19 March 2010

Dr. Yazid Sayigh:

I am grateful to Yousef for having suggested I give a talk here.  Itís great to be at the Palestine Center.  I had actually not been here before and Iím grateful to all of you for coming. I look forward to hearing what you have to say later on. I am really sorry that my really good friend and colleague, Khalid [Hroub], is unable to be with us today. So I wonít really try to cover what he would have. He was hoping to address issues of the official political discourse of the West Bank and Gaza governments of Fateh and Hamas while I worked to the bottom up in terms of constructing institutions and achieving governance and what the longer or further implications are of that in terms of the two evolving systems. So I wonít try and cover his bit although you are very welcome to raise issues of what do they really want and what do they really say, later on.

What I am going to do, and obviously, rather superficial in a summary manner, [is] discuss what I see as the evolution of two divergent systems of governance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since June 2007. When as you, I am sure know, the Palestinian Authority basically broke apart into two rival camps, one led by Hamas and the government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh who was in office at that time, taking full control and exclusive control of the whole of the Gaza Strip.  Then Fateh on the other side, in the West Bank along with its leader Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, setting up a new government headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an emergency government, at the end of June 2007. Since then we have, in my view, a fundamental breakdown of the Palestinian political system, a fundamental lack of constitutional government, especially in the West Bank, even more so than in Gaza. And of course, a polarization of Palestinian politics and a militarization of national politics as both sides built up their own separate police forces, security forces, intelligence, etc. and their party militias.

So what I want to do really is to explore ways that I find striking in which the two governments, the two rival governments of the West Bank and Gaza of Salam Fayyad and Ismail Haniyeh, have adapted to their challenges.  The challenges they face, both the internal ones--many political challenges--but the external ones of what to do with Israel, basically. Do you fight Israel? Do you negotiate? How do you deal with issues of siege, of access, of settlements etc.? My main argument is that both governments over the last two and a half years have succeeded, to a significant degree, in stabilizing and consolidating their internal rule and in institutionalizing and routinizing governance to a significant degree. Certainly in comparison with the situation prior to June 2007, before the breakdown in other words, when there was a state of lawlessness basically, of armed anarchies especially in Gaza but also insipients in the West Bank and certainly if compared to the experience of government until the general elections of January 2006 that Hamas won. So what I am arguing, in other words, is that whatever other issues there might be on political or constitutional debates, whether one is for or against either government or either dominant party, bottom line is in my view, that both governments have succeeded to a certain degree in developing governance in institutionalizing their rule in trying to address basic needs of the public; basic public goods, law and order, economic movement, things of that order.

As I mentioned earlier this has involved various types of adaptations by both governments. What I think is striking, is that both governments, with their sort of allies and coalitions partners in Hamas and Fateh or others, have shown a certain ability to learn and innovate. In other words, there is a learning curve thatís observable. Itís striking, of course, that the Fayyad government, whatever achievements itís made, have been achieved with very massive political financial assistance from the international community and with a certain degree--at times more, at times less--from the government of Israel. Whereas what the Haniyehís government has achieved, has been achieved despite immensely adverse circumstances and without any outside assistance, from the West anyway. They have other forms of foreign aid that I will get to. So in other words, I am trying to set the stage very broadly to say that I find it very interesting intellectually, at least, to see how these two governing systems are evolving and what sort of adaptations that involves and what sort of political and social dynamics internally are underlying this and where this it all go over the coming year or two.

So I think there are two main areas that are very useful in highlighting the achievements or failures and the way in which both governments operate. The first is security. Itís very obvious, and I think I donít need to make much of argument, to assert that until June 2007 there was a fundamental lack of basic law and order, of law enforcement, enforcement of court decisions, of a functioning court system, for that matter, in the entirety of Palestinian autonomy areas. Since June 2007 both governments, in my view, have established a modicum of basic law and order.

In the West Bank, the Fayyad government has benefited from important, maybe insufficient still in overall volume, but nonetheless significant assistance from the European Union, focused on the civilian police through the European Union mission, EUPOL cops and also with American assistance headed by General Keith Dayton, which focuses on the re-training, rehabilitation of the Presidential Guard and the national security forces. The outcome of which has been, to simplify very, very severely that to some degree there has been an improvement in the professionalism of these various police forces; an improvement of their technical capability.  The prime minister himself, Fayyad, has taken a very direct hands on role in meeting weekly with the security commanders, which provides a certain amount of coordination and cohesion of operation that was lacking in the past. Now there are big problems here too. I am not going to go in too much detail. I am going to come back a little bit later. But I will emphasize, there are serious problems to it. There have been major issues of human rights abuses by the intelligence agencies, in particular, which do not really yet come under any acceptable level of civilian government control. There is no parliament so there is a fundamental problem there in terms of rule of law. And everything really depends on the character and the motives etc. of the prime minister, who I think is an enormously admirable man.  I have enormous personal affection and professional respect for him.  But I am highlighting that there is a fundamental problem here which is the lack of a democratic operating system or functioning democratic system.

Now on the other side in Gaza, what I find fascinating is the way in which the Haniyeh government suddenly finding itself in total control of Gaza and with most of the Palestinian Authority personnel staying at home under orders from the West Bank government which pays their salaries. So you have something like 70, 000 employees of whom--something like 50,000 were in the police forces, various police, intelligence, etc.--staying at home for the most part.  So there is an immediate huge gap that the continuing Hamas government had to address. And again, to simplify things very drastically, itís clear that to some extent law enforcement was rough even draconian.  The resort of violence to deal with armed clans or other challengers within Gaza was obvious and very strong in the first year at least.  But what I think has happened since then is something of a sharp learning curve where they have rebuilt their police force.  Theyíve realized the need for a specialized, civilian police as supposed to say bringing in Qassam Brigades to do traffic control or dealing with domestic violence. Theyíve activated their reconciliation committees on a very large scale across Gaza. So you have complimentary systems of islaah, of reconciliation committees operating at neighborhood level which work with the police force, with the courts and therefore have provided basic law and order.

I was in both the West Bank and Gaza in January. I hadnít been to Gaza in four years since the Israeli pullout in 2005 and I spoke to people there who were either Fateh supporters or human rights organization heads, people in the private sector in banking, secular people. In other words, people who are very critical of Hamas or opposed to it on ideological grounds but all of whom confirmed that in terms of basic security of being able to go out at night, to park their car without finding it stolen in the morning, etc. that Hamas is delivering. I find it striking that in four days in Gaza, I didnít travel very intensively throughout every sort of main neighborhood or whatever, I had work to do, but I did nonetheless travel from the northern entrance at Erez from Israel all the way down to the Rafah border and the tunnels and so on with the Egyptian border back through Rafah through Deir al-Balah.  So I did get a sort of taxi driver type sense of the lay of the land.  And what really struck me was that I saw very few armed men; very few men in uniform.  Anyone who had a gun was in uniform, in a formal uniform and normal civilian police or VIP type protection police uniform and very few guns inside.  Traffic policemen directing traffic without a gun, without even a hip-gun. Whereas when I got to Ramallah, soon after, and I drove from the Qalandia checkpoint as you enter from Jerusalem and I drove to the other side, Ersal Street, for those here who know Ramallah and Al-Bireh, something like a 20 minute drive roughly, I saw more men in uniform, more Kalashnikovs and guns in that 20 minute ride than I saw in four days in Gaza. Now that doesnít mean that everything that the Hamas government was doing in Gaza was purely based on sweetness and honey.  Its detractors insist that there is a lot of intimidation and so on, but what I think what is also very clear is that that level of law enforcement, of basic law and order, is achieved effectively because they actually focus on it as a public good that they have to deliver.  And they delivered it.  They deliver it with 12,000 police men instead of 50,000 and at a fraction of the cost and with no donor help. So, Iím not trying to over-privilege either side here. I am saying in fact both have achieved important steps in technical ways or other ways, in reforming or improving or professionalizing at least bits and pieces of their police forces.  And both have therefore provided a certain amount of law and order.

In the economy, here too there has been important stabilization of the situation in the West Bank, where the overall economy has grown modestly in 2008, more in 2009. And where the Israelis have reduced the amount of checkpoints and barriers within the West Bank sufficiently that it actually is now possible to move quite easily from Ramallah to Nablus or around to Bethlehem and further south in ways that were almost impossible about a year before. This has made a difference.  But at the end of the day, the barriers have not disappeared and a lot of the internal closures are still in place. More fundamentally, what I think is important here, is that the growth figure as a simple statistic, I think it was anticipated to be 7 percent.  Itís more like 5 percent in reality. This is owed almost entirely to donor funding through the Palestinian Authority and public expenditure, not through private sector regeneration and growth. I think that is a very telling issue. Banks in Palestine sit on about 7 billion dollars in assets.  In other words, there is money there is not getting lent out because the private sector doesnít have the assurance or the confidence that the investment will be returned.  That it wonít be lost. So they are reluctant to borrow and the banks sit on that money. In other words, there are still very important structural obstacles in the West Bank to genuine economic development and growth which is, of course, the linchpin of donor strategy:  improve economic conditions and the rest will follow.  That didnít work in the 90ís.  It didnít work after 2000 and itís still not working.  So there is stabilization but not genuine change.

In Gaza you have a very interesting economy.  One that is almost entirely cash-based.  One that is almost entirely an informal economy. According to the Hamas government itself, which incidentally runs an amazing array of websites, every single ministry has a website, service portals, anyone can submit request for this or that paperwork, whatever. Itís quite remarkable.  Itís all out there. A lot of the time people comment on whatís going on there without actually bothering to read what they say and what they publish. Itís all online including, for instance, figures which I havenít checked if they are on the ministry of finance website, Iíll admit, but what their ministry of economy, ministry of finance has said in public to their newspapers is that they are operating on something like, I think, 92, 96 million shekels a month, which works out at about 25 or so million dollars a month.  An annual budget last year of about 325 million dollars which is spent on about 32 thousand employees, including the police, of which only at most about five million dollars a month is collected domestically through domestic revenue, according to their statements. Theyíve just published, about two or three months ago, they published a budget of about 540 million dollars for 2010 and said of which we will collect 60 million dollars locally.  The rest comes from foreign aid; international NGOís, zakat committees, the Muslim Brotherhood International, sympathizers in the Arab oil economies in the Gulf and elsewhere. There is even more of the economy thatís based on the tunnel trade.  Almost something like 80 percent of the civilian imports come through the tunnels or at least from Egypt. Some over-land officially through the Rafah border; the rest underground. What this has generated is a large cash-based economy with very little direct revenue for the government itself.  A lot of revenue it seems for Hamas, specifically as a movement.  There is, of course, immense poverty and unemployment in Gaza but there is a lot of cash around as well.  So it is a very curious situation. Again, what it means is that the Hamas government, the Haniyeh government, has more or less stabilized things.  It provides basic services.  Itís unable to penetrate the Palestinian banking system because of the firewall put in place by the Palestinian Monetary Authority in order to avoid terrorism issues. So theyíve set up their own Islamic bank which basically is sort of an ATM service for their own members and employees who receive their pay through that. Much of the economy now is shifting to dollars and Jordanian dinars because thatís what you need to buy goods from the Sinai and they donít actually need the shekels quite as much as from their transfer to Israel. But again, this is not an ideal economy. There are problems because even if the Muslim Brotherhood, the Hamas sort of backbone, provides a very strong ethic of honesty that therefore insures that all these cash movements are getting where they are intended to go, in time I imagine with so much money going around, a lot of it is going into real estate because there is no other investment opportunity in Gaza. This will lead to a new type of corrupt, informal economy.  The risk is there.  But for now the government has stabilized the situation, and if anything, Gaza overall, in just very broad cash terms, has actually done better since last yearís war than before.  Because the tunnels have expanded massively, Hamas has taken over, theyíve got a tunnelsí authority the government has regulated and basically most of the tunnel economy now is sort of a semi-formal economy. So here too I think both governments have achieved something in the way of stabilization, what the long term implications are, of course, in both cases are more problematic.

Now, so where does this all take me in terms of the comparison and the politics of this? Well, first I think itís evident to me that both governments are very similar in that both are hugely dependent on foreign aid.  The Fayyad government is currently debating in its second reading the budget for this year, but the figures they gave out a couple of months back were about 2.8 billion dollars, of which, I forget the precise amount but we are talking about something like at least 40 percent maybe, I think itís more, is going to be direct assistance from the donors. So it is entirely dependent--and thatís just for the recurring budget, there is next to no investment element in that, in terms of building new facilities, classrooms, etc., road works, whatever.  As I indicated already, the Hamas government in Gaza is also very dependent, hugely dependent on foreign aid.  Neither side really controls its security.  Clearly, in the West Bank the Palestinian Authority and its police forces, etc. operate within the limits and the zones and the enclaves allowed by Israel. While the Israeli Defense Force, the IDF, the Shabak, the internal security service, continue to exercise direct security activity inside Palestinian autonomy areas. The last report I saw, not very recent, but going back to July said that even after things had eased and improved, in that month alone the IDF conducted about 600 or 700 interventions in autonomy areas in the West Bank, 66 of which involved use of firearms.  In Gaza, of course, the Israelis are outside Gaza but they control the entire so called, external envelope.  They control two main land borders, the sea, the airspace, of course, and then Egypt controls the last border. So the Haniyeh government does not control its borders in reality.  And ultimately its security is entirely dependent on it controlling people firing rockets from within who then draw Israeli counter fire. So both entities, in fact, are hugely dependent on these situations and these arrangements.  They are massively vulnerable. Neither has a real lever to try and propel its major political goals of achieving statehood or a deal with Israel. Fayyad seems in effect to be saying; well we are going to try and change some of this and, directly or indirectly, endorses the civilian protests against the security barrier in Nilin and Bilíin and places like that. Whether that is going to be sufficient to extract recognition of the state he is trying to build in the West Bank in a yearís time or so is anyoneís guess.  And I donít think itís going to be sufficient. But equally Hamas is stuck in a position where, short of resuming hostilities, itís not clear what leverage it has.  So, my feeling, and here is where I am most worried, is that both governments wish to preserve themselves, regardless of any rights or wrongs of the history of who sort of started out right or wrong. 

In my view, the West Bank government, despite my immense affection and respect for Fayyad, but in constitutional terms it is entirely unconstitutional. The Haniyeh government is partially constitutional but otherwise on dubious grounds as well. In both cases there are huge legitimacy problems and issues. So one issue I see here, one problem, is that both are in a holding pattern.  Both hold on to this status quo.  Theyíve stabilized themselves.  Theyíve consolidated a bit but they canít do much more. Neither can really take economic growth further. Neither can really take security issues further.  Neither can get meaningful, independence or sovereignty with the means at hand. So both, in other words, are also vulnerable to domestic political challenges.  Everyone Iíve spoken to who seems to know anything about the West Bank insists that Hamas is very strong in the West Bank and that were it not for overriding Israeli control then theyíd probably be in charge in the West Bank too by now. I canít asses this exactly but it is clear that Hamas enjoys support in the West Bank as in Gaza; important support.  This is partly because there is a lot of perception in the West Bank that despite the public approving of the goods that they Fayyad government has delivered on law enforcement and economic improvement, etc.--there is approval of that--but there is also the perception that in the absence of a meaningful political, diplomat process with Israel leading within a foreseeable time frame  to independence, then fundamentally all that Fayyad is actually doing is normalizing life within the occupation matrix, in the control matrix of Israel.  Therefore it is a fundamental illegitimate enterprise. I am not saying it is.  I am not saying everyone thinks like this. I am simply arguing that there is a fundamental problem and itís not clear how Fayyad can get over that one.

The fact that Fateh, which in my view, and Iíll put it out here bluntly, is dead and has been dead for at least 20 years as a meaningful, coherent political organization, spends half itís time trying to get back into office and criticizing the Fayyad government. Thatís, of course, not including necessarily those Fateh ministries that are actually in the government. But overall there is a huge problem of relationship between Fateh and Fayyad.  And Fateh itself I think can do damage without doing much good in terms of what it brings to the Fayyad government. In mid January the Revolutionary Council that was brought into office at the Fateh conference in August, issued after a three day marathon session, its final statement in which the biggest issues were to gripe about Fateh representation in government, why they didnít hold key ministries, like the finance ministry, payroll and the information ministry. Rather than say how can we help our brothers in Gaza lift the siege.  There is a clear issue here, a clear disconnect.

In Gaza, however, Hamas faces the problem that it continues to use a discourse of armed resistance and martyrdom and so on to legitimize itself when clearly it is not engaging in those things. On the contrary, for the last year and a half or two and a half years if not longer itís been doing a lot, in fact everything it can, to keep its border with Israel quiet. And this is causing tensions within its ranks, within the Qassam Brigades, between Qassam and the Haniyeh government, between different factions within Hamas as well as encouraging the growth of Salafist groups outside of Hamas. Now in the short term what the Haniyeh government is doing, I think, to deflect and contain this sort of internal challenge is to encourage or to allow an Islamicization agenda by either its members who are in office like the Minister of Interior, Fathi Hammad, who is pushing Islamicization of his ministry, for instance, because he believes in it.  This is his personal commitment. Or the daíwa arm of Hamas which pursues its long standing proselytization project, to others here and there who take the initiative of their own accord. I think, itís less a matter that the Haniyeh government is trying full steam to Islamicize Gaza so much as itís easier to allow that to happen so as to deflect charges that it has gone soft; is enjoying the privileges of government in Gaza City, etc. The thing is how long can they play this game without either having to go back to firing rockets or having to come out and say, you know, fundamentally we are going to have to shift our political position and no more violence against Israel or recognition or something of that sort.  And thatís a big tension.

In the West Bank, whatís happening is that the counter-Hamas campaign thatís been underway for the last two and a half years is resulting in all issues that are fundamentally corrosive of rule of law and human rights. People suspected of belonging to Hamas who are employed in the government are dismissed from their jobs.  Of course, there are hundreds maybe up to a thousand I forget what the latest figure is, of Hamas members in prisons.  The government did finally take reasonably effective action from about October onwards to end the worst human rights abuses in its prisons, torture, beatings and so on.  There is still a certain level of violence and so far itís still intelligence agencies and not the civilian police that has primacy in terms of law and order issues. All this is done, of course, in a situation in which there is no functioning parliament.  The parliamentís term ended in January.  The presidentís term ended this year, if not January last year. So we a have complete abeyance of constitutional order and its primary--the mechanisms through which itís renewed periodically.  Therefore, you get someone like Fayyad who, whether he wants to or not, presides over a system which has to keep knocking down its opponents and warding of threats and challenges including purely political ones, where he needs the intelligence services which, of course, the outside actors work with very closely; certainly the preventable security and the Mukhabarat, the general intelligence. And since this is done in the absence of a parliament and a supreme court, etc. this means that there is a clear authoritarian potential. So both governing systems are becoming increasingly authoritarian. Hamas represses any expression, public expression of affiliation with Fateh. It doesnít arrest everyone. Fateh members go out and they sometimes have meetings and you can see their posters and things in Gaza streets, of the marchers anyway. But basically there is a repressive atmosphere and there is political intimidation.  But the same is occurring in the West Bank.
So my fear is that the status quo, this is sort of suspended animation that the two governing entities are in, necessarily leads to increasingly authoritarian responses to domestic challenges because the two governments canít alter their external environments. Itís not in their hands.

I want to wrap up so we can go to discussion.  So what Iíll say then in conclusion is that the status quo, I think, is not static. I think both governments are able to stay more or less on top over the coming year. But think about this.  In August 2011, the two year framework of Salam Fayyadís state-building plan will be over. Of course, I think his fundamental idea, his fundamental thinking, is that the Palestinians already had what they needed to establish a state.  Itís not as if we really needed to invent new institutions.  Institutions have been in place since the first day in the 1990ís for adequate sovereign capacity and competence. Even today, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, out-govern most of, say, sub-Saharan Africa by any indicators used by letís say, the State Department or the World Bank or a number of other worthy institutions. So what Fayyad is saying is, ĎIíll call your bluff.  Look, for two years Iíve been building institutions of state.  We now know how to do planning.í  By the way, the Hamas government is impressive.  They can do planning too.  I was struck by this. One of the biggest problems, maybe the most difficult thing, was for Palestinian ministries to learn how to do planning.  Itís a fundamental issue. I saw this in the Hamas police force.  They do it maybe rather primitively.  They understand that they have to think forward and anticipate man power needs, specialization needs for the years to come. So this is being done basically in Palestine.  So the question is after August 2011, when Fayyad turns around to the USA or the EU and says, ĎAlright, you both are institutions. Are you going to recognize our state?í Well, I donít know.  At the moment the French and Spanish are trying to push forward an idea in the EU that in a yearís time they will recognize a Palestinian state without borders but at least give it a juridical recognition. I think thatís an important step forward.  Itís certainly not going to be adequate because from the very next day the question is alright now a Palestinian under this authority wants to get his or her spouse in from Jordan, to get a passport, to get a permit, to import something.  Who holds the register? Israel.  The land register; Israel.  The borders; Israel. So, itís not just about borders is about that any function that any government expects to do on a day to day basis for its citizens cannot be done unless itís filtered through the Israelis.  Everything from currency to mobile frequencies to whatever you think of.  So unless the U.S. and the EU are able and willing to follow up a recognition of a Palestinian state the next day with other concrete measures that enable the government to actually have sovereign control over the key levers of governance then we are not any further forward. Then we are left with this thing which is, what do you do about Gaza?  Bluntly, impressionistically Iíll say, I thought that what I saw in Gaza in January looked more like a state than anything in the West Bank in the sense that Gaza has one huge advantage that Fayyad does not have. The Haniyeh government controls the entirety of its territory from north to south, east to west, in an uninterrupted, unbroken manner. This brings a coherence to its policy and its behavior that is simply very difficult to achieve in the West Bank. Itís a rather simple thing.  You donít think about. But the fact that they actually control their own territory is of immense importance. Itís why they could actually use the tunnel trade to maintain survival in Gaza when everyone else was putting them under siege. So in other words, they are not going away, first.  Second, the question is, if you want to reach peace with Israel and a two-state solution then somehow youíve got to get Gaza and the West Bank reintegrated with each other under a single governing system. I worry that the evolutionary paths that each has followed means that they will find it very difficult to reintegrate. Itís not clear to me how you do so.  Itís not clear to me whether you should get rid of the 12,000 Hamas police who seem to have done a better job than the 50,000 PA police who were there before. And will the EU go on paying the salaries for 50,000 policemen whose role is evidently superfluous because for the last three years someone else has done it with less money, less manpower?  These are not insignificant issues.  Last, but not least, is the fact that you have two territories that are physically separated.  I just donít see how the political, social, cultural dimension of reintegrating ministries and agencies and so on into one coherent system of government is going to work when you get Fateh and Hamas forming a national unity government and putting it all back together again and then hopefully presenting something unified to Israel to sign a peace deal.  Weíre so far away from that is what Iím trying to say.  I could say quite a bit more.  Iíll stop there.

Dr. Yezid Sayigh is Professor of Middle East Studies at King's College London.  

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker's views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund. 

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