The Changing Face of Palestinian Governance

There's a lesson for the media in the resignation of Salam Fayyad as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority to make way for formation of a Fatah-Hamas "unity" government:  If you're really interested in Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, you need to pay equal attention to governance changes on both sides.

The NY Times' first reaction was to feel "anxiety" about Fayyad's departure, since his reformist credentials were the one ray of hope that Israel and the West might view him as a credible peace partner.  But such astonishment, felt by other Western media as well, is the direct result of their unbalanced coverage of how Israel and the Palestinians have been moving toward a new set of leaders.

On the one hand, there's been an obsessive media focus on Israel since the start of the year -- first about the election campaign and then about the ins-and-outs of forming a new government under Bibi Netanyahu.  Every twist and turn was sliced and diced in the most excruciating detail, with accompanying interpretations and warnings about what a right-wing government might or might not do.

On the other hand, there has been a virtual coverage blackout when it comes to the immediate future of Palestinian governance.  Generally overlooked by the media was that Mahmoud Abbas's legal term had expired and that he thus could no longer claim a legitimate hold on his leadership of the Palestinian Authority.  A similar media yawn has been evident when it came to rising pressures for a kiss-and-make-up "unity" government between Hamas and Fatah.  Abbas kept pushing for it, regardless of the fact that partnership with a terrorist group might give pause to the West about continuing to funnel billions in aid to the Palestinians.  The "unity" campaign also has been stoked by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- all interested in ending a fratricidal intra-Palestinian rift, even at the risk of legitimizing Hamas and putting it in a stronger position to overthrow Fatah in the West Bank, as it did in Gaza.

One would have thought that, in terms of Mideast stability, the media might have realized that the future shape of Palestinian governance mattered at least as much as the transition to a democratically elected new government in Israel.

After all, disagreements that might arise between Washington and Jerusalem under a Bibi government would be far more manageable than including Hamas, a group dedicated to use of terrorism to destroy the Jewish state, in the governing catbird seat on the Palestinian side.

Team Obama did no better when it came to keeping an eye on Palesitnian political maneuvers to form a new government in Ramallah.  After all, only a few days ago, during Clinton's visit to Egypt, Jerusalem and Ramallah, our secretary of state went out of her way to exalt with the most fulsome of praise and admiration Salam Fayyad as the rock on which she would build her determined lurch toward a two-state solution.  Go back and read the transcripts of Hillary gushing about Fayyad as a bobby-soxer might have about Frank Sinatra.

Neither the media nor Obama's intelligence people -- another disaster in the making -- were there to tip off the president and his secretary of state that, with a Fatah-Hamas "unity'' government in the making, Salam Fayyad's days were numbered.  After all, Hamas leaders have made no secret of the fact that they hate his guts and see him as a Western stooge.

Fayyad was simply taken for granted as the one indispensable Palestinian peace partner by the media and the administration.  Now both are shocked, shocked to find out suddently that Palestinians are about to exchange Fayyad for another notch in Hamas's ascendancy.  If you read the NY Times or the Washington Post, or watch the network news shows, you can be forgiven for wondering how this could have been so egregiously overlooked.

But don't be too hard on the media.  They at least let you feast on all the byzantine intricacies of Israeli electoral politics.