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Fayyad Affair: A Symptom of a Diplomatic Disease

By Felice Friedson | The Media Line

February 15, 2017

(Photo: Michael Friedson/The Media Line)
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Consensus builds against using the appointment for inappropriate quid pro quo

Regardless of what else might be said about Salam Fayyad, his moment of bringing near consensus to this contentious region’s most diverse schools of thought will forever typify his already considerable lifetime achievements. Sadly, the catalyst was the inability to appoint the right man to the right position absent issues related but not germane to the appointment itself, a situation cogently – and aptly — described as “stunningly dumb” by former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro.

Lest the ambassador be accused of bias, it is illustrative to search one’s memory for an example of a similar pan-partisan outpouring in a situation where no world leader had died. While the present political environment demands criticism of the new administration by all who are not self-proclaimed right-wingers, telling is the growing array of conservative thinkers willing to be blunt and critical of the administration on the Fayyad issue. To those of us who know Fayyad well, the attack comes against the one regional leader who least deserves the smear.

A leading Israeli newspaper trotted out a 2013 quote by Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, a leading conservative thinker known to be as close as any to Prime Minister Netanyahu, lauding Fayyad, whom he touted as “a partner for peace.” Also on the right, The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, himself a former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, added his admiration, tweeting “Even I like Fayyad.” The tweet by Vivian Bercovici, the former Canadian ambassador to Israel appointed by the (conservative) leader known to have one of the closest personal relationships with Netanyahu, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was quoted by Israel’s liberal newspaper, Haaretz: “This is an odd move by Nikki Haley. Does she know anything about him?”

Person by person, article by article, publication by publication, the point was made: Fayyad is both worthy and capable of carrying out the Libyan mandate of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who selected him from among a number of candidates. The Media Line has learned that the choice was made amid significant competition after which Fayyad was deemed to be the man most likely to succeed.

When Guterres chose Fayyad, while apparently basing his selection on the former Palestinian Authority prime minister’s stellar reputation among the international community, it seems he neglected to take into account the region’s penchant for self-inflicted wounds even in the course of diplomacy. Indeed, although it was American-educated Fayyad, the veteran of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank whose ascension to the prime ministry provided the requisite fiscal confidence without which no Western nation would donate to the fledgling quasi-government headed by Yassir Arafat, that appointment was made before international diplomacy fused Israel and the PA into an indivisible political unit that demands equal attention for the other if the occasion arises to do business with one.

Yet, the phenomenon is fueled by the parties themselves. While the Palestinian Authority has staked out the United Nations as its proving ground for a “Plan B” approach to statehood, Prime Minister Netanyahu has responded in kind telling his weekly cabinet meeting that, “the time has come for reciprocity in the UN’s relations with Israel and free gifts cannot be constantly given to the Palestinian side. The time has come for positions and appointments to be made to the Israeli side as well. Should there be an appropriate appointment, we will consider it.”

In the course of numerous conversations with Fayyad both during his tenure as prime minister and afterward, he spoke of the thousands of infrastructure projects he completed in the Palestinian territories and by extension, would bring to Libya. In 2010, he spoke of a celebration marking the thousandth completion.

Yet, the nixing of the Fayyad appointment is the result is another of the Middle East’s patented stalemates and loss of talent for a job that needs to be done. From the Israeli perspective, former parliamentarian Dr. Einat Wilff told The Media Line that who serves as the UN Special Envoy to Libya is “none of our business.” But regarding the UN itself, Wilff argues that “if the government of Israel is only legitimized in the UN with the Palestinians, it is a stain on the UN. Israel is and should be considered a legitimate country in the UN regardless of Palestinians.”

Without doubt, the Fayyad appointment and its ensuing blowback is symptom, not disease. But such gross and unsubtle manifestations of the underlying malady are nevertheless useful for the clarity they provide. For the Palestinian Authority, it is a clear indication that its end-run around the negotiation process is not without diplomatic cost. Here, the loss of an opportunity for one of its most accomplished statesmen to be the peacemaker in Libya is arguably a cost with a value worth scores of memberships in UN-affiliated agencies.

For Israel, being seen as insisting upon a quid pro quo because a Palestinian national is selected for a prestigious position that has no nexus to the Jewish state opens it to the sort of accusations that inevitably accompany it to the international stage. Epithets far worse than “petty” or “demanding.”

As Wilff said, “If the person is good for the job it should be based on merit, not linkage.”

FELICE FRIEDSON is President and CEO of The Media Line news agency and founder of The Mideast Press Club. She can be reached at felice@themedialine.org. (Due to time differences, please cc to felice_friedson@yahoo.com)

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