Building a State or Maintaining the Occupation? International Support for Fayyad’s State-building Project

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Since the peace process began after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the international community has invested heavily in building Palestinian institutions and preparing for a future Palestinian state alongside Israel.



In that sense, peacebuilding has followed the growing trend of making state-building an integral part and even a specific approach to peacebuilding. The belief in the international community was, and still is, that only when the Palestinians were able to guarantee their own security and the security of Israel, would Israel be ready for a major withdrawal from the West Bank and for the dismantling of settlements. However, despite years of hard work by the international community, and billions of euros and dollars in aid to both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel, neither peace nor a Palestinian state has so far emerged. With a seemingly growing number of critics claiming that the EU and the US are subsidizing Israel’s occupation rather than contributing to genuine peace, the EU and the US continue their support for the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan for a Palestinian state, which was supposed to be established by September 2011.  Fayyad’s plan for a state follows classical state-building strategies by focusing first on security sector reform (SSR), then rule of law and good governance. While a Palestinian state has yet to materialize, Fayyad and his government have produced considerable results according to most observers, including the EU, the US and the World Bank. But even if the progress is real, it is also clear that these achievements have taken place within an authoritarian context with questionable democratic legitimacy on behalf of the PA, little respect for human rights, and repeated allegations of torture etc., as numerous human rights organizations have pointed out. The fiercest critics even argue that Fayyad’s achievements have benefited Israel rather than the Palestinians, and that the support for Palestinian institution-building has only maintained Israel’s occupation. This article probes what kind of Palestinian institutions have been built so far and whether or not the international community has actually maintained an Israeli occupation rather than supported the building of a Palestinian state. In line with Roland Paris’ argument that peacebuilders have little choice but to act “illiberally” in the earliest phases of societies in transition from war to peace, the main argument of this article is that the international community has indeed acted illiberally by supporting the un-elected Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and by its close security cooperation with the PA’s security forces. The latter has, in a sense, unintentionally maintained Israel’s occupation by making it easier for Israel to control the West Bank. While these illiberal acts certainly are problematic, it is at the same time hard to see how the objective of ending the occupation could otherwise be realized without Palestinian institutions, without SSR, without rule of law and without applications of good governance in the West Bank; all of which require cooperation with Israel and the occupation at this stage.

  • State-building as an approach to peacebuilding

are the main features; a political dimension with elections, transitional justice and rule of law as the main features; and an economic dimension which focuses on economic development through marketization, liberalization and good governance. As these ideas, which are essentially liberal ideas, are delivered together, or imposed as the critics say, on societies across the world, sequencing has proven to be difficult. According to Rubin, there is often an interdependent relationship between the various security, political and economic elements of state-building as an approach to peacebuilding, which makes them difficult to separate. There is also a realization that everything cannot be done at once. So in practice, some form of sequencing necessarily takes place anyway, and security is almost always considered as the first priority. The “security first” approach is based on the widely shared recognition in the literature that without security, other tasks of state-building are impossible. At the same time, there is an equally shared recognition that too strong a focus on security and concentration of resources in this sector could be harmful. Although sometimes forgotten in policy-making circles and in the public debate, it is important to point out that state-building historically has been a violent process. As Fukuyama and others have observed, the current state system in Europe came about only after centuries of violent conflicts.

  • The security dimension

In the last two decades since the end of the Cold War, there has been a shift both in academic and practitioner circles away from a narrower state-centric, national and military view of security to a broader focus on human security and non-military threats. The shift began with the 1994 UN Human Development Report and resulted in a new security agenda which is both broader and deeper than before. According to Krause, this shift from state security towards human security represents the culmination of the liberal project of state-building as an approach to peacebuilding. The shift towards the security of the individual or the group has highlighted the tensions that sometimes exist between state security and human security, where the former, historically, has often jeopardized the latter. The main tension lies in that the state is needed in order to promote and protect human security, while at the same time, the state is diagnosed as the source of much human insecurity. With overlaps to several of the terms that will be outlined later in this article: rule of law, good governance, human security etc., SSR has emerged as a distinct field since the late 1990s, covering efforts to reform the military, police and all armed personnel and to bring them under democratic civilian control. This is of crucial importance in the transition from conflict where various armed groups often are operating in an undemocratic manner without democratic or civilian oversight. As many of these armed groups are non-state actors, SSR cannot be thought of solely in terms of reforming public structures. Demobilization of non-state armed groups or their integration into the state’s security forces is also necessary. It is important to note that almost nothing has been written in SSR literature about how to handle powerful armed groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah. All that exists in this regard are vague and unspecified phrases such as it could be “difficult to carry out SSR activities”, or that peacebuilders sometimes have little choice but to act “illiberally”. Almost by definition, the security dimension of state-building as an approach to peacebuilding begins under difficult circumstances where the state often lacks the capacity to provide security and other basic services. The establishment and control of the means of legitimate violence is therefore considered to be the most important task for the security dimension of state-building as an approach to peacebuilding. When peace processes require security reforms or human rights protection, it is necessary simultaneously to strengthen the state, as a weak state usually cannot sustain these reforms. A state undertaking new security reforms in conflict and post-conflict situations must also have legitimacy if citizens are to join the security forces and be effective in their work. The success of SSR is thus closely related to the growing legitimacy of the state.

*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 2 | No. 1
© Copyright 2012 by CESRAN

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