Fatah held its first general convention in almost twenty years in Bethlehem on August 4, and a young guard more determined to cooperate with Hamas is now challenging President Abbas’s sorry diplomatic record. Behind the scenes, however, it is Ramallah’s business elites who are positioning themselves. Fayyad is not the only seasoned manager now taking a role in the PA: the new economics minister is Dr. Bassem Khoury, the former CEO of generic drugmaker Pharmacare; Dr. Mohammad Mustafa, another former World Bank official, now runs the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), Palestine’s $850 million sovereign wealth fund, put together with painstaking transparency from monies Yasir Arafat once controlled with virtually no oversight. Even outside the PA, the influence of senior telecom executives such as Paltel’s Sabih Al-Masri and Abdul Malik al-Jaber, or private-equity magnates such as Sayed Khoury, is gossiped about, counted on. One sees the makings of a quiet revolution.
Sam Bahour, an Ohio-born management consultant who was instrumental in setting up Palestine’s first telecommunications company and who, subsequently, pushed through construction of Ramallah’s first shopping center and supermarket during the darkest days of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, does not approve of Fayyad’s American-trained police force’s peremptory jailing of Hamas cadres and their curtailment of civil liberties. But he does appreciate the law-and-order government Fayyad has established in West Bank cities, which the Israeli army tends to avoid. This is a kind of dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, Bahour admits, but the alternative is an Islamist command-state, like the one in Gaza, which offers no real hope and thrives on the uncertainties and brutalities of the occupation.
We are sitting in a café, nicely appointed in Art Deco style, which, Bahour tells me proudly, is the first of a chain, a kind of aspiring Palestinian Starbucks. But everywhere on the walls outside are pictures of young people, “martyrs.” “Pictures of the Israeli army’s innocent victims merge into pictures of suicide bombers and real armed fighters, looking sincere and ready for sacrifice,” Bahour says. “This kind of thing works on our young people. When Israel attacked Gaza, my kids were on Facebook every night showing solidarity. We are surrounded by morbid memorials on every corner. We have got to create another reality fast.”
Bahour means a Palestinian state that Palestinian entrepreneurs themselves create in the womb of, and in spite of, the occupation, much as Zionism created a state within the British Mandate occupation. He is on the board of Birzeit University. He is also part of a business delegation that’s been petitioning the Israeli Defense Forces to open the crossings to Gaza, so that West Bank enterprises can get in. (“Put a real Palestinian store next to a Hamas-controlled tunnel, and the store will win every time.”) One green shoot of “another reality,” Bahour notes, is the surprisingly robust Palestine Securities Exchange, whose companies’ market capitalization exceeds $2.3 billion.
Helena Cobban has ruminations on the more important aspects of the question, i.e., just what kind of puppet is Salam Fayyad?