Our Man in Palestine

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Rina Castelnuovo/The New York Times/Redux
Lieutenant General Keith Dayton (right), the US security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with Brigadier General Munir al-Zoubi, commander of the Palestinian Presidential Guard, the elite force that protects top officials and guests,

On August 31, the night before President Obama’s dinner inaugurating direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Hamas gunmen shot and killed four Jewish settlers in Hebron, the West Bank’s largest and most populous governorate. The attack—the deadliest against Israeli citizens in more than two years—was condemned by Palestinian and Israeli officials, who said that it was meant to thwart the upcoming negotiations. According to a Hamas spokesman, however, the shooting had a more specific purpose: to demonstrate the futility of the recent cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces. This cooperation has reached unprecedented levels under the quiet direction of a three-star US Army general, Keith Dayton, who has been commanding a little-publicized American mission to build up Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.1

Referred to by Hamas as “the Dayton forces,” the Palestinian security services are formally under the authority of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and chairman of Hamas’s rival, Fatah; but they are, in practice, controlled by Salam Fayyad, the unelected prime minister, a diminutive, mild-mannered technocrat. Abbas appointed Fayyad following Hamas’s grim takeover of Gaza in June 2007—which occurred seventeen months after the Islamist party won the January 2006 parliamentary elections—and entrusted him with preventing Hamas from also seizing the West Bank.

Fayyad received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas at Austin and held positions at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the World Bank, and the IMF before becoming finance minister under President Yasser Arafat. His reputation as a fiscally responsible and trustworthy manager ensures the steady supply of international aid on which the Palestinian economy depends. Though he has neither a popular following nor backing from a large political party (his Third Way list received a mere 2.4 percent of the votes in the 2006 legislative elections), today he is responsible for nearly every aspect of Palestinian governance. Yet he is not participating in the negotiations over a settlement with Israel, which are the province of the PLO (of whose leadership Fayyad is not a member) and are handled by its chairman, the seventy-five-year-old Abbas.

Fayyad is criticized at home for many of the same reasons he is lauded abroad. He has condemned violence against Israel as antithetical to his people’s national aspirations, stated that Palestinian refugees could be resettled not in Israel but in a future Palestinian state, and suggested that this state would offer citizenship to Jews.2 He is praised in the opinion pages of The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, and has good relations with foreign leaders unpopular in Palestine: on Fayyad’s first visit to the…


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