He’s not a bad guy, but I’ve learned to take Thom Friedman’s sunny scenarios about progress and globalism with a large grain of salt. Still, there’s at least some truth in what he writes in today’s NY Times column, “Green Shoots in Palestine.”
First, he reminds readers of the 2002 report on development (rather the lack of same) in the Arab world:
“In 2002, the U.N. Development Program released its first ever Arab Human Development Report, which bluntly detailed the deficits of freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge-creation holding back the Arab world. It was buttressed with sobering statistics: Greece alone translated five times more books every year from English to Greek than the entire Arab world translated from English to Arabic; the G.D.P. of Spain was greater than that of all 22 Arab states combined; 65 million Arab adults were illiterate. It was a disturbing picture, bravely produced by Arab academics.
“Coming out so soon after 9/11, the report felt like a diagnosis of all the misgovernance bedeviling the Arab world, creating the pools of angry, unemployed youth, who become easy prey for extremists. Well, the good news is that the U.N. Development Program and a new group of Arab scholars last week came out with a new Arab human development report. The bad news: Things have gotten worse ― and many Arab governments don’t want to hear about it. …”
But Friedman’s come to the West Bank for the Fatah party convention to find cause for optimism in what he calls “Fayyadism,” named for Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is understood to be making progress in creating more responsive and less corrupt governing institutions: “Things are truly getting better in the West Bank, thanks to a combination of Fayyadism, improved Palestinian security and a lifting of checkpoints by Israel.”
On the other hand, important elements of Fatah indicate that “armed struggle,” although not the current strategy, is still an option. The right-leaning Netanyahu government has noticeably eased security restrictions in the West Bank, but in being more ideologically resistant to a viable two-state solution for both peoples than its more centrist predecessor, there is little reason to expect dramatic progress in negotiations. When coupled with open talk in Fatah of the possibility of a return to violence by them (as opposed to Hamas or Islamic Jihad), there is cause for concern.