Ismail Haniyeh's government functions well, despite the blockade of Gaza, the diplomatic boycott and the lack of assistance from large international organizations. Fayyad's considerable personal abilities, the success of his technocratic government in improving living conditions in the West Bank, the excellent foreign relations maintained by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the extensive aid Fayyad's government receives have not created a more effective government than the one run by Hamas. These are the conclusions of a new study by Dr. Yezid Sayigh from King's College, London.
Furthermore, the popular belief that the Hamas regime is brutal while the Abbas-Fayyad government is democratic is also mistaken. Hamas came to power in real, democratic, internationally-monitored elections - a process unprecedented in the Arab world. By contrast, President Abbas' legal term of office ended long ago, yet he has not left office.
Abbas' government operates through presidential decrees, without parliamentary legitimacy. Parliamentary and democratic life in the West Bank are paralyzed, while the security services are gaining clout and intervening in the work of civilian institutions. In that sense, there's little difference between Gaza and the West Bank, except that the West Bank appears to be better at public relations.
But there is one crucial difference between the two areas. Hamas' security services enforce their will over the entire territory without any intervention from outside powers. The Fayyad government can only envy its rival: The work of the West Bank security services depends on cooperation with Israel. The Palestinian government has power over less than half of the West Bank, and even in that territory it can only operate within parameters set by Israel.
In other words, the combination of security and settlements has led to an increased Israeli presence on the ground even as diplomatic negotiations proceed, and to no small degree because of these negotiations. To date, instead of removing this dual presence from the West Bank, the diplomatic channel has only inserted it more deeply. What removed Israel from most of the Gaza Strip were alternatives to negotiation: the violent conflict waged by Hamas, and Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement.
Which of the governments is ready for independence? Neither one. Israel controls the external borders, air space, population census, electromagnetic spectrum and most of the roads, water sources and electricity of both territories. Therefore, an obvious question is where the greater change is needed to bring Palestinians closer to independence.
This analysis suggests that the greater change is needed in the West Bank. But the greater the change that is needed, the smaller the chance that it will take place during the current negotiations: As noted above, the negotiations are tightening the settler-security complex's grip on the West Bank rather than removing it.
A complete evacuation of this complex is thus not only a necessary condition, but a precondition for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The writer teaches political science at Bar-Ilan University