Commentary

Palestinian Unification and Fayyad's Resignation

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accepted the resignation of his prime minister, Salem Fayyad. Regarded as a reformer and favored by the West, Fayyad’s relationship with Abbas had deteriorated over the last two years, offering to resign more than once. Some regional observers believe that it was precisely the West’s endorsement of the prime minister that ultimately eroded the support of the Palestinian factions, especially considering that Fayyad did not come from either Fattah or Hamas, nor did he have his own independent populist credentials. As a result, some see his resignation as a positive development.

The Oman Tribune editorial, for example, suggests that Fayyad’s resignation might actually help bring Hamas and Fatah together: “Hamas, of course, must be elated. The group had always wanted his exit for his closeness to the Americans and the British. Fayyad’s economic policies were another reason for Hamas’ difficulty in digesting him.... With Fayyad out of the way, a major obstacle to Palestinian unity has been removed. What next? The speeding up of the process of unity is now an urgent need. Unity is an imperative to confront the Israelis who are continuing to remain adamant.”

The Saudi Gazette editorial acknowledges the important role that Fayyad had played in stabilizing the Palestinian economy during a very difficult period, asserting that by doing so Fayyad has paved the way for political reconciliation between the two main factions: “Fayyad’s relations with Fatah have become increasingly strained. This stems in part from one of the core reasons for the original radical political split among Palestinians — Fatah’s cronyism and ineffectiveness, brought about by years of unchallenged power and influence…. Fayyad’s achievement was positive, in the sense that under his watch, the political troubles afflicting the Palestinians did not become any worse. He thus paved the way for the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah for which all friends of Palestine have been praying.”

Of course, not everyone is happy with the resignation, with some suggesting that Fayyad had been pushed into making the decision. Asharq Alawsat’s Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed believes “ Money-hungry hawks  [were] behind Palestinian PM’s resignation…. Most funds come from the European Union and the United States, and the money comes on the condition that the finance minister be someone whose integrity and competence are trusted—two characteristics that distinguished Fayyad. Yet these characteristics have always caused him problems with the Palestinian Authority’s leaders…. Fayyad’s rivals want to sideline him—not because they are corrupt, but simply in order to use funds for political goals.”

Others, like the Khaleej Times staff, while not necessarily faulting Fayyad for tendering his resignation, wished he had waited a bit longer before he had done so: “Salem Fayyad had always been the unsung hero of the Palestinian struggle. The technocrat, who worked selflessly to introduce reforms in the body politick of the infant state — even much before it was realised in geopolitical terms, has hardly been recognised….But it seems Fayyad has called it a day at a time when his leadership skills were most required, as the Fatah and Hamas had reconciled their differences, and the statehood subject was up for a practical test….Fayyad who had put in so much for the state in Utopia should wait a little longer before bidding it adieu.”

With Fayyad staying on in a caretaker role until the next government is formed, the question now becomes who the next PM will be and what will his qualifications be, keeping in mind that, as The National’s Hugh Naylor points out, “The next Palestinian premier will be chosen for an ability to handle factional squabbles at home while juggling demands from financial backers abroad…. It is a challenge that got the better of Salam Fayyad…. Despite international support for his reforms during six years as the Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister, it was opposition from within the West Bank's ruling Fatah faction that is widely believed to have forced the former IMF economist to step down…. A senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization said Mr. Abbas would certainly weigh potential vetoes from the United States and Israel, which exerts potentially crippling influence over the PA.”


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