West mourns loss of Fayyad and triumph of Abbas

April 23, 2013
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:

1) AP: Salaam Fayyad resigns as Palestinian Prime Minister;
2) Ha’aretz: Fayyad’s resignation: The beginning of the end of the PA?;
3) Foreign Policy: The slow death of Palestinian democracy;
4) Ma’an news: Fatah pleased with Fayyad resignation;
5) Al Jazeera: Palestinian power plays;
Last, Notes and links.

Salam Fayyad; resignation as Prime Minister accepted by President Abbas
Photo by AFP

Salaam Fayyad resigns as Palestinian Prime Minister

The Palestinian prime minister, Salaam Fayyad, has resigned, leaving the Palestinians without one of their most moderate and well-respected voices just as the US is launching a new push for Middle East peace.

By Associated Press/Daily Telegraph
April 13, 2013

President Mahmoud Abbas met with Mr Fayyad late in the day and accepted his resignation, thanking him from his service. He asked Fayyad to continue to serve in his post until Abbas forms a new government.

Mr Abbas was expected to name a new prime minister within days, according to Palestinian officials.

Mr Abbas and Mr Fayyad had been locked in an increasingly bitter dispute over the extent of the prime minister’s authority. Fayyad offered his resignation on Thursday, but Abbas did not respond to Fayyad’s offer until Saturday.

His departure could spell trouble for Mr Abbas. Mr Fayyad, a Western-trained economist, is well respected in international circles, and he is expected to play a key role in American efforts to revive peace talks.

As part of that effort, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has said he plans to announce a series of measures to boost the West Bank economy in the coming days. Mr Fayyad, a former official at the International Monetary Fund with expertise in development, would be key to overseeing such projects.

Fayyad’s resignation: The beginning of the end of the PA?

It was actually the PA prime minister’s successes that eventually led to his downfall. His effective management and relative popularity meant he was a threat to too many people.

By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
April 14, 2013

The resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Saturday is a dramatic development. Its ramifications won’t just reverberate in the part of the West Bank under Palestinian control, but also affect Israel and the Obama administration’s efforts to renew the peace process, as well as the European Union’s policy towards the Palestinians.

For Israel’s government and defense establishment, the U.S., and the EU, which both regularly provide economic aid to the Palestinian Authority, Fayyad was the go-to man. The former International Monetary Fund economist was educated in the U.S. and was a symbol of good governance and the war on corruption. His plan to build Palestinian state institutions from the bottom up received much international support.

But it was this success that itself bore within it the seeds of his demise. Fayyad, who served as prime minister since 2007, resigned after his relations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas deteriorated, reaching an unprecedented low. The crisis of confidence between the two leaders was sharp and irreparable. Abbas and the Fatah party’s old guard that surround him saw Fayyad as a political rival who needed to be eliminated.

Fayyad’s resignation is another sign of the PA’s internal disintegration and the deep political crisis it is struggling with. In order to survive, Abbas imposed a semi-autocratic regime in the West Bank styled after that of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Journalists and bloggers are sent to prison, demonstrations and criticism are suppressed with an iron fist and the government doesn’t function while the ruler travels the globe.

The PA president looked on with jealously as Fayyad gained popularity not only in Washington and Brussels but also in the West Bank. Senior Fatah party members saw Fayyad as an obstacle toward their political and economic ambitions. The Palestinian prime minister refused to transfer funds to them or to appoint them as ministers.

The financial crisis that struck the PA fell like ripe fruit into the hands of Abbas and the Fatah bigwigs. They decided to direct the public anger over the rising cost of living and high unemployment towards Fayyad and his government.

The conflict between Abbas and Fayyad grew following the latter’s objection to Abbas’ decision to unilaterally declare Palestinian independence at the United National General Assembly. Fayyad thought it was merely a symbolic step without real benefit and warned of the damage it would cause the PA as a result of Israeli sanctions. Fayyad was right. Israel responded by stopping the transfer of the PA tax revenues deepening the West Bank’s economic crisis and almost bringing it to a state of insolvency.

Over the past year Fayyad came very close to resigning several times, but every time he reconsidered, principally due to American and European pressure. The straw that broke the camel’s back for Fayyad was the resignation at the beginning of this March of his close confidant Nabil Kassis, the PA’s finance minister.

Kassis, who was on the receiving end of the harsh public criticism due to the economic crisis, presented his resignation to Fayyad, who as prime minister accepted it. Abbas, who was on one of his many trips abroad fumed at his acceptance of Kassis’s resignation and demanded that Fayyad return Kassis’ resignation letter. Fayyad refused, claiming that Abbas was infringing on his authority as prime minister, the very same authority that Abbas himself demanded from then-PA President Yasser Arafat when he was appointed prime minister in 2003.

In recent days, by which time Fayyad’s resignation had only become a matter of time, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and some of his European colleagues tried to prevent the falling out. Kerry attempted to mediate between Abbas and Fayyad, but his efforts never really stood a chance.

Fayyad’s resignation will place a question mark on the prospect of continued international aid to the PA. Without Fayyad guarding the public coffers, it’s not certain that the countries currently providing the PA with aid will continue to do so. Israel will also hesitate to promote economic measures in the West Bank with Fayyad away from the steering wheel. The economic crisis in the West Bank will deepen, which means that the road to the next bout of violence is a short one.

Fayyad’s resignation is also a harsh blow to the Obama administration, and its plan to promote the peace process. A senior Israeli official pointed out that Fayyad didn’t handle negotiations with Israel, so that at a first glance his resignation shouldn’t affect the American-led peace efforts. Nevertheless, the official added, Fayyad’s departure will frustrate the administration, which relied on him and saw in him a responsible figure.

On Saturday, senior political officials expressed much regret over Fayyad’s resignation. However, it was a case of too little, too late. The Netanyahu government’s relationship with Fayyad was one of ambivalence. On the one hand, it saw in Fayyad a trustworthy partner on all matters related to economic and security coordination. On the other hand, there were those who saw him as a threat because of the success of his plan to build the infrastructure for a future Palestinian state. Israel is not responsible for Fayyad’s resignation; however, the policy of Netanyahu’s government certainly didn’t help Fayyad’s survival on the job.

The slow death of Palestinian democracy

With Salam Fayyad’s forced resignation, President Mahmoud Abbas has eliminated his political rivals in the West Bank.

By Jonathan Schanzer, Foreign Policy
April 19, 2013

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited Kuwait on Monday to raise the Palestinian flag over the Palestinian embassy in Kuwait City for the first time in 22 years. The move was long overdue — the embassy had been closed as punishment for former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s decision to side with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait in 1990. But even as Abbas buried the hatchet with the Kuwaitis, he was dragging Palestinian politics back to the Arafat era.

Abbas’s visit to Kuwait came two days after Abbas pushed out his reformist prime minister, Salaam Fayyad. Fayyad’s departure came as no surprise to anyone familiar with the dysfunction inside the Palestinian Authority (PA): His reform agenda had been a constant irritant to Abbas. The two Palestinian leaders have barely been on speaking terms for more than a year, according to a former advisor to the Palestinian Authority. (Fayyad, for instance, opposed Abbas’s push at the United Nations last year for non-member observer state status, insisting that Palestinians would be better served by continuing to build viable institutions.) The tension between the two was arguably the closest thing one could get to a system of checks and balances in the PA.

With Fayyad’s departure, Abbas seems to have overcome any institutional restraints on his power: He heads both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the dominant faction within it, and is also now four years past the end of his term as president of the PA, with no new elections in sight. After a two-decade experiment in Palestinian democracy and state building that began just after the U.S. liberation of Kuwait, it’s now hard to deny that Abbas looks an awful lot like the autocratic Arafat — minus the signature keffiyeh and fatigues, of course.

Abbas wasn’t always an autocrat, however. When he was elected in 2005, he positioned himself as the counterweight to Arafat’s corrupt and manipulative leadership style. But things went south after Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The United States and Israel sought to bolster the wobbly Abbas in the West Bank, plying him with weapons, training, intelligence and cash to insulate him from Hamas encroachment. Over time, the Palestinian leader not only found his footing, he tightened his grip on the West Bank.

Media freedom in the West Bank, for example, has been increasingly under threat. The Palestinian Authority has arrested numerous journalists and blocked several websites critical of its administration of the West Bank. Recently, 26-year-old Anas Awwad was thrown in jail — though he was later pardoned — for a Facebook post that poked fun at Abbas. Remarkably, the Abbas government invoked Article 195 of Jordan’s penal code, which criminalizes criticism of the Jordanian king, in the case.

Abbas will not stand for political challengers, either. Just ask Arafat-era Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, who had the audacity to challenge Abbas’s monopoly on Palestinian politics. Abbas responded with a relentless campaign, launched in the name of countering corruption, to freeze Dahlan’s assets at home and abroad. Abbas eventually pushed Dahlan out of Fatah, and subsequently revoked his parliamentary immunity. Longtime PLO figure Yasser Abd Rabbo, who refused to back Abbas’s statehood maneuver at the U.N. last year, and senior Fatah official Samir Mashharawi, who openly supported Dahlan, were also stripped of their positions last year.

Put plainly, there is little political freedom in the West Bank these days. The Palestinian president has no political challengers. He has no vice president. He has no heir apparent. And he does not allow for a healthy exchange of political ideas in the public space. With the imminent exit of Fayyad, his domination of Palestinian politics in the West Bank appears complete.

To make matters worse, Palestinian basic law stipulates that, were the 78-year-old Abbas be unable or unfit to fulfill his job, succession would fall upon Hamas parliamentarian Aziz Dweik, the speaker of parliament, for 60 days. This would undoubtedly create a political crisis within the PA and possibly trigger a funding cut off from Washington. On this score, Illinois Reps. Peter Roskam and Dan Lipinski are spearheading a bipartisan initiative in the U.S. Congress to urge Abbas to alter the succession laws to exclude Hamas, identify next-generation leaders committed to diplomacy with Israel, and open up the West Bank’s political environment.

But things may get worse. The Jerusalem Post reported that Abbas is now mulling the idea of naming himself prime minister to replace the outgoing Fayyad, which would raise the anxiety over succession to a whole new level. But even if Abbas makes way for a new premier, the reported short list of candidates doesn’t inspire confidence: Frontrunner Mohammed Mustafa is Abbas’s right hand man for economic matters, Azzam al-Ahmad is the Fatah faction’s front man in unity talks with Hamas, Munib al-Masri is a billionaire with little hands-on political experience, and Rami Hamdallah is an academic administrator and political neophyte. Abbas could certainly surprise the world by naming a bona fide reformer, but that’s hard to imagine.

Thus, with Fayyad’s departure, after more than two decades of fits and starts of political progress, Palestinian politics is right back to where it started. One man — this time in a suit, instead of a keffiyeh and fatigues — presides over a people not only desperate for independence, but desperate for change.

Fatah pleased with Fayyad resignation
By Ma’an news
April 14/15 2013

NABLUS — Hours after President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the resignation of Salam Fayyad as prime minister, a top Fatah official said the movement was satisfied by the outcome.

Amin Makboul, secretary of Fatah’s revolutionary council, told Ma’an on Sunday that Fayyad’s government had miserably failed to manage the economic problems and to solve them.

Rather, the Palestinian Authority faces massive debts and cannot pay its employees.

Makboul said that it was too early to announce the names of candidates to replace Fayyad but talks are ongoing. Hamas needs two weeks to finish distributing seats in its politburo, he said.

“If Hamas acts to end the split and implement reconciliation, then President Mahmoud Abbas will be the prime minister of the new unity government until comprehensive elections are held”.

However a senior leader of Hamas says Fayyad’s resignation is not connected to the reconciliation process.

Salah Bardawil told Ma’an that “we should not link Fayyad’s resignation with reconciliation, because he resigned for internal reasons.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP that “Fayyad left the government after riddling our people with debt and Fatah must assume responsibility because it imposed him from the start.”

The reconciliation process has been put on hold while US secretary of state John Kerry visited the region recently and there is no timeline to continue the process, Bardawil added.

Palestinian power plays

As Prime Minister Salam Fayyad quits after a feud with President Abbas, we ask how will it impact on the peace process.

By Inside Story, Al Jazeera*
April 15, 2013

The Palestinian prime minister has resigned after a simmering feud with the President Mahmoud Abbas.

Salam Fayyad leaves an economy in crisis and the government in disarray, just as the US was making a new push for peace in the Middle East.

Salam Fayyad has no legitimacy as everyone knows. He was not endorsed by the legislative council, and his economical policies created a great problem for the Palestinians … When we formed the unity government the main argument to bring Salam Fayyad as a finance minister was he is the only one who can bring the money from outside … although he is not accepted by … most of the Palestinian organisations … he acted in a way which created more problems than solving the problems for the Palestinians.

0sama Hamdan, head of international relations for Hamas

He was educated in the United States, and worked for both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He has been credited with laying some of the groundwork for a future Palestinian state.

But during his time as Palestine’s prime minister, Fayyad was facing problems over the handling of the economy, his strong stance against corruption, the extent of his authority, and a strained relationship with President Maumoud Abbas.

He served twice as Palestinian finance minister, before being appointed prime minister in 2007, following the take over of Gaza by Hamas.

He is admired in the West and even in Israel, with Haaretz newspaper once describing him as everyone’s favourite Palestinian.

However the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been in crisis for months, public servants have not been paid, and there have been protests over price rises and tax hikes.

The US government has cut the amount of aid it gives the PA, Israel often delays transferring tax payments and Arab allies have failed to deliver promised assistance.

Outgoing finance minister Nabil Qassis forecast the PA’s budget deficit for this year would reach $1.4bn. In 2005, it stood at around $800m.

… he was considered to be very good financial manager and very good at combating corruption, somebody the West felt comfortable giving loans to … but he didn’t have a base of support within the Palestinian political structure … he was very good to run a technocratic administration, but he has really no independent political base to rely on when he comes into conflict with one or both of those groups.

Richard Weitz, senior fellow an director of the Centre for Political-Military analysis

Latest figures from the World Bank showed economic growth slowed to a little over six percent last year, down from 11 percent in 2010 and 2011.

And Gross Domestic Product, the value of all goods and services, is expected to slow even more this year, to 4.7 percent in the West Bank and six percent in Gaza.

However, the tipping point for Fayyad came when his finance minister stepped down – Fayyad accepted his resignation but Abbas overruled him.

Politically independent, Fayyad was also vulnerable to pressure from the main Palestinian factions: Abbas’ Fatah party, and Hamas, which governs Gaza.

And some saw him as an obstacle to reconciliation between the two groups.

Following the news of Fayyad’s resignation was announced, Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesperson said: “Accepting the resignation of Salaam Fayyad has no relation at all with the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.

“It is related to the differences between Salaam Fayyad and the Fatah movement, and the Fatah movement demands to outcast him, which was obvious at the last Fatah revolution committee meeting,” he said.

So are these irreconciliable differences? And what impact will Salam Fayyad’s resignation have on the Israel-Palestine peace process?

Inside Story, with presenter Ghida Fakhry, discusses with guests:Ghassan Khatib, a former government spokesman under Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad; Osama Hamdan, head of international relations for Hamas; and Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute.

.. Fatah has been recently critical of Salam Fayyad, and I think that Fatah has been trying to divert the public criticisms to the recent difficulties in the economic performance of the Palestinian Authority against Prime Minister Fayyad.

“The irony here is that this economic difficulties are not the responsibility of the government because there are very well known reasons for it and it has to do with the Israeli attitude of refraining to transfer the taxes, and the clear decline of the foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority ..

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian government spokesman under Salam Fayyad

*The 25 minutes, English-language TV programme on Al Jazeera about Fayyad’s resignaition can be accessed by going to the Al Jazeera page.

Notes and links
Salam Fayyad

 Born 1952 in Deir al-Ghusun, north west West Bank.

Education:  American University of Beirut, St. Edward’s University,   Roman Catholic university  in Austin, Texas. PhD in economics,   University of Texas at Austin

Work: researcher Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.  Lecturer Yarmouk University, Jordan; IMF from 1987 and PA representative on IMF 1996-2001. 2001-  regional manager of the Arab Bank in the West Bank and Gaza;  Yasser Arafat’s finance minister 2002-05.

Politics: 2006 Founded Third Way party in which won seat on Palestinian Legislative Council.

Government: 2007 appointed finance minister by Fatah-Hamas coalition thrre months before Hamas take-over in Gaza. June, appointed as Prime Minster of PA, replacing Ismail Haniyeh who becomes PM of Gaza alone. Neither position/process is constitutionally approved.

2009 resigns as PA Prime Min9ister but Abbas re-apppoints him.

2013 again resigns Abbas accepts his resignation

Will the ‘hot Palestinian summer’ bear fruit?
Mass strike and protests spread across West Bank
Occupation strangling Palestinian economic life

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