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Why Salam Fayyad Stood No Chance against Fatah

Fayyad has no grassroots support or political power bases among Palestinians.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (R) and President Mahmoud Abbas

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (R) and President Mahmoud Abbas
Photo Credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

In recent weeks, the U.S. Administration has resumed its efforts to achieve peace not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad.

These efforts, however, seem to have failed: Fayyad is apparently out.

Over the past few years, Abbas and his Fatah faction have been trying to get rid of Fayyad, but to no avail.

Abbas and Fatah leaders see the U.S.-educated Fayyad, who was appointed prime minister in 2007 at the request of the U.S. and E.U. countries, as a threat to their control over the Palestinian Authority in general and its finances in particular.

Some Fatah leaders, such as Tawfik Tirawi and Najat Abu Baker, are even convinced that Fayyad is plotting, together with the U.S. and other Western countries, to replace Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority.

Were it not for U.S. and E.U. intervention, Abbas and Fatah would have removed Fayyad from his job several years ago.

Each time Abbas considered sacking Fayyad, U.S. and E.U. government officials stepped in to warn that such a move would seriously affect foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who made separate visits to Ramallah recently, also found themselves devoting much of their time trying to persuade Abbas to keep Fayyad in his position.

But U.S. and E.U. efforts to keep Fayyad in power seem to have been counterproductive. These efforts further discredited Fayyad in the eyes of many Palestinians.

Fayyad’s enemies have cited these efforts as “proof” that he is a “foreign agent” who has been imposed on the Palestinian Authority by Americans and Europeans.

Fatah’s main problem with Fayyad is that he has almost exclusive control over the Palestinian Authority budget.

In other words, Fatah does not like the idea that its leaders and members can no longer steal international aid because of Fayyad’s presence in power.

The Fatah leaders are yearning for the era of Yasser Arafat, when they and others were able to lay their hands on millions of dollars earmarked for helping Palestinians.

In a bid to regain some form of control over the Palestinian Authority’s finances, last year Abbas exerted heavy pressure on Fayyad to appoint [Abbas loyalist] Nabil Qassis as finance minister.

Until then, Fayyad had held the position of finance minister in addition to the premiership.

Earlier this year, Fayyad, in a surprise move, announced that he has accepted the resignation of Qassis without providing further details.

Shortly afterwards, Abbas issued a statement announcing that he has “rejected” the resignation of the finance minister.

Fayyad has since refused to comply with Abbas’s demand and reinstate Qassis.

But the dispute between Abbas and Fayyad is not only over financial matters.

In fact, much of it has to do with the feeling among Fatah’s top cadres that Fayyad is seeking to undermine the faction’s influence and probably end its role in the Palestinian arena.

They accuse him of cutting funds to Fatah’s members and refusing to pay salaries to former Fatah militiamen.

In this power struggle between Fatah and Fayyad, the prime minister is certain to emerge as the biggest loser.

Fayyad has no grassroots support or political power bases among Palestinians.

He does not have a strong political party that would be able to compete with Fatah.

Nor does he have his own militia or political backing, especially in the villages and refugee camps.

In the 2006 parliamentary election, Fayyad, who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, ran at the head of an independent list called Third Way. He won only two seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Most Palestinians did not vote for Fayyad because he had never played any active role in the fight against Israel. For Palestinians, graduating from an Israeli prison is more important than going to any university in the world. Fayyad, however, did not sit even one day in an Israeli prison.

Had Fayyad killed a Jew or sent one of his sons to throw stones at an Israeli vehicle, he would have earned the respect and support of a large number of Palestinians. In short, Palestinians do not consider Fayyad a hero despite his hard efforts to build state institutions and a fine economy.

The Palestinians’ only heroes are those who fight against Israel or are sitting in Israeli prison.

Just last week, a public opinion poll showed that Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader who is serving five life terms in prison for his role in murdering Israelis, would be elected as president if he ran in the next elections.

The poll showed that Barghouti was even more popular than the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who was never convicted by an Israeli court of murdering Jews .

If Fayyad wants to embark on a political career in the future, he will have to join Fatah’s armed wing, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and start participating in terror attacks against Israelis. He will need to do something against Israel to show Palestinians that he has “credentials.”

This articles was originally published at the Gatestone Institute. It has been updated to reflect recent events.

About the Author: Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades.


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