There have been rumors for years that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Western-trained and most Western-oriented member of the PA leadership, was miserable in his position and that he was going to resign.
He finally did.
At least most media outlets are reporting that Fayyad has resigned. There are some still reporting that the resignation has not gone through, or that it was not yet tendered or some other speculation, but no one doubts that if it has not yet happened, it will happen soon.
What was the final straw? Fayyad and acting PA leader Mahmoud Abbas often disagree about finance. Fayyad is considerd, and for good reason, the financial brains in the PA. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Texas, taught the subject in Jordan, and worked at the International Monetary Fund for almost a decade. Since becoming PA prime minister in 2007, Fayyad also held the post of finance minister.
But that changed when Abbas pressured Fayyad into appointing Nabil Qassis as PA’s finance minister last year.
And then, last month, after Qassis and Fayyad disagreed over a draft budget, Fayyad accepted the resignation of Qassis. According to many reports, Abbas was furious that Fayyad accepted the resignation, and tried to rescind it.
Although a darling of the West, Fayyad has never gained traction as a favorite of the Arab Palestinians. He ran for public office in 2006, having created a new political party called the “Third Way,” but his party came in last, winning only 2 seats. Hamas came in first, winning 74 seats, and the party of Abbas, Fatah, came in second with 45.
And even as Prime Minister, Fayyad has had problems with his constituents. In September a huge banner of him was pelted with shoes (a huge insult in the Arab world) during a protest of big increases in the prices of consumer goods.
But there are few with whom Fayyad’s popularity is lower than Abbas and other Fatah leaders who yearn to have their hands in the international aid piggy bank, just like their old boss Yassir Arafat did.
But for the West, Fayyad is their “Great Arab Palestinian Hope.”
So now the West, especially the U. S., is leaning on Abbas to entice Fayyad to stay just a little bit longer. Why? So that the U.S. has the opportunity to try out its latest peace initiative efforts. Two months is what they are asking. Sure, it’s reasonable to think that Secretary of State John Kerry will be able to clinch the deal that more experienced foreign policy experts and snake charmers were unable to accomplish over the course of decades.
But once again the U.S. and EU leaders have been pressuring Abbas and other Arab leaders to retain Fayyad, who is the only fig leaf of sophistication and corruption-free leadership in the PA. Those qualities are essentials that foreign aid donors require – or should – before agreeing to send still more cash to a never-filled bank account.
But this time the efforts of the U.S. may have done more harm than good. Arab Israeli journalist Khaled abu Toameh explained that western efforts to pressure Abbas to retain Fayyad have instead worked to further discredit the prime minister in the eyes of many Arab 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.”
So, whether Fayyad is gone today or next week or next month, it will happen and it appears there is little the west can do to keep him in place.
Given that is the case, perhaps it will give the new U.S. peace professionals pause before they attempt to impose any major changes in an already dangerously unstable region.