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Who got rid of the prime minister of Palestine?

The resignation of the Palestinian Authority’s relatively popular but unsupported Prime Minister Salam Fayyad ends a story of frustration, progress and hope.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (Beautiful Faces of Palestine/CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Who killed the prime minister of Palestine? Well, no one killed Salam Fayyad, of course. But the idea of a prime minister of Palestine, the political leader of a someday-democratic state-coming-into being who would lead with cosmopolitan pragmatism, international credibility, and state-building savvy, seems now officially dead. After warnings and false starts, Fayyad has turned in his resignation and it has apparently been accepted by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – according to reports. The resignation was precipitated by a recent financial crisis that has been brewing for months – and years.

Fayyad was appointed prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in 2007 by President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). He hails from neither of the two biggest parties, but from Third Way, a small independent party that failed to make serious gains in the last Palestinian elections in 2006.

His position was thus effective only in the West Bank, as Gaza had already fallen under Hamas rule when he took office (he had previously served as finance minister). Yet within constrained circumstances, he developed a political program coherent enough to be nicknamed “Fayyadism.”

Its main components were outlined in an impressively structured political vision called Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State, released in 2009. It involved a state based on 1967 borders, strengthening the institutions and administration within the West Bank to advance economic growth and political legitimacy, and non-violence. The idea was refreshing: stop waiting for moribund peace negotiations, circumvent the recalcitrant Israeli leadership and start building a state. Clean up Palestinian governance and manage Palestinian life in the West Bank to the greatest extent possible until self-governance became a fact on the ground. It was not only a refreshing notion but a reasonable one: constructing administrative statehood and advancing democratic norms despite lack of status has been the strategy of other de facto, unrecognized entities struggling for statehood such as Kosovo, Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, and others.

But few seemed interested – least of all, Israel. In an interview with Roger Cohen of The New York Times in February, Fayyad – not known as a whiner – explained that it was impossible to advance institutional legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority in the face of multiple and expanding Israeli obstacles: ever-growing Israeli control over Area C, withholding duties Israel collects for the PA that made it impossible to pay salaries and settlement expansion that made the idea of a Palestinian state impossible.

But Abu Mazen has also not been supportive, in ways that pre-date the current crisis over economic policy. One analysis essentially accuses the president of drumming up corruption charges against members of Fayyad’s cabinet to distract attention from two of Abbas’ own major policy failures – the first U.N. statehood efforts in September 2011 and Hamas-Fatah reconciliation (still yet to be implemented), and possibly, the author hints, from Abbas’ own unkosher practices.

Needless to say that Hamas positioned itself as the enemy of Fayyad (and Fatah’s) strategy for most of the time it has ruled over Gaza 2007 – opposed as it was to a 1967-based state at all. (Hamas has only recently shown hints of change.) Due to the great split in Palestinian leadership and vision, many Palestinian commentators were skeptical, pessimistic, or derisive of Fayyad’s approach from the start.

But the most problematic element of PA governance over which Fayyad presided was security coordination with Israel, which was supposed to curry Israeli and international favor. That involved counterterrorism activity and many joint operations with Israel to rein in the al-Aqsa Brigade, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank, according to this review. This earned him the enmity of many Palestinians and descriptions of a “police state” even as Israel repeated its unbroken, decade-old mantra that it has “no partner.” Netanyahu, wrote Cohen: “has seemed intent on sending this message to Fayyad: Good behavior brings further punishment.”

To be sure, Fayyad is not a thoroughly upright statesman or democratic icon (name a living leader who is). His administration is notorious for its heavy-handed, rights-trampling approach to the security efforts described earlier, and is none too kind to internal criticism.

But it’s easy to forget that many Palestinian people held hopes that he would improve their lives. In a polling roundup in late 2011, I observed that Fayyad had earned a hefty positive rating of 58 percent. Among West Bank respondents living under his government, 45 percent thought he was doing a good job and just 17 percent said he was doing a bad job.

In a March survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, 72 percent believe that it is necessary to maintain, rather than disband the Palestinian National Authority (the Fatah-led West Bank government). Sixty percent support strikes by PA employees, but nearly 50 percent blame Israel for the crisis to begin with (15 percent blame the PA, and 34 percent blame both – the poll had 1179 respondents and was taken in late March).

The general anger had already led to angry demonstrations against the prime minister last summer. Unlike most politicians, Fayyad frankly admitted that “We have not delivered. I represent the address for failure.”

Calling his resignation a big “blow” to the peace process, as one headline did, is questionable considering there is no peace process to speak of. But in the longer term, the myriad reasons behind his failure were a blow to one of the slim chances Palestinians had of improving their lot.

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    1. XYZ

      The idea that a Palestinian state would be “democratic” was never really in the cards. In fact various proponents of Oslo, ranging from Yitzhar Rabin (“they can fight terror better than we can, they don’t have BAGATZ or B’TZELEM” meaning that their regime won’t have to worry about human rights abuses) or Yossi Alpher (who said something to the effect that “we prefer they NOT have a democracy..they can fight HAMAS better that way”) belittled the idea. What we see here is what I wrote in Derfner’s thread…an idealization of the Palestinians and Third-World people in general that says that if only we Zionists (white people, Westerners, or whatever) would leave them alone they would inevitably form a Swedeish-style Social Democratic regime. The only problem is that there isn’t a single Arab country that is like that. I don’t see ANY that “promote ecnomic growth, political legitimacy and non-violence”. Egypt? Libya? Iraq? Syria? Tunisia? All have a longer history of building state institutions and all have failed to provide a decent life for their citizens. How can you expect the Palestinians with their FATAH and HAMAS rulers to do so?

      Reply to Comment
      • I’m getting tired of this implicit Jewish superiority nonsense. The reason to expect something new in the Bank is precisely the presence Israel. Confronting a dominant power under occupation itself reforms culture and social possibility. Social creativity becomes highly charged and focus. Our role–well, clearly not yours–is to wait for what emerges. The notion that something new may come under adversity is not, in my view, limited to the Jewish people.

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          According to your theory that “Confronting a dominant power under occupation itself reforms culture and social possibility. Social creativity becomes highly charged and focus” Egypt, who was under British occupaton for something like 80 years, should have evolved into a democracy, just like India did. In fact, under British colonial rule there a semi-democratic regime was in power in Egypt that allowed freedom of the press and even had contested democratic elections for a parliament (unfortunately, that parliament didn’t have much power, but it was a start). So what happened when a charismatic leader like Nasser and instituted a “people’s government” that had enthusiastic support from the masses? They created an iron-fisted dictatorship whose legacy still plagues the country. Why do you think the Palestinians would be any different?

          Reply to Comment
          • They will be socio-economically linked to Israel. If you do it right.

            But wait–it is easier to see all Arabs as the same. And then there is Islam. It’s ok. Many on the other side see all Jews as the same. Just look at the occupation, they’ll say.

            Reply to Comment
          • Michael W.

            You mean like how Jordan and Egypt are socio-economically linked with Israel?

            Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Fayyad’s PMship was totally illicit from the outset. The only legitimate holder of the office has to be the political leader of Hamas, who like WON THE ELECTION.

      Of course that mandate has by now expired, as well as Abass’s.

      Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        Actually, no one has any right to hold any office at the moment. The elections have expired.

        Reply to Comment
        • Leen

          just reread your comment!

          Reply to Comment
    3. Moshe S

      While I have no lost love for Fayad or the PA. I viewed his attempts at economic progression and statehood as realistic and refreshing. Rather than blame the Israel to no end while filling his pockets he tried to make concrete moves. However he was a lame duck from almost the get go. Abbas couldn’t stand him, he wasn’t part of the Fatah old guard and he was mostly viewed as a quartet lacky or worse Co-conspirator. He tried to quit many times but was pressured to stay by the US administration.

      Reply to Comment
    4. One cannot implement a program of economic development (which would include the rise of new groups/networks into political life) when transport barriers both within the Bank and to the outside are in place; and when an exterior power may remove whatever it likes whenever it likes without redress. Nor can one expect resolve when exterior money is withdrawn as political punishment. Fayyad’s resignation is another indication of the bantu status of the PA. From what little I know, Fayyad did believe in autonomous economy; yet the tools given him (they had to be given by others) are incompatible with such autonomy. Politics is often zero sum, but in such an environment zero sum is all there is; so petty network postures become dominant, meaning little more than “I survived and you didin’t.” It is noteworthy that Fayyad lasted this long.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Witty

        Fayyad endorsed the most promising and effective civil disobedience effort to date.

        It was authentic, produced real results (if limited), and GREATLY enhanced the credibility of Palestinian assertions in the world.

        Its unknown who will replace Fayyad.

        There is no Palestinian self-governance without Israeli consent (just or not), and there is no Israeli consent so long as Palestinian civil democracy is in fundamental doubt.

        It is the only road across the chasm.

        Fayyad had the Israeli right cornered. The three primary arguments against Palestinian sovereignty were either dashed or severely qualified by his program.

        The three primary arguments against Palestinian sovereignty, are revived with Fayyad gone.

        1. Palestinians are incapable of self-governance.
        2. There is no partner for peace.
        3. Palestinian don’t accept Israel as sovereign, or Israelis as civilians.

        A big deal, those three arguments.

        Reply to Comment
        • john frum

          ‘GREATLY enhanced the credibility of Palestinian assertions in the world.’

          That hasbara is ridiculous and you know it – the only ‘credibility’ displayed by Fayyad was that he was the Neocon and Israeli favorite boy in Ramallah. Which is precisely why you ‘like’him and sorry to see him go

          I for one could not be happier – the ouster of Fayyad was just one more step in the ouster of Apartheid Israel and her professional hasbara-ists

          Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            I hope you realize that Fatah are the primary ones who engineered the ‘Fayyad is a puppet’. He has been set up as the man to take the fall for Fatah, most of the protests in Ramallah were organized by old guard fatah members and secret police.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Objectively, what you say has much truth. But I do not see the Israeli right as cornered. To be cornered, the right would have to admit reality is not what they say it is; this they will not do.

      Reply to Comment