Resignation of Palestinian PM not a surprise: Analysts

Bassem Aly , Wednesday 17 Apr 2013

Analysts tell Ahram Online that resignation of Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad was not a surprise, especially amid recent tensions with Fatah movement in the West Bank

Fayyad, Abbas
Recently-resigned Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, left, and President Mahmoud Abbas, right, (Photo: AP)

The resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last Saturday raised fears about the future of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Fayyad, 61, an ex-International Monetary Fund and World Bank official, was appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

However, analysts argue that Fayyad's resignation was not a surprise due to a series of previous indications.

One minister causes trouble

The major cause of the Abbas-Fayyad tension was a disagreement over the resignation of finance minister Nabil Qassis, which Fayyad agreed to but Abbas refused.

Qassis, who entered the government in May 2012, resigned on 2 March without specifying reasons, a step that came while Abbas was abroad.

Fayyad, who recently had medical treatment for an inflation of the pancreas, faced unprecedented criticisms from Fatah, led by Abbas, for his position towards Qassis.

Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian columnist at Al-Monitor newspaper, said the status of Fayyad had been "shaky" for some time ahead of the conflict over Qassis' resignation.

"It stems mostly from the fact that Fatah leaders feel they aren't benefiting enough from the government in terms of appointments and budgets," he said.

"It was exasperated by the inability to pay salaries on time and the more serious conflict Fayyad had with the pro-Fatah union of public service employees."

Last year, protests against rising living costs in the West Bank erupted against Abbas, and even Fayyad himself, with fierce clashes between demonstrators and Palestinian security forces in Hebron.

Washington's friend?

It is no secret that Fayyad is a US-educated economist, a fact that raises controversy over his relationship with Washington.

US President Barack Obama, during his visit to the region in March, praised Fayyad as a "partner in peace." Also, Fayyad held talks with Secretary of State John Kerry, which reflected a significant sign of US support for him.

"The disagreements between Abbas and Fayyad is not new, Fayyad was always more popular, particularly among US, EU and Quartet than Abbas," Nervana Mahmoud, Middle East writer and blogger, told Ahram Online.

The international community, in general, carries respect and appreciation for Fayyad as he contributed to the establishment of Palestinian institutions in the occupied West Bank.

Kerry had a phone conversation with Abbas last Friday, urging him to reach a compromise with Fayyad.

Last month, the US Congress unblocked $500 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority which is facing a financial crisis.

"I think we should view Fayyad's resignation as part of the internal battle inside the Palestinian Authority. Abbas wants to be surrounded by loyalists regardless of their experience," Nervana added.

What about Israel & Hamas?

On the same day as Fayyad's resignation, Hamas spokesperson in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri said the implementation of inter-Palestinian reconciliation deal "is not linked" to this issue.

"The resignation of Fayyad is due to disputes between Fayyad and the Fatah party," China's Xinhua News Agency quoted Abu Zuhri as saying in a statement.

Hamas and Fatah signed an Egypt-brokered reconciliation deal in 2011, intending to pave the way for presidential and legislative election by May 2012. However, disagreements hindered the continuation of the process.

Meetings between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during the last few months were sponsored by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and harshly rejected by Israel.

The US, along with other Western states and Israel, continue to argue that Hamas must halt armed resistance activities and recognise Israel in order to be included in any future peace talks.

Amro Ali, a PhD scholar at the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, said that it is "advantageous" for Israel to deal with a divided Palestinian leadership.

"Yet, Israel has usually expressed firm support for Fayyad. Israel's Haaretz newspaper once infamously described him as 'everyone’s favourite Palestinian'," he noted.

Ali argued that enjoying US and Israeli support might help in terms of international diplomacy, but will not create domestic stability.

"As long as the Palestinians are divided, the US and Israel will remain happy. That's why they torpedoed the unity government (with Hamas) in 2007 and will continue to do so in the next few years," stated Frank Barat, coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

"It is crucial to remember that the US and Israel are playing a very nasty role in this story. Every time a decision is made in Palestinian politics, the US and Israel are there, in the background. The old strategy of divide and rule clearly still applies today."

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