The Independent echoed the common Western views of Salam Fayyad’s resignation. The Palestinian prime minister’s exit had “thro[wn] into doubt the future of the Palestinian Authority and the peace process with Israel,” observed the liberal British newspaper.
Has Fayyad’s parting really caused – or rather reflected – the crisis facing the Palestinian government and the futility of its peace overtures o Israel?
A former International Monetary Fund economist, Fayyad had never got involved in the Palestinian movement or become a member of Fatah, the ruling faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. In 2007 Mahmoud Abbas, the P.A. president, brought him into his administration at the behest of Washington, which has kept his government afloat with considerable financial assistance. With American support behind him, Fayyad had been throwing his weight around, occasionally in disregard to Abbas’s agenda or wishes. Abbas and the Fatah old guard had been tolerating his hubris to keep Western aid flowing in and hoping for U.S. support in their quest for statehood.
Things have since changed dramatically. The peace process, which was meant to create a Palestinian state, is practically dead. President Obama apparently drove the last nail into its coffin during his recent visit to Israel. He abandoned his demand of Israel to stop building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and all but identified with Israel’s positions in its disputes with the Palestinians. Nobody thinks much of Secretary of State John Kerry’s noise about reviving the peace process.
The P.A. was created tin 1994, following up on the Oslo Accords, to establish a Palestinian state through peaceful negotiations with the Israelis. Its utter failure to make progress toward statehood or stop the proliferation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has made it almost irrelevant to the Palestinian cause.
On top of it, the P.A. faces a serious financial crisis, about which America and the West have been indifferent. Unemployment in the West Bank has risen to 25 percent and real GDP growth is projected to fall from 11 percent to 5 percent. The simmering feuds between Abbas and Fayyad burst out last month when the prime minister forced Nabil Qassis, an Abbas protege, to quit his finance minister post. An infuriated Abbas overruled Fayyad’s decision, precipitating the premier’s resignation. I’m told that Kerry and European diplomats were shocked by the Palestinian president’s defiance of their pressure to keep Fayyad aboard his government.
Abbas knew, of course, that America and the West could retaliate by cutting off economic aid, which could cause the collapse of the PA.
Why, then, did he do it?
Palestinian sources had been telling me for some time that Abbas and some other PA leaders were increasingly feeling the sting of accusations that they had been hanging on to power as American “puppets” who had outlived their usefulness for Palestinians. The PA lost its legal legitimacy three years ago when its term of office as an elected government expired. The Abbas government has thrice put off presidential and parliamentary elections since they were first scheduled July 17, 2010. The P.A. had disagreements with the Islamist Hamas movement over the electoral process, but it also fears losing the vote to Hamas, which soundly defeated Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Hamas’s popularity among the Palestinians has grown dramatically since last year’s Gaza war, in which it faced down the Israeli military behemoth. The Fatah can’t expect to regain its preeminence as a Palestinian independence movement without making tangible progress toward Palestinian statehood. Only American pressure on Israel, unlikely as it seems, can yield such progress.
By defying Washington’s pressure to keep its man on as prime minister, Abbas is in effect telling telling America: “Here I stand, I can do no other,” a la Martin Luther.
◆ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog Beyond Freedom.