The resignation of Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad as a consequence of rifts with President Mahmoud Abbas and the ruling Fatah faction is a severe blow to prospects for Palestinian statehood, democratic development and the revival of the peace process, say analysts.
Fayyad made “enormous strides” in the institution-building program launched in the summer of 2009, particularly in the areas of including finance, security, accountability and public services, making “an enormous contribution to the goal of establishing a successful Palestinian state,” said the American Task Force on Palestine.
The outgoing premier “oversaw the development of what is probably the most transparent public finance system in the Arab world,” and he “personally took charge of restructuring the Palestinian security sector, which was fractured and in disarray,” the group notes:
Before the recent fiscal crisis, the institution-building program succeeded in launching more than 1,700 community development programs, and built over 120 schools, three hospitals and 50 health clinics. More than 1,000 miles of roads were paved and 850 miles of water pipes installed. Significant reforms were made in the education and justice sectors. Simultaneously, Fayyad reduced the percentage of the Palestinian budget dependent on foreign aid.
These achievements won plaudits from the international community and from the Palestinian people.
In the second half of 2011, public support for Fayyad’s administration stood at 53 percent, 19 points ahead of Gaza’s Hamas government, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
Under Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority was “remarkably successful in building Palestinian public institutions,” according to Jonas Gahr Store, Norway’s foreign minister and the chairman of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee.
The World Bank affirmed that Palestinian institutions had “achieved a level above the threshold for a functioning state in key sectors such as revenue and expenditure management, economic development, service delivery and security and justice,” he noted. “In this respect, Palestine has achieved more than many states that are full U.N. members, and has also passed a tougher economic stress test than many E.U. member states.”
But it was precisely his progress in promoting transparency and accountability while countering corruption that earned him the enmity of the Fatah elite.
“There was a very public campaign trying to discredit him,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee and a Fayyad ally. “He became the scapegoat for everybody, the attacks became personal and infringed on his character.”
Fatah political elites “used Fayyad as a scapegoat for Palestinian economic troubles, in part out of resentment at his efforts to constrain patronage and corruption,” as another analyst puts it.
“Fatah has been critical of Fayyad for the last five years because he came to put things in order,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, an independent institute in East Jerusalem, noting that Fatah has over the years been notoriously divided and corrupt, The New York Times adds:
Ghassan Khatib (left) vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank and a former Palestinian Authority spokesman, said he sensed feelings of anxiety among the public.
Mr. Fayyad, he said, was associated with moving the authority “from a state of lawlessness to order and due process and from a chaotic financial situation, corruption and a poor image to a situation of proper financial management.”
In short, it was Fayyad’s “success that itself bore within it the seeds of his demise,” notes one observer.
“Abbas and the Fatah party’s old guard that surround him saw Fayyad as a political rival who needed to be eliminated,” writes Haaretz’s Barak Ravid:
Fayyad’s resignation is another sign of the PA’s internal disintegration and the deep political crisis it is struggling with. In order to survive, Abbas imposed a semi-autocratic regime in the West Bank styled after that of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Journalists and bloggers are sent to prison, demonstrations and criticism are suppressed with an iron fist and the government doesn’t function while the ruler travels the globe.
The PA president looked on with jealously as Fayyad gained popularity not only in Washington and Brussels but also in the West Bank. Senior Fatah party members saw Fayyad as an obstacle toward their political and economic ambitions. The Palestinian prime minister refused to transfer funds to them or to appoint them as ministers.
Fayyad was also “the go-to man” for the EU and the US, the PA’s main international funders, for whom he was a trustworthy interlocutor.
“A key question is whether Fayyad’s departure will reduce international confidence in Palestinian economic transparency and renew fears of misused funds,” notes a prominent analyst.
“If Fayyad’s successor does not inspire sufficient trust among U.S. and European donors, it will be interesting to see whether Qatar steps forward to fill the funding vacuum,” writes David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “So far, most of Doha’s Palestinian aid has gone to Hamas.”
Fayyad’s departure could also impact the PA’s ability to avoid the upheaval that has swept the Arab world since 2011, he adds:
Returning to pre-Fayyad economics and instituting a more authoritarian political system would be a recipe for disaster in the West Bank. Accordingly, Washington and other donors should consider demanding that the Palestinians open up their political system and enable the formation of robust parties. This could reduce manipulation and allow independents such as Fayyad — who might remain a key player on the political scene even after he steps down — to openly air their differences and compete on a level playing field.
In the wake of the “chronic failure” of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas rule in Gaza, there is an opportunity for civil society to “shape the upper echelons of government” and “overhaul the present leadership framework to one which effectively integrates these disparate efforts into a single cohesive strategy for self-determination,” notes one observer.
“Local civil society is already well poised to work towards demands of equality, sovereignty, and freedom of movement; a representative PLO supported by an active and democratic PNC—and by extension Palestinians in the diaspora—would provide further support for such efforts,” Tareq Baconi writes in Carnegie’s Sada journal:
As critics rightly warned in the early 1990s, the Oslo framework adopted for peace building has left entrenched structures within the Palestinian polity which are detrimental to advancing the national project. Resuscitated American involvement in peace building within this framework is unlikely to yield results differing from previous such efforts. The onus is currently on Palestinian civil society to break from these efforts and articulate—through broad-based national platforms—the trajectory of their national struggle.
Given that Fayyad’s “focus on democratic governance and transparency provided a sense of reassurance about the future domestic trajectory of a Palestinian state,” notes Makovsky, his departure might jeopardize US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.