THE STORY CONTINUES
The resignation of PM Salam Fayyad has highlighted the broader crisis at the heart of the Palestinian political system, says Hani Masri on Palestinian www.masarat.ps.
So, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad finally resigned, and President Mahmoud Abbas accepted his resignation, writes leading Palestinian commentator Hani Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps.
THE STORY CONTINUES: Yet the story does not end here. Abbas has asked Fayyad to continue for a few weeks in a caretaker capacity. If, however, the process of [Fateh/Hamas] reconciliation fails to progress, and if U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry fails in his efforts to restart peace talks with Israel within the two month deadline Abbas gave him, there is a distinct possibility that Fayyad's caretaker government could continue in office for a further seven weeks (if the President sticks to the Basic Law) or even longer if Fayyad agrees or is asked to form a new cabinet – although he has stated that he did not resign only to be back within a short time.
After being humiliated by the Americans interceding on his behalf, Fayyad had no other option but to resign – nor had Abbas any other choice but to accept his Prime Minister's resignation. But why did all this happen? And where do we go from here?
Fayyad's resignation came about after a series of disagreements and crisis between him and certain Fateh circles, which eventually widened to involve the entire movement. Fateh believes that it is entitled to rule the West Bank, so long as its bitter rival Hamas governs Gaza. If Fayyad wishes to continue as Prime Minister, Fateh believes, then he should realize that he is merely a Fateh employee.
As a matter of fact, Fateh only agreed that Fayyad becomes Prime Minister because it was still in shock after losing control of Gaza. Even then, there were dissenting voices who objected to his appointment at the head of the Ramallah government. Those voices eventually relented because they understood that Fayyad would only head an emergency administration that would last for a short time after which a proper Fateh government would be formed with an independent at its head.
Yet contrary to Fateh's wishes, Fayyad continued in office thanks to Abbas' support. President Abbas lent Fayyad his full support, mainly because the PM shared the President's political vision regarding the peace process, the level of international support he enjoyed, and the fact that he was trusted by the Americans – which enabled him to ensure a steady flow of financial aid. As an independent, Fayyad was also useful to Abbas as a counterbalance to Fateh, the other PLO factions, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, thus affording him a measure of leeway.
So trusting was Abbas of Fayyad that he granted him some of his powers, especially over the security forces. Yet President Abbas started to cut Fayyad loose when he felt that the PM had become too strong and ambitious, especially in the light of the weakness of Fateh and the PLO and the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which had entrusted the President with legislative powers in addition to his executive powers. In addition, Fayyad began to act independently of Abbas, such as when he objected to Abbas' policy of seeking UN recognition, when he tabled a reconciliation plan without consultation with the President, and especially after Abbas began to feel that Fayyad was imposed on him (by the Americans).
The Americans used to intervene whenever a reconciliation agreement was signed to insist that Fayyad remains in his post. This happened even after the Cairo agreement was signed. Then secretary of state Hillary Clinton personally objected – in a phone call with President Abbas – to the removal of Fayyad, as was stated in the [February 2012] Doha declaration, which stipulated that the President would head a unity government. When Abbas objected to this interference, insisting that the next government would be under his leadership, Clinton agreed that it was an internal matter. But she also registered Washington's objection to the Doha declaration.
President Abbas thus began to strip Fayyad of his authority and power base, initially by increasing the number of cabinet ministers loyal to the President, then by reclaiming authority over the security forces (even those supposedly vested in the cabinet), and finally by appointing a new finance minister in spite of Fayyad's objections. Frictions between Fayyad and Abbas forced this new minister, Nabil Qasis, to resign. Fayyad accepted his resignation at once, despite the President's objections.
That was the straw that broke the camel's back. The problem was not the resignation of the finance minister as much as it was in the existence of a PA that is beholden to foreign aid and unfair agreements and commitments. The fact that the PA became two-headed (thanks mainly to outside interference) did not help either.
The post of PM was only created because of foreign interference. The Palestinian political system, as laid out in the Basic Law, is supposed to be a presidential-parliamentary system. The post of Prime Minister was only created as a means to weaken the late Yasser Arafat, who the Americans began to view as a 'terrorist' at the time. President George W. Bush frankly said that it was time to find a new Palestinian leadership that is committed to fighting terror.
Fayyad drank from the same cup as Abbas when he was Prime Minister; he had to choose between becoming an employee (albeit with the rank of Prime Minister) and leaving. As a matter of fact, Fayyad should have resigned years ago. I personally advised him to do so twice, before and after the signing of the reconciliation agreement of May 4, 2011. He should have stepped down the day Fateh and Hamas clashed over whether he should head a new government of national accord. He should have realized that that point was one of the obstacles that stood in the way of reconciliation – although it was falsely portrayed as the main obstacle.
He should have resigned after the signing of the reconciliation agreement, and surely, after the Doha declaration was signed in February 2012. The Doha declaration stated that the new government should be headed by the President. Fayyad should have realized then that he had lost the support of Fateh and President Abbas, and that American insistence on his continuing in office would portray him as an imposition.
Fayyad should have stepped down when his policy of proving Palestinian competence in institution building in order to persuade the international community to pressure Israel into ending the occupation failed. He should have resigned when his program designed to do without foreign aid by 2013 failed. In fact, he was forced to raise taxes on ordinary Palestinians just as they were being punished by the Americans and Israelis for the PA's step of seeking UN recognition. This led to a yawning budget deficit, and to the inability of the PA to pay its employees' salaries.
But should Fayyad be held solely responsible for all the achievements and failures? Certainly not. The responsibility must be shared by President Abbas, the PLO, the PA, and Fateh, each according to its own authority, capability, and legitimacy. It should be noted that Fayyad's political program was totally in tune with that of Abbas.
The Palestinian dilemma is not the result of the disagreements between Fateh and President Abbas on the one hand and Fayyad on the other. This being the case, it is difficult to imagine that the dilemma would end with Fayyad's departure – especially as his successor is required to be roughly similar to him. Whoever succeeds Fayyad should also be able to work with the Americans, and be committed to the conditions of the international quartet and the  Oslo accords (despite the fact that Israel no longer feels bound by it). Yet Palestine's new international status as a non-member observer state at the UN requires an entirely new approach.
Are we going to continue waiting for Kerry's efforts to succeed and for the reconciliation to bear fruit? Or are the Palestinians going to implement a new strategy that is different from the current one? A new strategy must entail Fateh and President Abbas accepting Hamas and the other factions as genuine partners in the PLO and PA; a strategy based on a review of past events, and one which embraces a new and more robust program that does not view peace talks as the only option. For its part, Hamas must agree to become part of the Palestinian body politic; it must cast away its reliance on changes in the Arab world and its other points of reference.
The Palestinians must establish a pluralist democratic system that believes in equality for all notwithstanding their color, sex, or faith, a system that defends basic human rights and liberties and believes in the separation between religion and state. This could only be achieved by rebuilding the PLO as the only legitimate representative framework for the Palestinian people. This step could help solve all other outstanding issues, and would facilitate the formation of a government of national unity in which all factions, as well as independents, could take part. Such a government could then prepare the climate for new free and fair elections with as little interference by the occupation as possible.
Finally, it is not possible to separate the Fayyad issue from the heated rivalry now going on to succeed President Abbas, whether within Fateh or between it and Hamas.
The essence of the crisis is the lack of political vision and the absence of an alternative capable of achieving victory.