Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad threatened to resign his position
He called for the formation of a new government in which senior Palestinian faction leaders take part in order to cope with the challenges ahead – especially if the Palestinians were to secure observer status at the UN in the face of American and Israeli threats.
But what was behind Fayyad's threatened resignation? It is no longer a secret that Fayyad is extremely angry with the factions of the PLO. This applies especially to Fateh, of whose government he is supposed to be Prime Minister. The source of his anger was the recent protest movement, in which his government was harshly criticized for rising prices and delayed payment of salaries among other thing.
The PM feared that these protests could only get worse should the Americans and Israelis go ahead with their threats to sever all financial aid to the PA. So he sent these factions a message: Either stand behind my government or I resign (which could result in an even worse situation). Does this mean that Fayyad's threat was serious? I do not believe so, especially after he denied making it – and after leaks that the PM had agreed with President Abbas to put off discussing the issue until after Palestine is granted observer status at the UN.
Had Fayyad seriously wanted to resign, he would have done so after the signing of the [Fateh-Hamas] reconciliation agreement, or at least after the [February 2012] Doha declaration – which called for the formation of a government of national unity led by Abbas. This sent an unwelcome message to Fayyad that he was not a suitable leader for the era of reconciliation – i.e. that he is really a symbol of the Palestinian split.
While Fayyad has mooted the idea of his resignation more than once, declaring that he would not stand in the way of national unity, there is a big difference between threatening to resign and actually going ahead and relinquishing his post.
My view, which is not foolproof, is that Fayyad will not easily resign. He is after all an ambitious man with a task to fulfil. In fact, he believes that his program is the only game in town. Fayyad was encouraged to behave as he did in the knowledge that Abbas and Fateh need him more now that unity seems a distant prospect and with the PA facing economic meltdown.
The results of the recent local elections showed that the level of support enjoyed by the political factions-- other than Fateh – is very modest. Fayyad feels that it is unacceptable for these factions to oppose the government on the street while they are also part of it. And while it is true that Fateh won the local elections, that was a pyrrhic victory. It won without facing any real competition, and was defeated in a number of major cities (such as Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin) by other lists. Moreover, the turnout was poor in many Palestinian cities, a phenomenon that needs addressing.
Palestinian voters did not stay away just because Hamas asked them to. After all, Hamas does not command more than 20 percent support at best. Voter apathy reflects a general mood of disappointment, given the closed political horizon, dire economic outlook, general despair of the future, and the mistrust of all factions and parties, including both Fateh and Hamas. Add to all that is the fact that Fayyad was never enthusiastic for the idea of going to the UN, despite his acknowledgment that it was the Palestinians' right to do so. He believes that with American, Israeli, and European opposition, gaining observer status would actually be counterproductive if not downright harmful to the Palestinians' interests.
But if this is the case, why did Fayyad retract his threat to resign? First, because he did not resign, but only threatened to do so. He subsequently denied that he had resigned. Second, he delivered a message to the factions saying that he would leave if they ever criticized the government again.
Fayyad's position has been strengthened by the fact that the move to head to the UN to seek observer status has not been carried through despite the fact that it is already November, and despite President Abbas's newborn determination to do so (after he was roundly criticized for apparently renouncing the [refugees’] right of return in a recent interview with Israeli TV) in spite of Arab and European opposition.
Opponents of the Palestinian request for UN membership believe that the Palestinians waited for far too long, and can thus wait just a little bit longer until after the Israeli general election in January. Their chances would improve if Barack Obama were to win the U.S. presidential election, since that would improve the chances of more moderate Israeli parties especially if [former Israeli PM] Ehud Olmert were to return to Israeli politics to lead a coalition that includes [former FM] Tzipi Livni, Kadima, and others. According to opinion polls, such an alliance would have a chance of beating the Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition. It seems that some Palestinians still harbor illusions about the peace process.
Gaining observer status at the UN could turn out to be an important step if it were part of an overall strategy, and if the necessary preparations were to be undertaken. If, on the other hand, it is merely an ill-considered reaction, it could result in the Palestinians resuming peace talks unconditionally. The Israelis could say that the Palestinians' political and legal status had changed – which would be patently untrue, since the Palestinian territories have been occupied since 1967 under international law.
If Palestine were to be recognized as a UN member with observer status, it would still be under occupation. This would bolster the Palestinian position if it were part of a new strategy. If however the Palestinians return to the negotiating table before or after they have been weakened by U.S.-Israeli sanctions, with no agreed point of reference, and with settlement expansion continuing, their situation would be worse than it is today.
Fayyad is right to question the value of going to the UN with the [Fateh/Hamas] split still in place and in the face of American, Israeli, and European opposition – especially if Obama were to win the elections. This view is bolstered by the fact that some Arab countries do not support the Palestinian move. It is a fact that the Palestinian question is not the first priority for Arab regimes at the moment, given what is taking place in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and what could take place in Lebanon, Jordan and all the other Arab countries thanks to the Arab Spring.
This would be true if heading to the UN were to be carried out under the present strategy. However, if it were to be carried out under a new strategy, then Fayyad's assessment would be wrong, because it would make the Palestinians walk the same route as that the Palestinian leadership has been treading since Oslo – a road that has led only to catastrophe.
For the Palestinians today – after 20 years of negotiations – are much worse off. This is despite the fact that negotiating from a position of weakness can only lead to concessions in exchange for nothing (as Abbas so clearly demonstrated when he ceded the right of return). It is a sad fact that the Palestinians no longer pose a threat to Israel – as a recent Israeli report plainly stated. Offering concessions while the Palestinians are weak, divided, and lacking in vision only make the Israelis less moderate and more extreme.
Thanks to Hamas's takeover of Gaza, Palestinian resistance is a thing of the past. Hamas's priority is now to preserve its position of power in Gaza, and gain Arab and international recognition of its government there. Meanwhile, the issues of Palestine and Jerusalem must wait until the Islamic giant stands on its feet and begin its march to liberate Palestine. What this means in reality is that Gaza will become an independent entity – which will only deepen the schism and turn it into all-out separation.
Institution building did not do the Palestinians much good; it only portrayed the victim as being responsible for continuing the occupation because it was unworthy of independence. Going to the UN under the present strategy would also be futile as would holding elections in the West Bank only with the exclusion of Gaza. To do the latter would only consecrate and institutionalize the split and turn it into a separation especially now that Hamas's position has been enhanced internationally as well as in the Arab world and Israel.
“There is no alternative to a new strategy: If the Palestinian leadership and factions cannot formulate such a strategy, the least they could do is not obstruct its emergence,” concludes Masri.