Fayyad resignation underscores deep schisms with Fatah

Palestinian Authority prime minister says he has had enough, following fallout with PA President Abbas

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad in June 2011. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad in June 2011. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Conflicting reports regarding the resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad abounded in local media Thursday, as Fatah officials spoke of a deep schism between Fayyad and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as with the leadership of his Fatah party.

The immediate reason for Fayyad’s alleged resignation on Wednesday was disagreement with Abbas over the resignation of finance minister Nabil Qassis in early March.

Fayyad accepted Qassis’s resignation, tendered while Abbas was overseas. But according to an unnamed “knowledgeable source” who spoke to Ma’an news agency, the Palestinian president was apparently outraged by the move and decided to sack Fayyad.

Tensions between Abbas and Fayyad, an American-trained economist and political independent who enjoys the confidence of the West, have resulted in numerous resignation announcements in the past, none of which has materialized. Some skeptical observers believed that this new resignation was just another public relations maneuver by the disgruntled prime minister.

Last October, Fayyad reportedly offered to quit amid a sharp financial crisis and reconciliation talks with Islamic movement Hamas, which views his liberal economic and political positions with suspicion.

Abbas reportedly told Fatah’s Central Committee and Revolutionary Council that Fayyad now faces two options: either to reinstate Qassis or be fired. The source told Ma’an that Fayyad insisted on submitting his resignation upon Abbas’s return from an official trip to Qatar on Thursday, before his dismissal by him.

‘Fayyad feels that he is attacked by Fatah every day. Not a day goes by without leaks or public statements by party officials who target Fayyad personally’

According to the Ma’an source, Abbas intends to replace Fayyad with Mohammad Mustafa, head of the state-owned Palestine Investment Fund and a former World Bank official.

“There is a deep and serious problem between [Fayyad] and Chairman [Abbas],” Qadoura Fares, a former Fatah official who now deals primarily with Palestinian prisoners, told The Times of Israel. “The story with Qassis only intensified the problem.”

Fares said he did not know whether Fayyad did indeed tender his resignation on Wednesday.

As it is, Fayyad is serving on borrowed time. According to a February 2012 reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas in Doha, Mahmoud Abbas is supposed to head a Palestinian interim government in addition to his position as Palestinian president. Unity talks stalled, however, and Fayyad has remained in office.

But a source in Fayyad’s office told independent Palestinian daily Al-Quds on Thursday that while Fayyad did not yet resign, he intends to do so soon, following incessant attacks against him by members of the ruling Fatah party.

“Fayyad feels that he is attacked every day by Fatah. Not a day goes by without leaks or public statements by party officials who target Fayyad personally,”  the source told Al-Quds. “Party officials led a wave of protests against him through strikes, refusal to work, and accusing him of the economic shortfall which in reality was the result of political developments.”

Fayyad, widely regarded as the mastermind behind the PA’s economic policies, was the main brunt of economic protests that swept the West Bank last September.

Hussam Khader, a Fatah official from Nablus, concurred that the main opposition to Fayyad came from the ranks of Fatah and not from Abbas.

“There is pressure on the President to sack Fayyad,” Khader told The Times of Israel. “I think this decision is wrong, and stems from personal interests of Fatah people. Clearly there are many capable people [to replace him] but the excuses for fighting Fayyad are illogical.”

Khader said that opposition to Fayyad from within Fatah stems from the prime minister’s good governance in legislating and regulating financial transactions, which angered many Fatah officials who wanted more control over the PA’s finances to benefit their cronies.

Asked whether these men constituted a majority within Fatah, Khader answered in the affirmative.

“This time these men are serious. They want to get rid of Fayyad,” he said.  

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