Fayyad's uncertain future

It’s likely Fayyad will be forced from office by the Fatah-Hamas unity pact.

Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad 390 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)
Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad 390 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)
After a decade at the summit of Palestinian politics, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is not a happy man.
A plan he launched in 2009 aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state by the end of 2011 has not been realized. A new unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas threatens to leave the politically unaligned economics professor out in the cold after five successful years as prime minister.
Now Fayyad fears that his frustration at the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is widely shared among the Palestinian public and will soon erupt in one form or another.
He says it is time for another uprising or intifada, which he hopes will embrace the principle of non-violence, even as he expresses deep disappointment with the frozen peace process and says that the United Nations has proven unable to give the Palestinians a state.
“As a matter of principle I do believe wholeheartedly in the power of nonviolence,” Fayad says, welcoming visitors to his office at the heart of a sprawling new government complex in Ramallah. “Over the past few years we have managed to convince the public that non-violence has immense moral authority and it is at the root of our security doctrine.”
But he says that Palestinians are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress and there are some voices calling for a new violent uprising. T he Prime Minister, who has invested tremendous effort in building institutions for a future Palestinian state, seems sometimes despondent, sometimes optimistic, about the chances of achieving independence.
Palestinians marginalized “The Palestinian issue has been completely marginalized,” Fayyad says. “If Barak Obama has five minutes a day to spend on the Middle East, he spends it on Tantawi or Ahmadinejad, not on Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority,” he says, referring to the military leader of Egypt and the President of Iran and the Palestinian president.
Fayyad says that several meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jordan last month, which were meant to explore the chances of renewing talks, did not achieve anything and he does not see the situation changing anytime soon. At the same time, he does not believe that the United Nations would solve the problem either.
A Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN last September, which Fayyad enthusiastically championed, fizzled after the US said it would veto any Security Council Resolution calling for an independent Palestinian state.
“We’re not going to be able to get a state from the UN,” Fayyad admits. “We’re looking for a sovereign state governed by the Palestinian Authority with security handled by the Palestinian Authority, not the Israeli army.”
At other times, Fayyad says he is convinced that eventually a Palestinian state will be established.
“The state of Palestine will be created – I guarantee you!” he declares. “We’re mature and we’re ready to govern ourselves.”
Fayyad has personally played an important role in getting the Palestinians ready to govern themselves. He is a pro-Western economist, and has played a leading role in clamping down on financial waste and corruption in the Palestinian Authority.
Born in 1952 in the West Bank village of Deir el Ghusun, then occupied by Jordan, he graduated from the American University in Beirut in 1975, and received his PhD in Economics from the University of Texas at Austin. He lived and worked in the US until 1996, when he was appointed IMF representative to the West Bank and Gaza, overseeing international donations to the Palestinian Authority, then ruled by Yasser Arafat.
In 2002, in an attempt to appease international donors, Arafat appointed Fayyad as finance minister and he set about introducing a new era of transparency into Arafat’s byzantine financial arrangements. He quit in disgust in 2005 but was re-appointed in the first Fatah-Hamas unity government in 2007. After the June 2007 Hamas coup against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza, Fayyad was appointed interim prime minister – a position he still holds.
In 2009, Fayyad published “Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State” - a detailed two-year plan to build Palestinian national institutions leading to an independent Palestinian state. The plan calls for a non-violent and constructive path to Palestinian statehood alongside Israel but insists on a 100% withdrawal from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He campaigned against corruption in the PA and pushed the PA toward economic transparency.
He has also strongly supported the training of Palestinian police by US forces.
These thousands of police have played a major role in stopping attacks on Israelis in the West Bank and in imposing law and order in Palestinian towns. He sharply criticizes Israel’s continued incursions into Area A of the West Bank, which is supposed to be under sole Palestinian control.
“We have demonstrated a deep, unwavering commitment to stopping violence,” Fayyad says. “Why is this practice allowed to continue? Do you know what this does to morale?” Fayyad says that when Israeli troops enter Palestinian cities, the Palestinian Authority tells Palestinian police to retreat to their headquarters.
“It makes us look like security contractors for the Israelis,” Fayyad says. He also sharply condemns Israel’s handling of Palestinian demonstrations such as the weekly protests against the security barrier that Israel is building in and around the West Bank.
Heavy-handed “Israel handles protests in Tel Aviv one way and in the West Bank and East Jerusalem a different way,” he says. “Until now their response has been heavy-handed and caused injuries and fatalities.”
Fayyad also calls on Israel to do more to stop violent attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians and their property, saying these attacks “hit a peak” in 2011. He warns that the attacks are spilling over into Israel itself, mentioning the burning of a mosque in the Galilee town of Tuba Zangariyya last year.
“The Israeli army must have more of a presence inside the settlements and there must be more accountability when the attacks occur,” he says. “Israel has not pursued the attacks by settlers with any seriousness.”
Fayyad says that in 94 percent of the cases of settler violence no indictments are filed.
He also believes that the continued expansion of Israeli settlements has made many Palestinians despair that Israel is serious about wanting to see the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
He urges the international community and especially the United States not to give up on the Palestinians and to pressure Israel to stop settlement expansion, stop Israeli incursions into Area A, and crack down harder on settler violence.
“Peace will be made between two politically viable entities,” Fayyad says. “We will all be better off if we can validate the path of non-violence.”
One example of Fayyad’s non-violent approach was a campaign for Palestinians to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements that he launched in 2010. “Our goal is to ensure that the Palestinian market is free of Israeli settlement produce. This move will help ensure that the Palestinian economy can be self-sufficient,” he says, adding that the campaign was designed to ensure that “our homes will be cleared of the symbols of the occupation.”
In the face of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement signed last May, Fayyad’s future is murky. Fayyad has been a harsh critic of Hamas and many expect that he will not play a role in any new government that is formed. But at least so far, Fatah and Hamas have not been able to agree on a new government. Fayyad is also popular in the US administration and has been an effective finance minister. Forcing him out would spark criticism of the PA and endanger the future of the $1 billion annual donations in foreign aid. For now, Salam Fayyad says he will keep working and doing what he needs to do to help build a future Palestine. •