Fatah officials urge Abbas to oust Fayyad as PM

Besting Hamas, party sweeps student council elections in four West Bank universities, three colleges.

Salam Fayyad (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Salam Fayyad
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Buoyed by a series of victories in elections for student councils and professional unions, Fatah representatives over the weekend urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to replace Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with a Fatah official.
In the past few weeks, supporters of Fatah scored major victories in elections for student councils at four universities in the West Bank: Bir Zeit University north of Ramallah, Bethlehem University, Al-Quds University in Abu Dis and Hebron University.
Fatah supporters also won a majority of seats at three West Bank colleges.
The Fatah-affiliated Martyr Yasser Arafat bloc won 25 of the 51 student council seats at Bir Zeit University, giving it full control over the body.
The Hamas-affiliated al-Wafa list took 19 seats.
At Bethlehem University, Fatah supporters won 18 seats, while Hamas’s Watan bloc got 13.
In addition, Fatah lists won elections for professional and workers unions in Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
The victories are seen by Fatah as a vote of confidence in Abbas and the faction’s policies and strategy.
Fatah also views the results as a major blow to Hamas and other opposition groups that are critical of Abbas and his ruling faction in the West Bank.
Tensions between Abbas and Fayyad intensified after the latter refused to deliver the PA president’s letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu two weeks ago.
Fatah officials in the West Bank have since stepped up pressure on Abbas to dismiss Fayyad and appoint a Fatah figure as head of a new government.
“President Abbas is facing growing pressure to replace Fayyad with a Fatah prime minister,” said a source close to the PA president. “The recent victories that Fatah scored in university elections show that Fatah continues to enjoy the support of a majority of Palestinians.”
Fayyad, who is not a member of Fatah, heads a list called Third Way that won only two seats in the January 2006 parliamentary election.
Fayyad’s refusal to deliver the letter to Netanyahu deeply embarrassed Abbas, said a Fatah official in Ramallah.
In a bid to ease tensions, Abbas and Fayyad met for three hours last Tuesday, the official added. The official refused to say whether the two men managed to solve the crisis during the meeting, which he described as “friendly and positive.”
The dispute between Abbas and Fayyad also revolves around the PA president’s declared intention to carry out a cabinet reshuffle, the official said.
According to the Fatah official, Abbas faces pressure from his supporters to take away the Finance Ministry from Fayyad.
Western donor countries have warned Abbas not to remove Fayyad or cut his powers, a Western diplomat based in Israel told The Jerusalem Post last week. The diplomat said the donors have made it clear to Abbas that any measure against Fayyad would affect international funding for the PA.
“Fatah’s recent victories are a sign of widespread public support for President Abbas and Fatah,” said Fatah spokesman Ahmed Assaf. “This is a vote of confidence in Fatah, President Abbas and the entire leadership of the Palestinian people.”
Assad said that Hamas’s defeat, on the other hand, was an indication of the movement’s failure in various fields. He added that contradictory statements by Hamas, especially regarding “resistance attacks” against Israel, were also behind the decline in the movement’s popularity.
“On the one hand, Hamas talks about the need to continue the resistance,” he pointed out.
“But on the other hand, Hamas is not doing anything to resist the occupation.”
Palestinian political columnist Adel Abdel Rahman dismissed Hamas claims about forgery in the recent elections for universities, colleges and professional unions.
“Hamas’s claims are the product of bankruptcy in defending their defeat and failure,” Abdel Rahman explained. “Hamas is lacking credibility among Palestinians and the easiest way is to resort to forging the facts and inciting.”
Abdel Rahman and many Palestinians said that the results of the elections were a “victory for Fatah and its political and national platforms.”
Hamas and its supports said the Fatah victories were the result of a security clampdown by the PA and Israel on students in various West Bank universities.
“How can true representative elections be free when each and every student voting for the Islamic bloc could immediately be arrested and dumped behind bars for open-ended incarceration?” asked Palestinian journalist and analyst Khaled Amayreh, who is a staunch opponent of Fatah.
“The fear is not phobic or unfounded. Dozens of student leaders have already been arrested by the Israeli army for taking part in student activities supportive of the Islamic bloc. A student who wanted to vote for the Islamist bloc would have to be mindful of the risks and implications awaiting him, including administrative detention in Israeli jails, or prolonged detention in PA jails, or both.”
Hani Muqbel, a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said that supporters of his movement in the West Bank have found themselves “between the Israeli anvil and Palestinian Authority anvil.”
The PA security forces, he said, banned Hamas supporters from holding pre-election rallies on university campuses and summoned student leaders for interrogation.
Hamas legislator Fathi Qarawi said that Hamas’s mere participation in the university elections was a “positive sign and a challenge to the Palestinian Authority security forces and Israel.” He said that Fatah’s attempt to depict the results of the elections as a major defeat for Hamas were “nonsense