Independents split over joining PA unity gov't

Row between heads of a third party offering alternative to Fatah and Hamas threatens party's existence.

hanan Ashrawi 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
hanan Ashrawi 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Fatah and Hamas representatives continue efforts to form a unity government in keeping with the Mecca agreement reached earlier this month, a row has erupted between former Palestinian Authority finance minister Salaam Fayad, who heads the Third Way list, and his No 2, former education minister Hanan Ashrawi. The Third Way, which has two seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, was supposed to offer Palestinians a better alternative to Hamas and Fatah. Both Fayad and Ashrawi pledged during the election campaign that they would work toward achieving what Hamas and Fatah had been unable to bring to the Palestinians: good governance, accountability, transparency and an end to lawlessness and anarchy. But now, the Third Way appears to be on its way to disappearing from the political scene due to a sharp dispute between Fayad and Ashrawi. The differences center on Fayad's agreement to serve in the planned unity government as finance minister. Both Hamas and Fatah want Fayad back in the job because of the wide respect he commands in Washington and in European capitals. Ashrawi is strongly opposed to her party joining the new coalition, which is expected to be headed by Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh. Almost immediately after the signing of the Mecca deal, Fayad's name popped up as a serious candidate for the key portfolio. Fayad refused to deny the reports when he was approached by Ashrawi, triggering a crisis of confidence between the two. Over the weekend, Ashrawi publicly denied the reports, telling Palestinian journalists that Fayad had no intention of joining the coalition. In response, Fayad issued a statement in which he announced that he had accepted an offer to serve as finance minister. "The split in the Third Way is irreversible," said a source in the party. "It's unfortunate that the only independent list that could have offered an alternative to both Hamas and Fatah is dying." Analysts said the demise of the Third Way means the new unity government, which will consist largely of Hamas and Fatah ministers, will face no real opposition in parliament. "Now we won't have an opposition in parliament, and that's not a healthy situation for democracy," said Abdel Hakim Saleh, a political commentator from Nablus. "The two big forces, Hamas and Fatah, have devoured the small parties." Third Way is the second independent Palestinian political party to suffer a major blow as a result of divisions among its leaders. Last year, Mustafa Barghouti's Independent Palestine list witnessed a similar power struggle when his No 2, Rawya Shawwa, a prominent female activist from the Gaza Strip, quit and formed her own list. According to Saleh, the political commentator, the two parties made a grave mistake by not joining forces to sit in the opposition. "These lists are being torn to pieces because of personal interests and goals," he said. Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan confirmed that Fayad had agreed to join the new coalition, which is expected to be announced sometime next month. He said PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had proposed Fayad as the next finance minister and that Hamas had no objections.