A Resignation Means More Uncertainty for the Palestinians

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JERUSALEM -- Salam Fayyad, the internationally respected Palestinian politician and economist, is widely credited for ending the chaos in the West Bank and putting things in order in his six years as prime minister. But his resignation over the weekend, the result of internal power struggles, has left the Palestinian Authority suspended in political ambiguity and confusion.

Analysts said Sunday that by accepting Mr. Fayyad's resignation, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has put himself in a political bind just as the Obama administration has been trying to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

That, many Palestinians say, is because the vacuum created by Mr. Fayyad's resignation presents an opportunity for renewed reconciliation efforts between Mr. Abbas's Fatah party and its bitter rival, Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza. While healing the rift would be a popular course of action among Palestinians, it could complicate peace efforts and cause some Western donor nations to consider withholding much-needed funds, fearing that they could be used by Hamas. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Under previous accords with Hamas, Mr. Abbas had agreed to lead an interim government as prime minister in preparation for long-overdue elections in the West Bank and Gaza, and might do so now.

"My preferred path of action is that the president will form an independent and technocratic government for 90 days, then we will go to elections," said Saeb Erekat, a senior Fatah official and an aide to Mr. Abbas. In that case, Mr. Fayyad would remain a caretaker prime minister while the consultations took place, Mr. Erekat said, adding: "How long will it take? Nobody knows."

Munib al-Masri, a West Bank industrialist who has promoted Palestinian reconciliation, said: "We hope the president will form the government and will hold elections as quickly as possible. This is what everybody is expecting. Without ending the division, we do not have a country."

Israel opposes reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as long as the Islamic group refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and will not renounce violence.

"We have always said that if the Palestinian Authority moves towards Hamas, it is moving away from peace and reconciliation with Israel," an Israeli official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal Palestinian affairs publicly. He added that calling a unity government "technocratic does not solve anything."

"Who controls the technocrats?" he said.

Palestinian analysts said that in any case, real reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas seems a long way off and that Hamas is not likely to commit to a date for elections or to a common policy with Mr. Abbas.

In Gaza, Hamas welcomed the resignation of Mr. Fayyad but emphasized that the move was not related to reconciliation efforts. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, accused Fatah of being unwilling to carry out all aspects of the previous deals between the groups.

If Mr. Abbas is unable to reach an agreement with Hamas that would allow him to take over as prime minister, he will have to name a replacement for Mr. Fayyad. Possible candidates include another economist, Mohammad Mustafa, who was educated in the West and worked for 15 years at the World Bank Rami Hamdallah, the president of a West Bank university; Mazen Sinokrot, a successful businessman; and Muhammad Shtayyeh, a Fatah official.

But by replacing Mr. Fayyad with someone other than himself, Mr. Abbas, analysts said, would be opening himself up to popular criticism that he is moving away from ending the Palestinian schism.

Under the circumstances, keeping Mr. Fayyad on for now may be "the best of the worst solutions," Ahmed Awaida, the chief executive of the Palestinian Stock Exchange, said in an interview. "I am convinced that he will remain the caretaker prime minister for the foreseeable future."

Mr. Fayyad, a political independent, is said to have resigned largely because of relentless criticism of his policies by Fatah officials who resent his power and who blame him for the financial crisis that has plagued the authority for the past two years.

"The problem is not Fayyad and never was Fayyad," Mr. Aweida said. "The problem is the Israeli occupation and a lack of any kind of political or diplomatic horizon."

"No government in the world can plan economic development when it has no control over borders, lands, water resources and it cannot make trade agreements," he said. "This is the reality."

Mr. Fayyad is renowned for having introduced "Fayyadism," a byword among Palestinians for new norms of a well-run government.

"Fayyadism is about Palestinians finding a new source of legitimacy – one that is based on competence, not on a legacy of resistance or on religion," said Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "But given where the Palestinians are in pursuing their national goals, competence does not make national heroes."

Mr. Fayyad's quest to build the Palestinian state from the ground up, ahead of a peace agreement with Israel, also ended badly. In 2009, he unveiled a plan to build the apparatus of a state within two years. But with peace talks stalled, the Palestinians are still no nearer to statehood.

People in the West Bank were not upset by Mr. Fayyad's resignation; they simply did not care, said Khalil Abu Arafeh, an architect and cartoonist in Ramallah. "They lost hope in everything: there is no funding, no reconciliation and no horizon regarding a political settlement," he said.

Whatever happens next, Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Fayyad's resignation signals "a serious weakening of the Palestinian Authority."

"We are going to see growing interference of the Fatah dinosaurs in running the budget and the distribution of donor money," Mr. Yaari said.

Martin S. Indyk, the director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and a former American ambassador to Israel, said, "It's a very sad day for Fayyadism."

Mr. Fayyad, he said, "succeeded in building the state institutions, including an effective and responsible police and security force, and they will be his lasting legacy."

"But the political process failed to create the state," he added, "and unfortunately there was nothing Fayyad could do about that."

Khaled Abu Aker contributed reporting from Ramallah, West Bank, and Fares Akram from Gaza

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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