The seemingly inevitable resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has left Palestinians in the occupied territories, and their president, knee deep in trouble. The bowing out of such a prominent figure -- the man responsible for the two positive events of the last decade -- has created anxiety and worry among Palestinians.
Fayyad reformed the financial system, an administration that was compromised by corruption and irregularities. Both the elected parliament and the international community put pressure on the late President Yasser Arafat to clean things up. He appointed Fayyad as finance minister in June 2002 for that express purpose, and gave him the confidence and power to enable him to succeed.
Fayyad then proceeded to lead collective efforts to end chaos and lawlessness that prevailed after Hamas beat out Fatah at the polls in 2006 and fighting ensued, with Hamas ultimately taking control over Gaza and Fatah in sad straits. At that time, President Mahmoud Abbas called upon Fayyad to form an emergency government and gave him the necessary authority and confidence to reform the security branches and achieve law and order.
The combination of financial reforms and law and order, together with improved economic management, was responsible for regaining the confidence of the public and donors and ensuring economic growth from 2008 to 2011. One of the byproducts of this was Fayyad’s increasing popularity to become, in almost all polls, the fourth most favored political personality after Abbas, Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh and jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
The combination of his established international credibility and this popularity made Fayyad a political threat to Fatah leaders, particularly given an early (albeit quiet) succession fervor resulting from President Abbas’ repeated vows not to run in any future elections.
But Fayyad’s loss has severe consequences outside the internal Fatah struggle. First, it will remove the minimal but sole aspect of non-Fatah checks and balances on the political system.
The resignation will also further expose Abbas and Fatah to public criticism at a time when there is a great deal of internal turmoil -- over the budget, over the government’s political program and over the remaining division with Hamas. Among his other roles, Fayyad was a buffer zone, providing Abbas and Fatah with a shield against the intensifying domestic unrest.
Moreover, President Abbas seems to have difficulties choosing from the various options he now has before him. The option of choosing a Fatah prime minister is like opening a Pandora’s box of rivalries, jealousies and fiefdoms. He could also appoint an independent personality as a prime minister. That seems difficult, however, because he does not have a qualified candidate, and more importantly, because a growing number of Fatah leaders do not want to repeat the Fayyad phenomenon, believing that it is time for Fatah to run the government directly. Likewise, a compromise with Fayyad is not possible, as the prime minister seems unwilling to let the status quo drag on indefinitely, without elections.
The relatively “best” option is for Abbas to implement the signed but stalled agreement with Hamas, which stipulates forming a government of independent (non-Fatah and non-Hamas) ministers headed by President Abbas for six to 12 months, during which elections should take place. That would be the most popular option. The Palestinian public seems to strongly support ending the political and geographic division that has sullied their cause since the fractious fighting between Hamas and Fatah came to the fore.
The price of this option, however, would be going against the US administration, which has just renewed political efforts that President Abbas is keen on pursuing. (One must say, however, that the bleak scenery in Israel after its recent elections means that there really isn’t an opportunity to be missed here.)
Not liking any of these three options, Abbas seems to be resorting again to his favorite magic solution: not doing anything. In this case, Fayyad and his government will remain de facto caretakers -- no new prime minister has been appointed -- for as long as possible, or until it is politically feasible to appoint him again to form the next government.
However, it is not likely that Fayyad will allow this status quo to drag on for long. First, it will further harm his credibility, and second, all of the factors that lead to his resignation remain in effect.
Leaving this problem unresolved could simply be one more milestone in the erosion of the Palestinian Authority on the way to its collapse.The author is a former spokesman for the Palestinian Authority.