The resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad reverses the latest stirrings of momentum toward peace in the region and calls into question the American strategy of backing the low-key Palestinian state-building sometimes called “Fayyadism.”
Fayyad commanded the respect of the international community, which trusted him — more than President Mahmoud Abbas and other figures in the Palestinian Liberation Organization — to spend their money on infrastructure and good government, and not to steal it. Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly pleaded with him to stay. He was also viewed by Israel’s leaders as a constructive partner. But their support for him didn’t extend to funding the Palestinian government, and the policy of witholding tax revenues to punish the Palestinians for a diplomatic bid for statehood helped provoke the economic crisis in the West Bank for which many residents blame Fayyad.
Fayyad stood in particular for a hope — which now looks more like a fantasy — of a kind of third way to Palestinian statehood that would avoid either stalled diplomacy or armed struggle. The Palestinians, with American and Israeli support, would build an honest and functional government; capable security services; and the conditions for economic growth. Palestinian anger at their conditions would, under this theory ease naturally; and easier diplomacy could turn de facto statehood into formal statehood.
“The departure of Salam Fayyad is a game-changing disappointment to everyone who believes in a two-state solution, because he was the single most important factor behind the Palestinian progress toward statehood-readiness,” said Jonathan Prince, who advised Senator George Mitchell during his time leading the Obama Administration’s first push for peace between Israel and Palestinians. “It’s not an overstatement to say that Salam Fayyad was The Man on everything from security cooperation with Israel to anti-corruption, government transparency and economic growth.”
And American officials Saturday pressed the Palestinians to continue Fayyadism, with or without Fayyad.
“We recognize the important roles played by both President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, and appreciate both of their efforts as we and others work to support establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an emailed statement. “Prime Minister Fayyad has been a strong partner to the international community and a leader in promoting economic growth, state-building, and security for the Palestinian people. We look to all Palestinian leaders to support these efforts.”
Speculation Saturday quickly turned to the future of the Palestinian Authority, which now risks lacking both domestic popularity and international support and money. The tensions between Abbas and Fayyad sit beneath two other complex sets of battles: Israelis versus Palestinians; and the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank regime versus Hamas, which controls Gaza. And a Fayyad ally, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the future for the man — who will remain, for now, a caretaker (and Palestinian officials have a habit of resigning without actually departing for long stretches)— and his vision remain opaque.
“There are competing impulses in Palestinian society,” the Fayyad ally said. “There’s a culture clash between ia kind of impulse to move towards state creation and an impulse away from it, and his position became untenable.”
Critics of the Palestinian Authority called Fayyad’s resignation part of a broader crisis of legitimacy.
“There is no Palestinian leadership that has been successful in elections any time recently,” said Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Palestine Center in Washington, who has argued that the PA compromised itself by acting as a kind of enforcer for Israel. “There’s this huge legitimacy crisis that is much greater than Fayyad himself. Fayyad is a byproduct of this problem.”
But among those who buy into Fayyad’s vision of a middle road toward peace, the mood Satudray was gloomy.
“Your average Palestinian may look back at period between 2009 and 2011 with a lot of nostalgia,” the Fayyad ally said.
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