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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh:

Four years after he headed the Palestinian Authority’s government, it is time for Salam Fayyad to depart and not be a candidate for the premiership in the coming National Reconciliation or Technocrats Government. This is not a personal matter, and it is not linked to his personal qualifications and capabilities. The problem lies in his performance, and the plan that he holds.

Salam Fayyad was the principal embodiment of the Palestinian schism. He was the man in charge of managing the crisis with Hamas and other resistance forces. His continuation was dependent on the continuation of the schism between Fatah and Hamas. He found it acceptable to deal with the forces that represent the Palestinian people—in free and fair elections—as outlaws; while, at the same time, he suffered from deficient legitimacy, not daring to convene even one session of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), because real legitimacy would have given him a vote of no confidence.

Furthermore, he found it acceptable to coordinate with the Israeli occupation on matters of security, to pursue resistance fighters, the symbols of political, social and charitable actions, and those mayors who disagreed with him or opposed him. In short, Fayyad was the embodiment of the problem and not that of the solution.

Mahmoud Abbas’ insistence on nominating Fayyad places big question marks on his seriousness about achieving national reconciliation and realizing real partnership between all the Palestinian forces in the management and making of the Palestinian national decision.

Claiming that it is imperative to obtain American and Israeli approval of the person of the prime minister has no value for those who want to participate in a serious Palestinian national reconciliation. This means that those who use this argument had agreed to let the Americans and Israelis be the major players and key determinants in Palestinian decision-making.

Thereupon, the placement of the political Palestinian house in order loses its essence and meaning…, for if the American Israeli interference was acceptable in lesser matters (forming a government), they will interfere with greater force to prevent rebuilding and reforming the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and they will interfere with a more powerful and violent force to prevent rearranging and re-forming the security forces. In addition, they will be able to disrupt the reconciliation, unless Hamas and its sister organizations pledge their obedience to Israel and America…

In this stage of national liberation of the occupation, it does not concern us what the occupiers demand, only what the Palestinians demand; or what the occupation requires, only what getting rid of it requires.

In general, there will not be a genuine and serious reconciliation unless a purely nationalistic agenda is executed; even if it was against the wishes of opponents and enemies. The pleasure of Israel and America is not the bridge that leads to national reconciliation.

‘Abbas, more than anyone else, realizes that Fayyad is not the consensus personality needed at this juncture, and that he is not unacceptable to Hamas and the rest of the resistance factions.

Does ‘Abbas want to pass the time arguing over the person of the prime minister in the coming months and until September, when voting takes place in the UN on recognizing a Palestinian state, before angering the Americans and Israel’s allies regarding the formation and requirements of a Palestinian government?

If this is the case, the other Palestinian factions will feel that, to ‘Abbas, this matter does not go beyond temporary reconciliation that should gain him recognition of his presidency’s legitimacy and his representation of the Palestinian people, so that he would present himself in a better light in the UN. Thus, this matter was merely a tactical temporal action on his part.

If the coming phase is supposed to be that of confidence-building, why did ‘Abbas start it with what increases doubts and fears? And if merely deciding the name of the prime minister required several weeks, how can we deal with problems that are more complex and sensitive, such as the files of Palestinian security forces, those of the PLO, the prisoners, political, economic and social reform, fighting corruption, and elections…etc?

Four lean years have passed since the formation of the Salam Fayyad government, during which the list of its achievements in fulfilling Israeli requirements was greater than those in fulfilling nationalist Palestinian requirements.

Salam Fayyad, who won along with his party “The Third Way” two of the 132 PLC seats, formed on 17/6/2007, at the request of President ‘Abbas, an emergency government, which, a month later, mysteriously became a caretaker government. In spite of the fact that the Palestinian Basic Law (the constitution) allows the presidency to declare only a state of emergency and not to form an emergency government. In addition, the charter turns the government existing at the time (that of Isma‘il Haniyyah) into a caretaker government.

Even if we concede the legitimacy of the Fayyad government, the Palestinian constitution enjoins on any government to gain a vote of confidence from the PLC; the matter which had never taken place. Any person who wants to have consensus and gain people’s trust cannot disrespect their constitution or bypass their will.

From a practical point and on a Palestinian level, Fayyad was content to have as the principal factor and determinant in his remaining in office the disabling of the PLC and denying it the right to carry out its tasks. He resorted instead to an arsenal of temporary laws issued by Mahmud ‘Abbas, totaling 406 decrees in a single year.

Not only Hamas and some Palestinian opposition factions disapproved of Fayyad, Fatah cadres and leadership had also strong objections to him, but they remained grudgingly silent because ‘Abbas, the Israelis and the Americans favored him.

During Fatah 25th Revolutionary Council session (26/5/2008), Fayyad was subjected to fierce attacks. Some likened him to the U.S. Administrator to Iraq, Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Some others considered his government an American one, imposed on Palestinians.

When Fayyad formed his government on 19/5/2009, he faced opposition from Fatah parliamentary bloc; but ‘Abbas pressured them to remain silent. Furthermore, a senior Fatah official, Hatem ‘Abd al-Qader, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, submitted his resignation to Fayyad few weeks later, accusing him of negligence regarding the Jerusalem file.

Security performance of Fayyad and his government does honor to no one. He sent hundreds of patriotic cadres (including many Fatah members) in the security services into retirement and brought in loyal followers. He also opened the way for the interference of American experts, in particular Keith Dayton, and after him Michael Muller, to train security forces, in keeping with the peace settlement requirements and the pursuit of resistance forces.

During Fayyad’s premiership, security cooperation with Israel reached its peak, exchanging intelligence, uncovering resistance networks and arresting its members, suppression demonstrations, preventing brushes with Israelis, and returning Israelis who had crossed into the Authority’s areas.

Under Fayyad’s leadership, the authority sought to enlist police elements that have no awareness, nationalist past or spirit; elements that deal with resistance forces the same as with robbers and drug dealers, as outlaws. This resulted in the formation of several battalions trained under Dayton’s supervision, where senior PA officials have dubbed the first battalion as “Dayton’s baby,” as reported by Haaretz Newspaper on 6/4/2008.

According to Israeli sources, coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) has reached unprecedented levels, to the point that Israel Security Agency (Shabak) announced in 2010 that, for the first time in more than twenty years, there are no Palestinians on its wanted list.

In its report presented to the international donor group in support of the Palestinians, the “Ad Hoc Liaison Committee” (AHLC) in Brussels, published on 14/3/2011, the Israeli government revealed that in 2010, the occupation agencies carried out 2,968 instances of coordination with the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank (WB), and held 686 joint bilateral meetings with them. 

As for the economic aspect, in which Fayyad is proud of his performance and which ‘Abbas used as an excuse for appointing Fayyad, it is overstated. It is an economy captive to the occupation, the siege, and foreign assistance.

Under Fayyad government, the GDP rose from $4.6 billion to about $5.7 billion in the period 2007-2010, compared to that of Israel, which rose from $168 billion to $217 billion during the same period. 

In other words, the Palestinian individual’s share of the GDP rose from $1,298 to $1,502 in the period 2007–2010; meaning that during Fayyad’s premiership, it increased by $204 over a three year period, an average of $68 per year; while the Israeli individual’s income rose during the same period from $23,300 to $28,500, an average increase of $1,733 per year. 

The problem with the economy of the PA is that it was designed to be at the mercy of the Israeli occupation and the demands of the peace process settlement, so that economic pressure would become a kind of political blackmail. This is especially so when we know that about 50-55% of the PA’s budget comes in the form of aid from donor countries, and about one third of it comes from the Palestinian tax revenues collected by Israel.

When this is the case, Israel and foreign parties come to impose on the Palestinians who gets the money, and the manner of dealing with it. This way Fayyad would be the favorite and trusted candidate to guarantee its distribution in a manner consistent with their policies. Thus the matter here is not related to competence and transparency only, but also to political and security performance.

Fayyad benefited from having the money in his hands and investing it politically and in the security domain, filling vacant positions and offices with those who support him and his policies, and getting rid of many of those who oppose him.

At the time when he shut the door in the face of Hamas supporters and resistance movements, denying them work in the PA’s institutions and ministries, he placed thousands of Fatah cadres under the threat of loyalty to him and earning a salary. Fatah and the PLO’s factions found that their budget or part of it comes from Fayyad; which caused them to lower, to a great extent, the ceiling of their objections.

Fayyad, who used to boost that his government spends more than hundred million dollars per month on Gaza Strip (GS), was presenting an incomplete version of the truth. The truth is that a huge sum was being given to employees who fail to show up for work; as since the Palestinian schism occurred, the PA in Ramallah was paying salaries to those who stay at home, and suspending the salaries of those who were actually working, with the specific exception of those in the health and education sectors.

Thus, the Fayyad government was giving salaries to 60 thousand employees (of a total of 78 thousands), on condition that they stay at home. These were getting 86% of the salaries that the PA in Ramallah sends to GS.

In other words, Fayyad (backed by the PA’s leadership) used the money sent to GS to invest it in politics. This produced an aberrant situation that resulted in rewarding the absent employee who scorns his job and punishing those who honored their commitment to their jobs and to the service of their people.

Regarding Fayyad’s plan to build the Palestinian State’s infrastructure within two years (2009–2011), no significant achievement has been realized, in spite of the fact that there remain only two months for its completion (August 2011).

If it is easy to speak about the obstacles known to everyone, and which Fayyad knew before proposing his plan and during its implementation, then why were they overlooked in return for payment of huge sums that led to striking a blow at the Palestinian national fabric, tearing its national unity, and striking the infrastructure of charity work and resistance effort? Do some modest changes here and there deserve the artificial noise surrounding the establishment of a Palestinian state? And how can all of this compare to what the Israelis achieved in their Judaization operations, in particular in Jerusalem, stealing lands and waters, and humiliating the Palestinians?

Not all the blame can be placed on Salam Fayyad; for Mahmud ‘Abbas is the one mainly responsible for choosing him and determining the path. However, as long as Fayyad is content to be the symbol of this phase with all its shortcomings, he must depart so that the Palestinians can open a new page.   

The original Arabic article appeared on Al on 18/6/2011

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 4/7/2011