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Salam Fayyad: the rise and fall... and rise again?

January 24, 2014 at 11:34 am

Yasser Arafat’s attempt to support the Aqsa Intifada in order to rebel against the terms of the Oslo Accords backfired. Far from ending the Palestinian Authority’s role as a lackey of the Israeli occupation, it strengthened it, not least because Salam Fayyad was parachuted in from the halls of the World Bank to manage the PA’s budget “wisely”.

This was the public justification for imposing Fayyad as Minister of Finance. Behind the scenes there was more; his appointment was not the only condition for Arafat’s rehabilitation as a “negotiating partner” after getting involved with violence, bloodshed and passing funds to those defying Oslo-defined laws which favoured the occupier over the occupied. There were other conditions: Mahmoud Abbas had to be appointed as Prime Minister and given full authority; Mohammed Dahlan was to be Security Advisor. Both appointments stripped Arafat of his power sources of money and security, and even some of the politics. The result was an end to meaningful resistance and the return of the PA to its original role of acting as a police force protecting the Israelis and a municipality bearing the brunt of the cost of the occupation.

This was the trio charged with re-establishing Oslo, which had suffered as a result of the intifada. The same three had to arrange Arafat’s absence in order to take over the Authority and put it back on the “right track” as a servant of the occupation. In the first instance that meant security, supervised by US General Keith Dayton backed by Dahlan; secondly, the economic track supervised by Tony Blair was executed by Fayyad. The “right” track had, and still has, no other objective other than to distract people with salaries, pensions and business deals, diverting their attention from anything related to resistance to Israel’s brutal military occupation.

We can’t deny that the trio were hugely successful. They controlled everything and wiped the resistance off the map so that the Palestinian people were left dependent solely on negotiations, and the Israelis had an unprecedented level of security after decades of occupation.

A power struggle resulted in Abbas removing Dahlan from the equation, despite his domination of Fatah in Gaza and constant Arab attempts to reconcile the two. However, Fayyad remained strong despite intermittent campaigns against him by Fatah icons. Some of these were related to his failure to respond to their personal requests, while others were related to a fear of the negative impact of his policies on Fatah’s popularity. Although he is not personally a member of Fatah, his government was affiliated to the movement; and his mentor, Abbas, is the head of Fatah, the PLO, the PA and the Palestinian Revolutionary Forces. Fayyad was able to preserve his position due to international support and because he did not pose a threat to Abbas when the latter became president of the Authority after Arafat’s death.

With very little warning, we now find that the former World Bank specialist did not manage the books quite as successfully as we have been led to believe. The PA is burdened with a massive debt of around $4 billion, even though it survives on international donations and the tax revenues collected by Israel on the Authority’s behalf.

Salam Fayyad considered the appointment of Nabeel Kassis as a personal blow to him; what else did the Authority have other than the financial portfolio besides security? Matters got worse when Kassis accused Fayyad of having a failing financial policy and then submitted his resignation. This was accepted immediately by Fayyad, despite Abbas’s request for him to reject it.

Fayyad realised that the sniping directed at him from Fatah figures wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t have the green light from Abbas, which drove him to resign – not for the first time in the belief and hope that the issue would end in the usual fashion, pleasing him and silencing his critics. This time, however, it was different; Abbas accepted his resignation.

Some say that Fayyad will establish a party and take the battle to the Palestinian political arena but he should approach that with caution. His former Third Way Party won just 2 out of 132 seats in the PLC elections of 2006. It remains to be seen if he will be reinstated to his former position through foreign pressure.

The tale of Fayyad and the trio is the story of a cause that was derailed; going from resistance to the occupation to committing the Palestinian Authority to serve the occupation on a security, political, and economic level. Until the Palestinians erupt in a new Intifada and rebel against this miserable reality, it will continue to be a source of disappointment and resentment.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.