More Fayyad Fallout

The BBC’s Jon Donnison reported, in his Fayyad article [labelled a “What next?” piece], that “When the 61-year-old again announced he was quitting on Saturday night, it was at least the third time he had resigned since he was first appointed to the job in 2007.  That is not to mention all the threats of resignation over the past six years.  And yet Mr Fayyad is still doing the job, at least in a ‘caretaker’ role”. This is posted here

Donnison lists the two previous Fayyad resignations as being in March 2009 and then in [May] 2011, both times to make way for a government of “national unity” or of “transition”, in order to “heal the political division between Fatah and Hamas — which may indeed be part of the reason again now.

[Fayyad also quit once before that, to run in the 2006 parliamentary elections’]

Meanwhile, Hugh Naylor wrote in The National that:

“Last month, the two leaders [Mahmoud Abbas + Fayyad — but Fayyad cannot really be called a “leader”] were at loggerheads over the resignation of Nabeel Kassis as finance minister. Mr Fayyad reportedly accepted it before consulting Mr Abbas, which caused acrimony.  An official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which Mr Abbas also chairs, said that spat encouraged the Palestinian president to accept Mr Fayyad’s resignation.  ‘I also think Abu Mazen was tired of Fayyad resigning every two months’, said the official, referring to Mr Abbas by his nickname. ‘But I also think Abu Mazen saw Fayyad’s threatening to resign as a bargaining chip to leverage power’…” This piece is published here.

Ah, yes, power — for, the scenario now being acted out was, and is, a classic power struggle between the two men, who otherwise are not really enemies. Abbas may well even feel some sympathy for Fayyad at the moment.

After all, Mahmoud Abbas himself was the previous champion of resignation [see our page on that, on this blog], when he served as Palestine’s first Prime Minister, an institution created at donor insistence to curb Yasser Arafat’s freeranging power. In a continuation of that paradigm, Fayyad was supposed, in some way, to be a “check + balance” to Abbas, who has since consolidated his hold on all reins of Palestinian power, and who has stayed in office beyond the expire-by date of his mandate until the next elections which only he has the power to proclaim, and which he also has the power to cancel.

Abbas does not seem uncomfortable at all in ruling by decree [at the encouragement of donors who believe in democracy only when all actors are “good guys”], in the absence of a functioning parliament [the Palestine Legislative Council], which closed up shop, at least in the West Bank, not long after the surprise election of Hamas [after Hamas did, for those 2006 elections, what everybody had called on it to do, which is to convert itself into a political party and contest the vote].

Donnison also reports, in his BBC piece, another theory [one of the standard Palestinian templates]: “One Palestinian official told me he believes Mr Fayyad has bigger ambitions, possibly to replace Mr Abbas, and wants to leave the job of prime minister in order to try and build his personal popularity”.

Continue reading “More Fayyad Fallout”

Fayyad is still in office [after his resignation] as talk begins to bubble about elections

Salam Fayyad is still in office, two days after his resignation as Palestinian Prime Minister was accepted by President Mahmoud Abbas. And Fayyad may remain in office for a while, until after new elections are actually held.

[For that matter, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fisher, who is on friendly terms with Fayyad, is also still in office until the end of June…]

The National reported, in a bit of a stretch, that after Salam Fayyad’s resignation, “some fear a return of a PA that is even more under the influence of Mr Abbas’s Fatah faction and lacking the checks and balances imposed by Mr Fayyad, a political independent”. here.

Checks + balances?

That is almost as much of a fantasy as the claim that Fayyad “built institutions” — presumably, of government.

Fayyad may take some credit for the imposition of law and order in West Bank cities — during his watch, if not as a direct result of his own efforts — and also for putting some order into processes in government ministries [such as paying salaries by direct deposit into bank accounts, which caused problems this past winter when salaries could only be partially paid, yet banks were able to take 100% of the loan payments they were due before depositing the salary].

The experienced and knowlegable Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab [he likes Fayyad, and Fayyad is, in fact, likeable] wrote in Al-Monitor here, that Fayyad “introduced legal reform, proper systems of governance and the rule of law”. This is simply over the top. To put it simply, there is no law, or rule of law, in the West Bank.

Kuttab also wrote, “Fayyad did everything that was needed to establish the foundation of a Palestinian state”… More hyperbole. USAID, who came and went, depending on whether the U.S. was pleased or not with the Palestinians, did more infrastructure work than Fayyad’s government [but Fayyad did get a lot of the credit…] And let us not forget UNRWA, which is running a number of refugee camps as well as schools and clinics. [Today, as school was about to get out in Jalazone refugee camp just across from the western edge of Beit El, there were student street-crossing monitors with STOP signs on the ends of wooden sticks looking as alert and efficient as those I’d seen another day this week in Pisgat Zeev on the northern side of Jerusalem. Nothing like that seems to exist, however, in government or private schools in the West Bank.]

Kuttab also wrote, in his Al-Monitor article, that:
“Perhaps the largest challenge facing Fayyad was the union of local public service employees. As long as they were paid, Fayyad was able to placate them, but once salaries were late, they found in Fayyad a perfect scapegoat. The union headed by a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council became the Fatah spearhead to bringing down Fayyad and his professional style. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is the leader of Fatah, tried to shield Fayyad and defended him many times, but was unable to continuously go against his own grassroots leaders even though he probably knew that they were not always correct.

Fayyad, however, was no saint. He was smart, but also shrewd. He maneuvered himself rather well and tried a few too many times to avoid making the political connection or paying the political price. He counted too much on Abbas to defend him and more than once failed in the eyes of the many Western countries that rooted for him, especially the Americans.

The arrogance coupled with the naivete of the Americans perhaps was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Obama’s public support for Fayyad was a two-edged sword and no doubt gave him a few extra weeks, but Kerry’s public statement in defense of Fayyad was perhaps the kiss of death”…

There has been some speculation about Fayyad’s successor. [I would like to propose Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee who contested 2006 parliamentary elections as a member of the same very small political party as Fayyad…]

But, there are more significant and insistent calls for elections. AFP reported today that Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad told Voice of Palestine radio that “The president must hold consultations with Palestinian movements to form a national unity government and set a date for elections.” This is reported here.

Continue reading “Fayyad is still in office [after his resignation] as talk begins to bubble about elections”

Drinking tea together – [UPDATED]

WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, published this photo, here, of President Mahmoud Abbas [on right] sitting with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, after Fayyad submits his resignation and Abbas accepts it.

Mahmoud Abbas + Salam Fayyad drink tea together in the Muqata'a - 13 April 2013
Mahmoud Abbas + Salam Fayyad drink tea together in the Muqata'a - 13 April 2013

A meeting between the two men, for this purpose, was set for last Thursday, then postponed after American intervention. The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had just visited the region, called President Abbas on Friday and urged that the differences between the two officials be settled. A meeting was set for Saturday morning, then postponed. Then, it suddenly took place on Saturday evening.

The Associated Press reported that “Mr Abbas and Mr Fayyad had been locked in an increasingly bitter dispute over the extent of the prime minister’s authority”. The AP account of this event was published by The National, here.

The New York Times also used the AP story, which said that, according to WAFA, “Abbas asked Fayyad to continue to serve in his post until Abbas forms a new government. Abbas was expected to name a new prime minister within days, according to Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations…[T]he conflict between the two escalated last month over the resignation of Fayyad’s finance minister, Nabil Kassis. Fayyad accepted the resignation, but Abbas then overruled the prime minister, effectively challenging his right to hire and fire Cabinet ministers”.  This is published here.

Kassis served as Finance Minister for about ten months.  Fayyad was Finance Minister for years before Kassis’ appointment, and he retook control of the Finance Ministry after he accepted Kassis’ resignation in early March.

When Palestinian Government employees began strike actions in December to protest impossibly difficult conditions caused by late and only partial payment of their salaries [due to donor cut-offs and other economic problems facing the Fayyad government], it was Kassis who engaged in intensive discussions with the public employees’ union, and he appeared to have earned their cooperation — though some major union branches were not satisfied with the arrangements Kassis and the union leadership had reached.

UPDATE:  Amin Maqbul, a member of Fateh’s Revolutionary Council, said that “Fatah is relieved over Fayyad’s timely resignation which was inevitable.  Maqboul said Fayyad’s government” had ‘failed miserably’ to steer the economy through the economic crisis”. This is published here.

The London-based editor of Al-Quds al-Arabi, Abdelbari Atwan, wrote  that “We are very shocked to learn that the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah has run up debts approaching $5bn and that $1bn is external debt. These debts are a heavy burden on the Palestinian people, and will extend to the coming generations. Most Palestinians thought that the PA’s funding came from the donor countries, not debts that would constrain the hands of the Palestinian people and break their will…I thank God for the resignation of Dr Nabil Qasis, which freed him to open up this issue of debts, to expose the cover-up of the increasing financial quagmire. The Palestinian prime minister should resign from his position, as he has plunged his country, subject to Israeli occupation, into debt. Salam Fayyad and his President Mahmoud Abbas should bear the responsibility of this disaster. They should resign from their positions as they have exempted the Israeli occupation from bearing its responsibility for over 20 years since signing the Oslo Agreement. There needs to be a Palestinian investigation into the debt crisis to clarify how the debts accumulated without consultation with the Palestinian people, and the lack of transparency”.   This is a position of some in the West Bank, as well.  Atwan’s post is published here.

Though economic problems and or financial decisions are cited as the main reasons for Fayyad’s most recent problems, his control of part of the Palestinian security apparatus may well be one of the main problems. Mahmoud Abbas’ elder surviving son, Yasser Abbas, explained the set-up to me in an interview in his office in December 2008: “the Prime Minister, according to the by-laws, has the control over the Police, the fire-fighting, and the Preventive Security, I believe. The Secret Service, the National Guard, and the rest, and the Presidential Guard, are by the President”. This is published on this blog here.

UPDATE: Though Barak Ravid described Nabil Qassis as a “close confidant” of Salam Fayyad in an analysis he published in Haaretz on Sunday evening, here, there were apparently fundamental disagreements that Fayyad may have found threatening.

One of Nabil Qassis’ ideas, apparently, was to make a substantial reduction [more than 50%] in the numbers of the Palestinian security forces. [Was this proposal backed by Abbas?]

It was, in any case, apparently strongly opposed by Fayyad.  [The donors, and the Israelis, must have been with Fayyad on this…]

An article by Nathan Thrall published in The New York Review of Books in October 2010 reported that: “ ‘reforming the security forces’, Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, told me, ‘is the main and integral part of the Fayyad plan. Many of the government’s other successes, such as economic growth, came as a result’.” This is reported here.

Thrall reported that there was a “law-and-order” aspect to the program, planned by then U.S. Security Coordinator Lt General Keith Dayton, and approved by Fayyad. It also had a “counter-terrorism component, which was largely directed against Hamas. According to Thrall, “the center of the Palestinian government’s security reforms are several ‘special battalions’ of the National Security Forces (NSF), an eight-thousand-member gendarmerie that makes up the largest unit of the 25,000-strong Palestinian armed forces in the West Bank”.

The huge anger that Palestinians have about the Palestinian security apparatus [that doesn’t protect them] was explained by Fateh member Qaddoura Fares earlier Saturday, when he complained that the security apparatus in Palestine is too strong, while the judiciary is too weak.  “Nothing has survived from our agreements [with Israel] but the security aspects; Israel wants only the security parts…Israel wants us to be like Antoine Lahad in South Lebanon, they want us to be the bodyguards of the settlers…which means that we legitimize what the settlers are doing…I’m from Silwad, and yesterday settlers attacked 1 of our colleagues [n.b.-a 60-year old Palestinian judge, who was working on his land].  No Palestinian police tried to save the Palestians.  But I have to think that our police are for me, to save my life or my children’s lives…”

For now, and until his replacement is appointed, Fayyad will remain in charge of what is now being called a “caretaker” government.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reported Sunday from Tokyo, where U.S. Secretary of State is visiting, that Kerry commented:  ‘We’re totally committed to moving forward with the economic thing no matter what’, Kerry said, citing US business partners including Coca-Cola.  ‘The West Bank is there, Palestinian aspirations are there, the government is there. And in order to be a viable government, there’s got to be more than one person that you can do business with.  So we will continue to work at this and hope that President Abbas finds the right person to work with him in a transition, and work with us, to establish confidence’, he added.  ‘Everybody is going to want somebody who provides confidence’. Kerry said he preferred that Fayyad stay on the job, but that he understood Fayyad’s decision.  ‘He’s been sick, he’s tired, he’s been at this seven years. He has kids in school. He’s anxious to carve his own path here and I respect that’, Kerry said.  ‘But he’s going to be there for a while. I had a long conversation with him. He’s resigned and he accepted his resignation. But there’s going to be a caretaker process for some period of time and he’s not going to go away from Palestinian politics completely — if at all’.”  Kerry’s reaction is published here.

UPDATE: Israel’s AlternativeNews reported that “Kassis, who was handpicked by Abbas, was appointed as finance minister last year. In March Kassis announced that he was stepping down”.  This is posted here.

UPDATE: Harriet Sherwood wrote in The Guardian, here, that “The immediate trigger for the crisis appears to be Fayyad’s acceptance last month of the resignation of the finance minister, Nabil Kassis, an Abbas protege. However, the Palestinian Authority has been in financial crisis for months, with public servants unpaid and protests over price rises and taxes…While he was one of the few senior politicians to frequently visit marginalised communities and ask after their concerns, tax and commodity price hikes repeatedly stoked angry street protests against him. Palestinian unemployment has risen to almost 25% and real GDP growth is set to fall from an average of 11% in 2010-11 to just 5% in 2013, according to the World Bank”.

UPDATE: Al-Quds Newspaper in Jerusalem reported Sunday, here, that Fayyad first submitted his resignation to Abbas on 23 February.

UPDATE: On 14 February, The New York Times published a very downbeat profile of Fayyad by Roger Cohen, in which Fayyad complained about, among other things, being undermined by Israeli actions: “somebody needs to explain to me how something viewed as central to building peace is left on the ropes for three years, reeling under bankruptcy, and every action is taken to erode its political viability. We have sustained a doctrinal defeat. We have not delivered. I represent the address for failure. Our people question whether the P.A. can deliver. Meanwhile, Hamas gains recognition and is strengthened. This is the result of nothingness. It is not just that we have been having a bad day”. Fayyad also complained about the lack of a functioning Palestinian Legislature: “We need to rebuild our political system democratically with elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Democracy cannot be holding an election once. I think President Abbas should issue a decree calling for elections and if Hamas says no, so be it…I don’t want to be a source of pain to anyone. It is just not acceptable to continue doing this while preaching democracy”. And, he said, “The most basic requirement for this plane to take off is, first, security”. This profile of Fayyad-on-the-verge-of-resignation is published here.

On Saturday, the NYTimes published a second story about Fayyad’s resignation, by Reuters, which reported that “A senior Fatah official said he had doubts about Fayyad’s resignation.  ‘We can’t judge the seriousness of this move until the president appoints a new prime minister. I feel as if this is an artifice to keep things as they are’, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said”.   This is published here.

Haaretz’s Jack Khoury [with excerpts from Reuters] reported here that “Highly placed sources within the Palestinian Authority have said Fayyad was planning to quit before the Palestinian president sacks him in the wake of disputes over the management of the economic crisis in the West Bank and financial issues in the Palestinian Authority. Other officials, meanwhile, told Haaretz that the reports simply reflected the fantasies of the Fatah movement, which is trying to push Fayyad out”.

UPDATE: The National reported on Monday that former Palestinian Government spokesman Ghassan Khatib [a former member of the Palestinian People’s Party] commented that Abbas is “almost the only non-Fatah personality in the Palestinian Authority, and his absence may return us to a one-party political regime”.  Khatib is now a professor of contemporary Arab studies at the West Bank’s Birzeit University, The National reported here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “Fayyad decided to quit following months of tensions between him and Abbas on a number of issues, including the resignation of PA Finance Minister Nabil Qassis. Fayyad has insisted on accepting Qassis’s resignation, while Abbas wants him back in government. Fayyad was also said to be angry over recurring attacks on him and his government by top Fatah officials, who hold him responsible for the financial crisis in the PA. A senior PA official confirmed that the Americans and some Europeans were acting to solve the crisis between Abbas and Fayyad. ‘They don’t want to see Fayyad removed’, the official said. ‘But they need to know that President Abbas is the only one who can decide on this matter’.” The JPost story is posted here.

It is just a year since a peculiar blow-up after Salam Fayyad reportedly refused [along with Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was soon fired from his position as head of Palestine Television, though he remains the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the PLO] an order from Abbas to deliver a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister.  We reported the refusal on 17 April 2012 here. In that post, we mentioned that in LEAKED versions of that draft letter that Fayyad and Abed Rabbo reportedly refused to take to Jerusalem, “Abbas will say that the Palestinian Authority has lost its “raison d’etre” — a nice French term, meaning that Abbas is saying the P.A. has lost any meaning or purpose, so there is no reason for it to exist…The DRAFT version of the letter also said that the Oslo Accords have been rolled back in many areas”.

A fuller version of this draft letter, and reports that Fayyad was concerned that presenting this letter to Netanyahu in Jerusalem would not “look good”, is contained in our subsequent post at the time, here.

As Arab News noted, here, “Fayad opposed Abbas’s decision to declare an independent state at the United Nations unless it would be within the context of an agreement with the Israeli government”. Fayyad’s public remarks referred to the “timing” …

Continue reading “Drinking tea together – [UPDATED]”

For longest Palestinian hunger-striking prisoner, Samer Issawi, Israel is now proposing…a real deportation

Samer Issawi, on hunger strike for over 200 days [off and on water with supplements], has refused being sent from Israeli jail to Gaza.

So, AP reports this evening, Israel is now proposing a real deportation:

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has offered to deport a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner to Europe or a U.N.-member country, an Israeli official said Friday, in an effort to reach a compromise over the high-profile detainee.  But a lawyer for the 33-year-old hunger striker says he has refused to be deported, and a European Union official denied that Israel had officially made the offer to deport him…The Israeli official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the prime minister’s office offered to deport Issawi after EU and UN officials expressed concern about his health. The Israeli official said neither body had replied to the offer. The official said if an EU or U.N.-member country was willing to take him, Israel would be more than happy to let him go, but that so far, no country had offered…Jawad Bulous, a lawyer for Issawi, said the prisoner had turned down a previous offer to be sent to the Gaza Strip, and would not accept deportation to any other country. ”He refuses all of these options’, Bulous said”.  This AP report is posted here

.

The AP report contains other real news, which was previously not reported: “The Israeli official said Issawi was re-arrested for trying to reestablish a Hamas cell in the West Bank”.

AP also reported that “Issawi was sentenced to 26 years prison for his role in a series of shooting attacks targeting Israeli police cars and students at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. He was released from prison as part of a 2011 exchange that freed hundreds of Palestinians…But Issawi was arrested again for violating the conditions of his release by entering the nearby West Bank. He is expected to carry out his entire sentence as a result”.

Another agency, AFP, reported that “Issawi, 33, was first arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 26 years for military activities on behalf of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine…Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel was willing to deport Issawi ‘to any EU member country, or any UN member country’, said the official, noting that they had yet to receive an answer from either. An EU spokesman told AFP that ‘Israel has not formally approached the EU on this subject’. However, the Israeli official insisted the issue ‘came up in official communications between officials on both sides’. Lawyer Jawad Boulos said that while ‘Israel had tried to make him agree to being deported’ to any of a number of countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Finland and Switzerland, Issawi had ‘strongly refused in principle to be deported to any state’.” This AFP story is published here.

Dissing Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has completed his first post-Obama-visit solo trip to the region.

To give his effort a chance, he asked his Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors for two months of media black-out, which lasted about 48 hours…

According to The Cable blog on ForeignPolicy.com, “Kerry’s discussions with both parties were not so specific as to seek commitment to any particular confidence-building measures”…

However, Kerry was already being dissed by an “anonymous senior Israeli official”, according to a report on Thursday by Haaretz’ Diplomatic Correspondent Barak Ravid, who wrote: “A senior Israeli official, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject, expressed considerable skepticism regarding Kerry’s steps, and made cynical, slightly scornful comments regarding his attitude”.

This senior Israeli official told Raid that Israeli official: “Kerry thinks that the conflict is primarily over territory + that’s wrong”.

The Israeli official also said that “Israel opposes Kerry’s proposal to resume negotiations on the basis of discussing border and security issues alone” — and, by way of illustration, he explained that “Israel opposes the establishment of a Palestinian tourism project on the northern shore of the Dead Sea [Area C]” because its location is “territorially significant” to Israel.  If we’re talking about transferring land through economic projects, then we’re not ready to do so”, the senior Israeli official reportedly said.  “If discussion begins with talks about borders + security, Israel will only give, + will get almost nothing in return, but when we get to issues where the Palestinians will need to give something up [eg = Right of Return] we won’t have any bargaining chips left’…”  This Barak Ravid story is published here.

But, according to The Cable:
“former Rep. Robert Wexler, now the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, told The Cable that the Israeli officials bashing Kerry on background are simply posturing ahead of what will be a protracted process that will play out over several months, if not years…Kerry and his inner circle, which includes the heavy influence of senior Middle East advisor Frank Lowenstein, are not naïve about the difficulty of the new peace process initiative they are proposing, Wexler said. They are taking a long view and are planning several more visits by Kerry to the region — the kind of shuttle diplomacy that was taken on by special envoys in past situations… ‘Kerry’s team is developing a 2, 3, 4 year strategy, because they understand all the obstacles that will be presented. This is the only reasonable course that has any likelihood of success and that’s a reflection of the dire situation that we’re in’.”   This is posted here.