Ghassan Khatib, who has returned to academia [Bir Zeit University], is most recently known as the previous Palestinian Government spokesman. He was appointed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and served as a relatively conventional and cautious spokesperson for the Cabinet [not for the Presidency].
But Khatib was, for many years, a Communist. Yes, he was a member of the Palestinian People’s Party. And, he was the editor of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center [JMCC], which actually used to be in Jerusalem, before everyone was forced to stay in Ramallah on the other side of Qalandia Checkpoint and the Israel Army’s Wall. In the late 1990s, Khatib served as the Minister of Labor in the Palestinian Authority. But Khatib was most impressive, and perhaps most efficient and valuable when appointed as Minister of Planning — he actually threw himself into the work of developing five-year plans.
Today, Khatib has written an analysis of Salam Fayyad and his recent resignation, published by Ma’an News Agency and posted here. Khatib wrote that, after his appointment as Finance Minister by Yasser Arafat in 2002, Fayyad’s task was to reform the financial system and clean up the administration. Then, in late June 2007, Mahmoud Abbas asked Fayyad to replace Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas as Prime Minister and “to form an emergency government”. Khatib wrote that Abbas gave Fayyad “the necessary authority and confidence to reform the security branches and achieve law and order”.
Fayyad has been portrayed primarily as an economist and government official — his role in controlling the security services is under-analyzed.
Yet, the main reason for Fayyad’s resignation may well be a dispute with Abbas over the size and power of the security services, which Fayyad has run on behalf of the donors.
Khatib writes, a bit cryptically, that Fayyad’s resignation comes at a moment 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”.
At the moment, Khatib argues, Abbas’ best option is to pursue reconciliation with Hamas through establishing a government of non-politically-affiliated technocrats — an option that the U.S. would certainly oppose. Khatib notes that “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…”
So, Khatib says, “Abbas seems to be resorting again to his favorite magic solution: not doing anything”.
And, in this scenario, Khatib states, Fayyad will stay on as “caretaker” Prime Minister for a long while — perhaps even “until it is politically feasible to appoint him again to form the next government”…
Khatib was there, on the inside, and should know. He does suggest, however, that Fayyad won’t put up with this for too long…
Enter the New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen, who published a piece today saying pretty much the same thing [for tomorrow’s print edition of the paper], datelined Ramallah, posted here.
Cohen writes that “the president [Abbas] hesitates. He mumbles about a ‘unity government’ with Hamas. He does little. And Fayyad is at his desk when he might be eating sweet pastries with his family”.
Cohen notes that “Theirs was a rocky marriage of convenience” [he’s referring to Abbas + Fayyad].
And, Cohen reports, Fayyad told him:
“Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on … It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”
At this point, it’s hard to help wondering — can Fayyad carry out a coup, if he gets good and ready?
Cohen writes that “Fayyad, after almost six years in the job, had had enough of the dance that leads nowhere, the ‘peace process’ that is a mockery of those unhappily twinned words. On April 13 he resigned.
His was a revolution: Of acts over narrative, of state-building over slogans, of pragmatism over posturing. His core thought was simple: ‘If you look like a state and act like a state nobody in the end is going to deny you that state’.”
In the wake of pervasive reports that Fateh wanted him out [except, of course, if Hamas would be the only alternative], Fayyad is now going on the offensive. He opened up to Cohen, and he criticized Fateh to the NYTimes [and, Abbas is the leader of Fatah].
Fayyad now says he quit because of Fateh.
“Fayyad reckons the party spent more time worrying about what he was doing than solving anything. ‘This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment’, Fayyad predicts. ‘Students have lost 35 days this year through strikes. We are broke. The status quo is not sustainable… I have gone through hell before. But it’s enough. This much poison is bound to cause something catastrophic. The system is not taking, the country is suffering. They are not going to change their ways and therefore I must go.”
And, Fayyad says, what he wants now is a unity government and elections — which Abbas is hesitating over [because he’s enticed by proposals the Americans are holding out, but will withdraw if there is reconciliation with Hamas.
What Fayyad isn’t saying so clearly is that he doesn’t want Hamas. And he doesn’t want Fatah, either… There has to be one government for the West Bank + Gaza, Fayyad says. “The essential precondition for that, he says, is a ‘security doctrine based on nonviolence’.” It is Hamas which has to give up violence.
Cohen writes [it seems he’s paraphrasing Fayyad]: “A unity government could get on with managing day-to-day business and, above all, preparing the national elections needed to know where Palestinians actually stand. Seven years without an election is far too long. Neither Fatah nor Hamas rule has any democratic legitimacy. Their positions are untenable even as they cling to power. The United States and Europe should make holding a Palestinian election a diplomatic priority … On balance, it is in the American interest to foster Palestinian unity, provided it is on the basis of the renunciation of violence … If Hamas will not cede its weapons to Fatah — if the putative state does not, in Weber’s famous definition, have the monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given territory — there will be no state “.
So, is Fayyad planning a coup? Maybe. But what he seems to be saying — or, to be threatening — is that he may decide to run for President. [Abbas has already said he will not run for another term — but Abbas will stay in office until he decides that new elections can be held]
Cohen writes: “Fayyad tells me he will not allow presidential inertia to keep him in the job. Within three to four weeks he will be gone — but not completely. Despite rumors floated by his enemies of a return to the International Monetary Fund, he will stick around. ‘I will reflect’, he says, ‘and if elections come, as they must because they are vital, I will see how best to take part in them’.”