This story just does not get better.

Last night, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Salam Fayyad’s “office” issued a statement saying that  “The statements in the [New York Times OpEd piece by Roger Cohen] are…certainly not the words of Fayyad…”

The statement from “Fayyad’s office”, according to WAFA, said that Fayyad “did not make any statements or conduct interviews for the NYTimes or any other newspaper or agency since his resignation”…

We have reported on some of those interviews in earlier posts here and here.

WAFA added, citing the statement from “Fayyad’s office” that: “The statements in the article are just journalist Roger Cohen’s personal impressions”.

The Times of Israel reported here that “In an email correspondence with The Times of Israel, Cohen reacted to Fayyad’s office’s claim by saying he interviewed Fayyad and declined further comment”.

UPDATE: Roger Cohen said just a bit more on Monday, via Twitter: Roger Cohen @NYTimesCohen ” #Fayyad office denies interview happened at all. Would make denial quotes redundant. It happened.  He spoke out”.

In another Tweet, Cohen wrote: “He said what he said”

Fayyad’s admission of failure [to Cohen] is certainly not the first time he’s said that.

The eloquence of his reported critique of the leadership was distinctive. According to Cohen, Fayyad said: “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”. If this was concocted, as the statement reported by WAFA say, perhaps Fayyad should consider engaging someone like Roger Cohen as a regular speechwriter.

What was shocking in the NYTimes article by Roger Cohen was Fayyad’s open attack on Fatah, the largest Palestinian political movement which also controls the Palestine Liberation Organization [recognized at the UN for decades as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

Fatah has been critical of Fayyad for years, and called a number of times for Fayyad to go or be replaced — with the notable exception of a moment last year when reconciliation talks with Hamas had progressed to the point where there was talk of the formation of a pre-election government composed of non-affiliated technocrats, and Hamas insisted Fayyad must go.  Then, and only then, did Fatah issue a statement of support for Fayyad, which stressed his importance in bringing in donor money and political support…

It is interesting that the surprising denial, attributed to a statement from “Fayyad’s office”, was put out by WAFA [the official Palestinian news agency, which is not controlled by Fayyad] rather than by the Fayyad-appointed Government Media Center, which seems to have said nothing …

Fayyad clearly has met + given interviews, since his “resignation”, to Daoud Kuttab [who Tweeted a photo, which we posted earlier] + to Roger Cohen [on Twitter @NYTimesCohen].

It is not clear if Fayyad met with his former Government spokesman Ghassan Khatib, who also wrote about Fayyad but used no direct quotes = here. Ghassan Khatib wrote essentially the same things as Roger Cohen about Fayyad [+ Abbas] — savvily, but minus the direct quotes, or any words blaming of Fatah.

Meanwhile, Daoud Kuttab has not responded yet to a query I sent him on Twitter this evening:
@Marianhouk —> @daoudkuttab – “any comment on the WAFA story saying “Fayyad’s office” denied he’d given any statements or interviews since resigning?”

If we’re to believe WAFA or the statement from “Fayyad’s office”, Fayyad’s sessions w/ Daoud Kuttab + were on deep background.   The full WAFA [English version] report is posted here:

RAMALLAH, May 4, 2013 (WAFA) – Outgoing Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s office Saturday denied statements slamming the Palestinian leadership which were attributed to Fayyad in an interview with the New York Times. Fayyad’s office said in a statement, ‘The statements in the article are just journalist Roger Cohen’s personal impressions, and certainly not the words of Fayyad, who did not make any statements or conduct interviews for the New York Times or any other newspaper or agency since his resignation’. The New York Times published on May 3 an article titled ‘Fayyad Steps Down, Not Out’ by Cohen, in which Fayyad allegedly described the Palestinian leadership as ‘failed’. Cohen quoted Fayyad saying ‘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’.  Cohen’s article caused an uproar among Palestinians while Fayyad’s office said that this article must not be published as an interview with Fayyad”.

WAFA reported even more of the statement “Fayyad’s office” in a post on its Arabic pages, here, as the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported here,  WAFA’s Arabic-language report used much harder language — reporting that “Fayyad’s office” had called the NYTimes report a “forgery”:

“The attack on the PA leadership and Fatah clearly embarrassed Fayyad, who said [n.b. — at least “Fayyad’s office” did] in a statement that the Time‘s Roger Cohen had published an op-ed, and not an interview

Fayyad also accused the paper of ‘forgery that carries political dimensions with the goal of causing damage and fomenting strife in order to serve positions that are hostile to the Palestinians and their national project at this sensitive and critical phase’.”

This Arabic-language report on WAFA usAccording to Toameh [via Twitter] a report on the statement made by “Fayyad’s office” also appeared in Ma’an News Agency [Arabic] and on Palpress here.

UPDATE [w/correction]: Ma’an News Agency has published, in English, a story about the “Fayyad office” statement of denial/retraction, here. The Ma’an story noted the statement denying the remarks Fayyad reportedly made to the NYTimes, but then said that “Fayyad resigned on April 13 and is acting as caretaker prime minister, but will leave office completely in three to four weeks, he told the New York Times”.

The pro-Israeli media watchdog group CAMERA wrote here that “This bizarre episode raises at least two points for consideration. First, either the Times or Fayyad is not being truthful about an interview taking place. Second, if Fayyad gave an interview which provoked Fatah’s wrath, resulting in the prime minister’s subsequent denial, then this is yet another reminder about sources and journalists self-censoring when it comes to unflattering information about the Palestinian Authority”.

Then, there was this exchange on Twitter later:
Jonathan Schanzer @JSchanzer 1h
Fayyad’s disavowal of @NYTimesCohen piece feels a lot like King Abdullah’s backtrack on @JeffreyGoldberg’s piece. http://english.wafa.ps/index.php?action=detail&id=22289 …

Jeffrey Goldberg Jeffrey Goldberg @JeffreyGoldberg 44m
.@JSchanzer @NYTimesCohen Just fyi, the Jordanian Royal Court retracted its partial denial of the King’s quotes.

Jonathan Schanzer Jonathan Schanzer @JSchanzer 41m
@JeffreyGoldberg @nytimescohen I saw that. Wondering if Fayyad will do the same.

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