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” …

Fayyad was appointed Finance Minister in 2002 by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He was named Prime Minister of an “Emergency Government” in June 2007, when Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the short-lived “National Unity” government headed by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, following Hamas’ rout of Fateh/Palestinian Preventive Security forces in Gaza. For years, Fayyad continued to hold the Finance Ministry portfolio as well…

U.S. officials have recently lobbied against Fayyad’s resignation.

Fayyad had the support of the major donors, particularly the U.S. [where he worked for both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund], and of Tony Blair, the Quartet’s Special Representative.

In recent years, Mahmoud Abbas has managed to consolidate his hold over all three reins of Palestinian political power — 1) he is at the same time the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO], whose executive committee is the Government of the State of Palestine proclaimed in 1988 [and admitted to the UN as a non-member observer State on 29 November 2012]; 2) he is the leader of the largest Palestinian political movement, Fateh; and 3) he is also the last elected head of the Palestinian [National] Authority that has exercised some local and transitional powers in the West Bank and Gaza.

It was a stand-off — with Abbas and his people coordinating, if not orchestrating, Fateh’s disaffection for Fayyad.

By appointing Fayyad [then Finance Minister] to replace Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh in June 2007, and begin the great donor love-in with the West Bank [to showcase a theoretical possible peace dividend] , Abbas also cultivated Hamas’ particular distaste for Fayyad.   Hamas has made it clear that they will not tolerate Fayyad remaining as Prime Minister in any future reconciliation government, even a transition government composed of politically-unaffiliated technocrats.

The Times of Israel reported that “Last October, Fayyad reportedly offered to quit amid a sharp financial crisis and reconciliation talks with Islamic movement Hamas, which views his liberal economic and political positions with suspicion [n.b. – though Hamas is more furious about the fact that Fayyad was used to replace Haniyeh in 2007]…According to a February 2012 reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas in Doha, [Fayyad is supposed to go, and] Mahmoud Abbas is supposed to head a Palestinian interim government in addition to his position as Palestinian president. Unity talks stalled, however, and Fayyad has remained in office”.

The Times of Israel also reported that Hussam Khader, a Fatah official from Nablus, told them that “‘There is pressure on the President to sack Fayyad…I think this decision is wrong, and stems from personal interests of Fatah people. Clearly there are many capable people [to replace him] but the excuses for fighting Fayyad are illogical’. Khader said that opposition to Fayyad from within Fatah stems from the prime minister’s good governance in legislating and regulating financial transactions, which angered many Fatah officials who wanted more control over the PA’s finances to benefit their cronies. Asked whether these men constituted a majority within Fatah, Khader answered in the affirmative. ‘This time these men are serious. They want to get rid of Fayyad’, he said”. here

AFP reported that an Israeli official they contacted refused to comment on the report of Fayyad’s resignation.

Ma’an reported earlier Saturday that Fayyad’s resignation “resignation could hamper implementation of an agreement with Israel which [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry announced this week to ‘promote economic development in the West Bank’.” This story was posted here.

The American Prospect magazine published this:
“Speaking Tuesday at a press conference at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, during his third visit to Israel-Palestine in as many weeks, Secretary Kerry confirmed that initiatives aimed at building the Palestinian economy would be a key component of the effort to restart peace talks.

‘We are going to engage in new efforts, very specific efforts’, Kerry said, ‘to promote economic development and to remove some of the bottlenecks and barriers that exist with respect to commerce in the West Bank’. Economic growth, Kerry continued, ‘will help us be able to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere, within which people have greater confidence about moving forward’.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. It’s the approach taken by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad over the past several years. He attempted to reform and develop the Palestinian economy, with a particular focus on greater transparency and accountability, in order create a sense of momentum among Palestinians toward statehood. In one of the surest signs of the Western intelligentsia’s blessing, the doctrine was endowed by The New York Times’ Tom Friedman with its own special title: ‘Fayyadism … the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services’.

Four years later, Fayyadism has foundered on the reality that economic development—genuine, sustainable economic development—is all but impossible amid the conditions of a hostile military occupation that the West Bank continues to experience under Israeli rule.

Fayyad himself was always cognizant of this. ‘Some Israeli officials may talk of “economic peace” as a panacea’, he said in a 2010 interview, ‘but it won’t ever be in lieu of what needs to happen politically—the end of occupation’.

I met with Fayyad last month, shortly before President Obama’s visit. I’ve had a few opportunities to meet with him in the past in various settings, and have always been struck by the sense of optimism he maintains amid extraordinarily difficult circumstances. But this time, something was different. His frustration was evident.

Fayyad had obviously been stung by the constant criticisms that the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) simply exists to facilitate the continued Israeli occupation. A recent poll found that 55 percent of Palestinians were critical of the P.A.’s security coordination with Israel. In the words of one observer, the criticism has been ‘personal, somewhat deranged, and very vicious’, especially that appearing in the Arabic-language media…

[But] It’s evident from the fact that both President Obama and Secretary Kerry made a point to meet with Fayyad individually (to President Mahmoud Abbas’s displeasure) that it’s important to the United States that he continue to be part of the process”…  This story is published here.

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