No surprise, yet still a surprise: Fatah reportedly wants to keep Salam Fayyad as PM

Though it’s what all the savvy and not-so-savvy, and all the well-informed and not-so-well-informed, have been saying in Ramallah for weeks, now it seems to be almost official: the Associated Press (AP) is reporting that Fatah met on Saturday [in Ramallah, of course] “to finalize a proposed list of candidates for Cabinet positions. A Fatah official who attended the meeting said Fayyad was chosen to be their candidate [for Prime Minister]. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter”.

This AP report is published today in Haaretz here.

Until rather recently, many in Fatah complained endlessly about Fayyad — particularly about the small number of Fatah appointees in his cabinet.

Fayyad, it should be recalled, was Finance Minister from 2002 to 2006 — that is, he was first appointed by the late Yasser Arafat under, briefly, the first Palestinian Authority (or PA) Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, until Abbas resigned in 2003. (The major international donors had insisted that Arafat appoint a Prime Minister as part of “reform” measures, and Abbas was replaced after his resignation by Ahmad Qureia — who was not elected to the Fatah Central Committee in 2009.)

Fayyad continued to serve as Finance Minister after Arafat’s death from an unknown illness or poisoning, as many Palestinians believe. Fayyad also continued to serve for a year after Mahmoud Abbas was formally elected PA President in 2005 to succeed Arafat.

In January 2006 elections for the PA Parliament (the Palestine Legislative Council, or PLC), Hamas won a surprise-victory. Fatah did not serve in the first cabinet led by PM Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

Fayyad was then reappointed Finance Minister in March 2007, in the short-lived (three-month) National Unity Government that resulted from Saudi mediation between Fatah and Hamas.

Then, in the immediate aftermath of the mid-June 2007 Hamas rout of Fatah/PA Preventive security, Abbas immediately dissolved the National Unity government by Presidential decree and named Fayyad Prime Minister in a new and Hamas-free Emergency Government — which apparently is the reason Hamas has said, at least in the past, it would not deal with Fayyad.

Points to consider:
It is interesting to remember how, in the 2009 Fatah General Conference in Bethlehem, there was a near-mutiny over non-Fatah Fayyad. Carefully-selected delegates nonetheless complained about large posters decorating the meeting hall, with slogans about the future that everybody knew were attributable to Fayyad.

But, this Fatah General Conference — the first in 18 years — saw the absolute ascendence of Mahmoud Abbas, formally consolidating his control over the three reins of power formerly held by Arafat and subsequently informally held by Abbas himself: the leadership of Fatah, the largest Palestinian political movement, as well as the leadership of the PA and of the PLO.

And Abbas — and, importantly, his political operatives — wanted to keep close to him, and in positions of power, both Fayyad and Yasser Abed Rabbo (ex-DFLP official), despite the restive grumbling of his Fatah constituency.

There were rumors that Abbas was going to move to make both Fayyad and Abed Rabbo “honorary” members of Fatah, so they could be elected to the all-important Fatah Central Committee, although that did not happen — perhaps due to adamant opposition and concern over how such an unseemly action would go down with long-standing and loyal Fatah cadres who had waited for years for higher positions. [Abbas did name Abed Rabbo to the prominent post of General Secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, however…]

(B) Now Fatah want to keep Fayyad either (1) to ensure flow of donor funds which means continued salary payments to at least 180,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza [on which, if dependent family members are taken into account, maybe 500,000 Palestinians live] or (2) to block a unity government [the formation of which was supposed to have been announced days or weeks ago]. Or, more likely, both.

(C) This development shows that Fatah’s contempt for Hamas knows no limits. Fatah is counting on Hamas’ unchanged unwillingness to cede power. [Will Hamas now surprise us???] The U.S. has increasing made clear its opposition to Hamas-as-it-is, in the weeks since the announcement (and then signature in Cairo) of a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation … U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, in a joint appearance in Washington with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, that the U.S. could not accept any participation of Hamas, even in a new government that would be called purely “technocratic”.

(D) Most cynically of all, this report indicates that the PA + Fatah have calculated that thepoor showing at recent non-violent demos called by Manara Youth (May15 + June5) means there’s no need to worry, there is no mass popular support for unity. Because, it has to be said: the PA + Fatah did their best to undermine the actions and demands of the Manara Youth. These demands are, or were: unity, an end to mutual incitement in PA and Hamas official media, the freeing of all political prisoners held by both the PA and Hamas — and elections, for the first time, among all Palestinians everywhere, to the overall PLO’s Palestine National Council, or PNC (which is, after all, the body which endorsed Arafat’s Declaration of a Palestinian State in Algiers in 1988, though even the Manara Youth have misgivings about imminent statehood, because they fear what kind of state it will be).

UPDATE: In a possibly- (even probably-) related move, the Fatah Central Committee reportedly decided, in its meeting on Saturday night, to kick Mohamed Dahlan out of the Central Committee post to which he was elected in 2009, , and from Fatah altogether and to refer him for criminal prosecution on charges of corruption and even murder. IMEMC reported this morning that, according to a report published in Arabic on the Arabs48 website [based in the Galilee area of Israel] “a confidential source within the Fateh movement of president Mahmoud Abbas, reported on Saturday at night that Fateh leader Mohammad Dahlan, was expelled from his positions at the movement, and will be facing criminal charges”. According to the IMEMC account of the Arabs48 report, “the investigation committee submitted its report and recommendations after interrogating Dahlan … The committee still intends to interrogate other Fateh figures connected to Dahlan’s file, and will likely interrogated several leaders and figures of the movement. The Arabs48 said that before the Central Committee held its meeting on Saturday, Dahlan sent a letter to its members accusing President Mahmoud Abbas of financial and administrative corruption, and stated that he is facing an arbitrary campaign targeting his name and reputation because he criticized the conducts [sic] of the sons of Abbas”. This account is published here. FURTHER UPDATE: Maan News Agency has reported later Sunday here that Fatah official Jamal Mheisen denied that the decision to kick Dahlan out of Fatah had been taken. Mheisen “told Ma’an Radio that the Central Committee had discussed the results of an investigation into the former Fatah leader. He said, however, that no final decision had been made, adding that the party would follow regular legal procedures”. NEW UPDATE: On Sunday night, the Fatah Central Committee issued a statement announcing Dahlan’s ouster… LATEST UPDATE: On Monday morning, AFP reported that “The decision must now be approved by a two-thirds majority of Fatah’s revolutionary council”. Hmmmm… not sure how that will turn out, but just guessing it will probably agree. Yet, Maan reported from Bethlehem on Sunday night here that “Central Committee member Mahmoud Al-Alul said ‘the central committee has the right to dismiss any of its members without [handing the issue down] to the revolutionary council’, he said commenting on internal party procedure”. This Maan report noted discontent in Gaza, apparently not necessarily because of any lingering support for Dahlan but because they feel they, in Gaza, are not being respected: “a number of the Gaza members of the party’s second highest governing body the Revolutionary Council told Ma’an that [the situation was ‘unbearable’] ‘not only because of the Dahlan issue, but because the Central Committee has been marginalizing and ignoring the Gaza Strip’. One member accused the Central Committee of ‘working to serve themselves and their interests’…”

UPDATE TWO: Robert Fisk in The Independent has an account, here, based on his interview with Palestinian billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri, of how the reconciliation agreement came about. Fisk wrote that “A series of detailed letters, accepted by all sides, of which The Independent has copies, show just how complex the negotiations were; Hamas also sought – and received – the support of Syrian President Bachar al-Assad, the country’s vice president Farouk al-Sharaa and its foreign minister, Walid Moallem. Among the results was an agreement by Meshaal to end Hamas rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza – since resistance would be the right only of the state – and agreement that a future Palestinian state be based on Israel’s 1967 borders”.

Fisk added that “It was Masri who helped to set up a ‘Palestinian Forum’ of independents after the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas originally split after Hamas won an extraordinary election victory in 2006. ‘I thought the divisions that had opened up could be a catastrophe and we went for four years back and forth between the various parties’, Masri said. ‘Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) asked me several times to mediate … In three years, members of the Palestinian Forum made more than 12 trips to Damascus, Cairo, Gaza and Europe and a lot of initiatives were rejected. Masri and his colleagues dealt directly with Hamas’ Prime Minister Hanniyeh in Gaza. They took up the so-called ‘prisoner swap initiative’ of Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah leader in an Israeli jail; then in the winds of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the youth of Palestine on 15 March demanded unity and an end to the rivalry of Fatah and Hamas. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had always refused to talk to Abbas on the grounds that the Palestinians were not united. On the 16th, he [Abbas] made a speech saying that he was ‘thinking of going to Gaza’ … [Masri said] ‘We wrote a document – we said we would go to see the Egyptians, to congratulate them upon their revolution. So we had two meetings with the Egyptian head of intelligence, Khaled Orabi – Orabi’s father was an army general at the time of King Farouk – and we met Mohamed Ibrahim, an officer in the intelligence department’. Ibrahim’s father had won renown in the 1973 war when he captured the highest ranking Israeli officer in Sinai. The delegation also met Ibrahim’s deputies, Nadr Aser and Yassir Azawi”.

The Fisk article continued: “Seven people from each part of Palestine were to represent the team in Cairo. These are the names which will be in future Palestinian history books. From the West Bank, came Dr Hanna Nasser (head of Bir Zeit University and of the Palestinian central election committee); Dr Mamdouh Aker (the head of the human rights society); Mahdi Abdul-Hadi (chairman of a political society in Jerusalem); Hanni Masri (a political analyst); Iyad Masrouji (businessman in pharmacuticals); Hazem Quasmeh (runs an NGO) and Munib Masri himself. The Gaza ‘side’ were represented by Eyad Sarraj (who in the event could not go to Cairo because he was ill); Maamoun Abu Shahla (member of the board of Palestine Bank); Faysal Shawa (businessman and landowner); Mohsen Abu Ramadan (writer); Rajah Sourani (head of Arab human rights, who did not go to Cairo); ‘Abu Hassan’ (Islamic Jihad member who was sent by Sarraj); and Sharhabil Al-Zaim (a Gaza lawyer). These men spent time with the top brass of the Egyptian ‘mukhabarat’ intelligence service’, Masri recalls. ‘We met them on 10 April but we sent a document before we arrived in Cairo. This is what made it important. In Gaza, there were two different ‘sides’. So we talked about the micro-situation, about Gazans in the ‘jail’ of Gaza, we talked about human rights, the Egyptian blockade, about dignity. Shawa was saying ‘we feel we do not have dignity – and we feel it’s your fault.’ Nadr Asr of the intelligence department said: ‘We’re going to change all that’ … [After another series of meetings with Orabi, and then the new Egyptian FM Nabil al-Arabi then the Arab Leauge] The team went to the West Bank to report – “we were happy, we never had this feeling before” – and tell Azzam Ahmed (Fatah’s head of reconciliation) that they intended to support Mahmoud Abbas’s initiative over Gaza“.

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