In their quest to form a unity government, the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have apparently shoved aside Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a move that analysts believe may doom their planned new enterprise.
“It would be very difficult without him,” said Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center. “I think [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas will have to take some steps back from this.”
News that Fayyad would not be part of the new unity government came from Azzam al-Ahmad, the Fatah representative who negotiated the unity deal with Hamas. Some analysts suggested that Hamas, which has long detested Fayyad, insisted on his removal as a condition of the unity deal. Abbas, who is head of Fatah and is said to have privately complained that Fayyad was overshadowing him, then readily agreed.
“Fayyad is not a member of Fatah and many see him as imposed from the outside — as a Western implant,” Spyer said. “That is the reason Hamas has not liked him. He is everything they are not — Western, secular and one who practices constructive politics. Even within Fatah there were strong elements that virulently oppose him.”
The reason for Fayyad’s popularity in the West is that he is an internationally respected economist and politician who won praise for the economic reforms he introduced to the Palestinian Authority. Those moves were to assure the West that aid money they gave was not going into someone’s pocket. Before he was brought in, Fayyad had worked at the World Bank in Washington and represented the Palestinians before the International Monetary Fund. He joined the PA’s leadership team as finance minister in 2002, vowing to end corruption. It is believed that the late Palestinian President Yasir Arafat stole up to $3 billion in aid money from the West before he died in 2004.
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said he too believes it is too early to write off Fayyad because without him there may be no Western aid.
“Fayyad cannot be pushed out that quickly,” he said. “There is no economy or foreign aid from the U.S. and Europe without Fayyad, and they will realize that tomorrow. … The Palestinian economy rests on foreign aid.”
Fayyad has spent much of the last two years working to bring Palestinian institutions in the West Bank up to international standards for good government — actions just endorsed by both the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.
Earlier this month, Fayyad flew to Brussels to brief Western representatives about Palestinian plans for statehood and the need for $5 billion over three years to make that happen. That request was to be formally made at a pledging conference of Western nations in June.
A senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, said the new government would not be entering into peace talks with Israel, although Abbas was later quoted as saying he could still conduct peace negotiations. Zahar reportedly said also that the new unity government would not recognize Israel.
Hamas, which is viewed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe, and Fatah are scheduled to formally sign their unity agreement Wednesday. It reportedly calls for the creation of a joint cabinet to be filled by independent technocrats, rather than movement activists. They are to then start preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in about eight months.
Rep. Nita Lowey of Westchester, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House foreign aid subcommittee, issued a statement warning that U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority is predicated on its pursuit of peace with Israel. She said a “unity government with Hamas would put U.S. assistance and support at risk based on restrictions I authored ….”
Shmuel Sandler, a professor at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, expressed doubts that Hamas and Fatah will truly be able to work out their differences.
“Hamas and Fatah agreements are only on paper and are not genuine,” he said, adding that the unity agreement initialed this week is “only tactical” because of the unrest in Syria, Hamas’ patron.
Sandler said the unity move might also have been to help the Palestinians convince the United Nations General Assembly in September that they were ready to be recognized a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Martin Raffel, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said he believes the unity deal “complicates” the Palestinian effort for recognition.
“If a terrorist organization is part of the Palestinian governance structure, recognition will be harder for many nations — particularly the European Union countries.”
David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy was cautious in discussing the unity deal because few details have been released and the announcement caught almost everyone by surprise.
“So long as Hamas is in the government, it will not win American or Israeli support,” he said. “That is why this move has made peace more distant. It suggests to me that the Israeli-Palestinian issue has become a casualty of the Arab spring. … Maybe the whole thing will fall through. We have to see what the fine print is.”
“At first blush it appears this could have been driven by the fact that each side has lost a patron,” he said, referring to besieged Syrian President Bashar Assad’s support for Hamas and ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s support for Abbas.
Raffel noted that Mubarak “had a very clear policy to isolate Hamas internationally. But [now that] the political winds in Egypt have changed, the Muslim Brotherhood is clearly gaining added authority and Hamas is basically the Palestinian arm of the Brotherhood. All of these changes have put additional pressure on the Fatah leadership to find a way to bring Hamas into the government.”
The unity accord also comes at a time when the Palestinian Authority has been trying to convince the Obama administration to play a more prominent role in brokering a peace accord with Israel, Makovsky said. And it comes just weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to address a joint session of Congress.
“This will now be a much easier trip to Washington” for Netanyahu, Makovsky said. “Abbas has basically paved his trip.”
Steinberg said he would expect Netanyahu to “restate the Israeli position, talk of the chaos in the Arab world and not go much beyond that” in his address to Congress.
“He might also ask how one can ask Israel to take unprecedented risks [for peace] when nobody can tell you the future of Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and maybe even Saudi Arabia,” Steinberg said. “And he might also say that we don’t know if Abbas and the Palestinian Authority will even be in control of the West Bank in six months.”
There is much speculation over whether Hamas or Fatah will have the upper hand in the unity government. Pending release of the agreement, Raffel said that although Fatah is weaker the “economic and security progress in the West Bank in the last few years under Fayyad’s leadership has really strengthened the hand of Fatah.”
“You see life improving for residents of the West Bank and not improving in [Hamas-controlled] Gaza, and that has an impact on the Palestinian street,” he noted. “So Fatah may not be as weak as it was.”