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04/15/2013

Fayyad's exit leaves Palestinian future in limbo

Fayyad resignation blog
Salam Fayad (L) stands alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as Abbas swears in the new government in June 2007 in the West Bank city of Ramallah.  (David Silverman/Getty Images)

Who killed Salam Fayyad?

For Fayyad, read “Fayyadism.” The departing Palestinian Authority Prime Minister is very much alive. But the economic and political development concept he created, with the backing and urging of the West, is now an ex-policy, as deceased as the Monty Python parrot.

Fayyad, economic mastermind and PM of the authority that controls the West Bank, quit in disgust on Saturday, to an echo-chamber of Western laments, including that of Foreign Minister John Baird, who was “saddened and deeply disappointed” to learn of his departure.

And he added, “Mr. Fayyad was a trusted and dedicated interlocutor and friend of Canada.”

The former IMF economist resigned after a long-running power struggle with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

But even as Baird met with Fayyad during his recent Mideast trip, Ottawa was pondering a cut-off of aid to the Palestinian Authority -- a shift that began during Fayyad’s term and was sparked by Abbas’s decision to upgrade Palestine’s UN status to non-member observer state.

Canada isn’t unique in its lacklustre support for Fayyad, who has been vociferously praised by Western leaders as a man they can do business with. Non-confrontational and pragmatic, he was charged with tackling the endemic corruption of the PA, and preparing the Palestinian Territories for the kind of peaceful and (relatively) prosperous state Israelis could live alongside without fear.

Some Western pundits have blamed Fayyad’s departure on Abbas’s refusal to clean house, and on the PA leader's move toward statehood without prior negotiation with Israel.

But New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who talked with Fayyad in February, described it differently.

“The most progressive and innovative Palestinian thinker on a Middle East peace settlement has been steadily isolated over the past several years,” Cohen wrote. “Undercut by Israel, undermined by his own people’s factionalism, unable to meet even once with President Obama, this dynamic Palestinian leader is now close to the end of his rope.” Obama did meet with Fayyad last month, but too late to prevent his resignation.

Thanks to Fayyad, Cohen points out, Israel enjoyed one of its calmest periods. In spite of the expansion of settlements, not one Israeli was killed by a Palestinian in 2012.

Nevertheless, since the UN upgrade, when Washington cut off  funding and  Palestinian tax and tariff money was withheld by Israel, Fayyad’s administration was broke. Striking public workers went to the streets, and widespread discontent is roiling. The two countries promised to unblock the funds last month, but not in time to restore public confidence in Fayyad. 

Score one for Fayyad’s domestic enemies -- including Hamas, which blames him for making Palestine safe for occupation. But where were his friends in need?

Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights in the former Soviet Union, South Asia and the Middle East. She has collaborated on several documentary films, including Hamas: Behind the Mask.


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