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Israeli Occupation Brings Down Fayyad

Daoud Kuttab reviews the outgoing Palestinian prime minister, highlighting that despite his best intentions, Salam Fayyad failed to produce a change without an end to the occupation.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad stands on a ladder as he picks olives with villagers during harvest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah October 31, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS AGRICULTURE) - RTR2TGGD

The outgoing Palestinian prime minister was a unique Palestinian who fought hard against many odds, but in the end was unable to carry the mantle alone and without accommodations from Israel, the US or fellow Arab countries.

What is unique about Salam Fayyad is that he combined true patriotic national service without being tainted by the usual negative side of politics and the corruption that is often associated with a high-ranking position.

Fayyad served with distinction the post of prime minister of a country whose borders are outside his government’s reach with no control over the movement of people and goods within or outside the areas that were under his control. He was a Palestinian patriot without leaving any opening for Israel and its supporters to attack him. He worked tirelessly to establish the foundation of a Palestinian state while being unable to control the politics of the Israeli occupier and the whims of their leaders and US supporters.

If anyone could have imagined what the perfect prime minister should be, Salam Fayyad would have fit that description. He rarely stayed in his office, joining his people in everything from picking olives to protesting the wall. He tried his best to help Palestinians besieged in Gaza or outside his authority in Jerusalem. Anyone who accompanied Fayyad to the hundreds of activities he participated in throughout Palestine noticed a man who empathized with his people. He would stop and chat with the doorman or the secretary with the same interest as he would have for a visiting head of state.

Fayyad introduced legal reform, proper systems of governance and the rule of law. His professionalism was evident to anyone who met him. I remember attending the Gaza reconstruction conference in Sharm el-Sheikh and noticed the awe that foreign leaders expressed because of the professionalism of his presentations. Fayyad did everything that was needed to establish the foundation of a Palestinian state. The problem was that while he was able to deliver the funds and the personnel to do the job, he needed political help which he never received.

His biggest enemies, as are the enemies of all Palestinians, were the Israeli occupiers whose policies, despite public rhetoric to the opposite, are to perpetuate the occupation indefinitely. He ran into one road block — physically and metaphorically — after another. While Europe made valiant efforts to support Palestine, the US did little to press Israel or to really help Fayyad overcome his challenges.

The resigning Palestinian leader’s enemies were also Arab leaders whose promises to financially help the Palestinians when they challenged the Israelis politically (in the UN and other institutions) never materialized, leaving him exposed to attacks from public servant unions whose agendas were often not in sync with the Palestinian leadership.

In addition to Israel, the US and certain Arab leaders, Fayyad’s biggest challenges were the political vultures, especially from Fatah who were iced by the non-Fatah prime minister. With Fayyad’s professionalism, it was clear that cronyism would suffer. I remember when Fayyad was finance minister and insisted that all security personnel get paid through direct bank deposits. Security leaders who were used to personally paying — and sometimes taking a portion of the pay — their personnel went nuts. It turned out later that the lists submitted by these officials included names of officers who were either deceased or outside the country.

The split between Fatah and Hamas and between the West Bank and Gaza didn’t help much. Fayyad’s government continued to pay thousands of Gaza residents who were not working, while unable to carry out any work or collect any taxes in the Gaza Strip. While the split hurt Fayyad, the long delays in reconciliation actually gave Fayyad’s leadership some extra time.

Perhaps the largest challenge facing Fayyad was the union of local public service employees. As long as they were paid, Fayyad was able to placate them, but once salaries were late, they found in Fayyad a perfect scapegoat. The union headed by a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council became the Fatah spearhead to bringing down Fayyad and his professional style. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is the leader of Fatah, tried to shield Fayyad and defended him many times, but was unable to continuously go against his own grassroots leaders even though he probably knew that they were not always correct.

Fayyad, however, was no saint. He was smart, but also shrewd. He maneuvered himself rather well and tried a few too many times to avoid making the political connection or paying the political price. He counted too much on Abbas to defend him and more than once failed in the eyes of the many Western countries that rooted for him, especially the Americans.

The arrogance coupled with the naivete of the Americans perhaps was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Obama’s public support for Fayyad was a two-edged sword and no doubt gave him a few extra weeks, but Kerry's public statement in defense of Fayyad was perhaps the kiss of death. 

In the last hours before Fayyad insisted on resigning, Abbas and others made a last ditch effort to convince Fayyad not to step down. He had submitted his resignation to Abbas back in late February and had been waiting for the Palestinian president to accept it and relieve him of this tremendous responsibility. When the American statement in London was made, Fayyad, whose ears had always been close to the ground, knew exactly what it meant. If he stayed he would have been seen as an American stooge. His last statement summed it up: “No power on earth would convince me to withdraw my resignation,” he said before the short meeting he had with Abbas.

Salam Fayyad tried his best to build a state while Israeli soldiers and the system of occupation and colonization showed no sign of retreat. He, more than anyone else, has proved the folly of an economic peace or a benevolent occupation. He was constantly attacked as a stooge of the West and Israel, but he was not. In the end, however, it will be history that will ultimately judge.

Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. He tweets @daoudkuttab.

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