Palestine Pulse

Former PM returns to the spotlight in Palestine

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Article Summary
With no details revealed about a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Palestinians filled the void with speculation and hopes posted to social media that Fayyad might one day head a unity government.

After the United States vetoed Salam Fayyad's appointment to be UN envoy to Libya in 2017, the former Palestinian prime minister accepted an academic appointment at Princeton University. Fayyad is currently spending his summer vacation back home in Palestine after his first year as a professor at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

While recently attending a social event on the West Bank, a friend asked Fayyad if he wouldn’t mind meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his stay. Fayyad told the mutual friend that he had no objections to doing so. Within days, a meeting had been scheduled.

On June 28, Fayyad arrived for a meeting with Abbas. Also in attendance were Majid Farraj, head of the Palestinian intelligence service, and Hussein Sheikh, minister of civil affairs, a position that coordinates activities with Israel.

Fayyad declined to divulge details to Al-Monitor about the content of the meeting, simply describing it as “pleasant and positive” and dealing with current issues, most important, “the situation in Gaza and national unity.” In contrast with Fayyad’s silence, however, media coverage, mostly online and on social media, buzzed, full of speculation and hope.

The London-based As-Sharq al-Awsat claimed July 2 that Abbas is soon to appoint Fayyad “prime minister of a government that includes a Gazan from Hamas as a way of circumventing Washington’s Ultimate Deal.”

Mohammad Younis, a respected reporter for the London-based Al-Hayat, on July 1 quoted Palestinian officials as saying that it is “too early to speculate” about a new government headed by Fayyad, but mentioned the reciprocal warmth between Abbas and Fayyad. Since Fayyad’s resignation in 2013, the relationship between the two had been considered rather cold.

The reporting on the Abbas-Fayyad meeting by regional Arab media was in sharp contrast with the deafening silence from the main Palestinian outlets. WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, said nothing, and the same went for the independent Ma'an News Agency and the Palestine News Network. Their silence is probably due to the lack of any signs from the Ramallah leadership.

Whatever the official and semi-official Palestinian media failed to cover, social media brimmed with comments and discussions, producing a near avalanche of positive reflections certain to put pressure on Abbas to take action.

Azmi Awad, a university professor, wrote on Facebook that Fayyad is a national icon “whose national accomplishments are well known.” Hasan al-Wali, a Gazan, posted to Facebook, “We hope for success for the meeting between President Abbas and Salam Fayyad for the good it can bring to our nation.”

Osama Mansour Abu-Arab expressed his feelings about Fayyad on Facebook, stating, “Whether you are a prime minister or a citizen, whether you are hated or not, I will always retain my love and respect for you.” Thaer Hussam, however, was skeptical about the possibility of a Fayyad return. “I don’t think so at all, because he doesn’t like Hamas and Hamas doesn’t like him,” Hussam wrote.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Yousef, a Hamas leader, was quoted on the Gaza-based Donia Watan news website as calling Fayyad a “worthy” person to set up a national unity government. “He has a national vision for salvation and the end of the division within a political partnership and national reconciliation,” Yousef was quoted as saying.

Anees Sweidan, director of the Palestine Liberation Organization's International Relations Department, told Al-Monitor that the meeting with Fayyad has created a sense of comfort among many. He explained, “People still remember vividly his many accomplishments when he was in power and appreciate him and feel good about the possibility of his return.”

Sweidan recalled some of Fayyad's notable accomplishments, stating, “Those who are comfortable with him remember that he stopped paying military salaries using lists and made sure everyone got their salaries by bank transfer, thus removing the use of salaries as means of pressure against them.” Sweidan said Fayyad is also popular because he had an open-door policy and worked hard to identify sources of funding for the government, such as improving tax collection and curtailing unnecessary spending.

Talal Abu Afifeh, head of the Jerusalem Intellectual Forum, told Al-Monitor how he thinks a Fayyad return to power would play out, saying, “I am certain that he will be a unifier and will be able to bring support and consensus locally, regionally and internationally.”

Fayyad insists in private meetings with friends and colleagues, as well as to Al-Monitor, that he is returning to Princeton in the fall to continue his teaching career. He also underlines, however, his concern and passion for change in a positive direction for the Palestinians, including an inclusive government that gives hope to people under a unified leadership incorporating all the factions. He stressed the need for the suffering in Gaza to receive a high level of attention.

It is not clear whether Fayyad’s meeting with Abbas will eventually translate into a political appointment or even his return as the head of a Palestinian unity government. The desperation of Palestinians and the need for a savior to relieve them of the troubles that have isolated their leadership have been highlighted visibly and popularly by the discussion of a possible return of what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in 2013 dubbed “Fayyadism.” Since then, things have gotten worse internally and externally. Palestinians are now, for the moment, clinging to the possibility that Fayyad can bring back hope.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and is currently director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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