Oleg Popov / Reuters Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad attend a swearing-in ceremony for the emergency cabinet in Ramallah, June 2007.

An Unholy Alliance

Abbas' Rivals Unite Against Him

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to name a successor, hold elections, or reform the PA’s corrupt institutions is pushing his rivals to unite against him. The staunchest of enemies—from members of Hamas to former members of the PA, including the Western-educated reformer Salam Fayyad and the exiled Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan—have found common ground in their quest to dethrone the aging Palestinian leader.

Abbas’ politics of exclusion has driven his rivals together. He has refused to name a deputy and continues to forestall any attempts at political reform in the West Bank. His Fatah party is meant to hold a conference once every five years to elect new leadership, yet it has been six years since the last conference, and Abbas continues to postpone the next one. Meanwhile, he persists in attacking dissidents in the West Bank, arresting journalists and citizens for critical articles and Facebook posts.

The newfound alliance between Hamas and Fayyad was evident in early December, when Fayyad made a surprise visit to the Gaza Strip, where he urged political reform. As prime minister of the Fatah-dominated PA from 2007 to 2013, Fayyad instituted policies of moderation, reform, and pragmatism that earned him few friends in Gaza, where Hamas members accused him of enacting vindictive policies. When the two parties signed a unity agreement in 2011, one of Hamas’ demands was that Fayyad resign. When he finally did resign in 2013, Hamas officials cheered. Some of the bad blood remains: his recent speech evoked a visceral reaction from some Hamas officials, who protested his visit.

Abbas’ politics of exclusion has driven his rivals together.

As Abbas has grown more and more closed off, however, Fayyad’s relationship with Hamas has improved. Fayyad fell out with Abbas in 2013 over Abbas’ controversial campaign to seek recognition for Palestine at the United Nations. According to reports, Fayyad’s disagreement with the campaign, which he saw as a diplomatic distraction that would only threaten donor aid to the PA, was so vehement thought Fayyad’s political career was over. But he soon launched a grass-roots-focused NGO in the West Bank, began funding local start-up projects, and started changing his tone on Hamas. In October 2014, he called for the creation of an umbrella political organization that would include “all PLO factions and those not affiliated with it,” a clear fig leaf to Hamas. He went further in March, when he explicitly urged that the Islamist movements be included in such a body. As Fayyad wrote, these parties would be “assured of genuine partnership in the Palestinians’ pursuit of their national aspirations. 

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