Salam Fayyad in front of portraits of Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. (Loay Abu Haykel / Courtesy Reuters)
When Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned last Saturday, fed up with political attacks from President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, a number of observers worried that it marked “the beginning of the end of the PA.” Western governments viewed Fayyad as indispensible, the only uncorrupted figure both aligned with Western interests and sufficiently independent of Fatah to check its unelected rule in the West Bank.
Although Fayyad was unpopular -- his party received just 2.4 percent of the vote in the 2006 legislative election -- he was a capable technocrat, successfully administering the scattered municipalities of the West Bank. He spoke a common tongue with international donors, having formerly served as the International Monetary Fund’s representative to the PA, and was valued in Washington primarily because of his reputation for transparency, his efforts at reforming the PA security forces, and his close cooperation with Israel. The vocal support Fayyad received from Israel and the United States was enough to discredit him among Palestinians -- a dilemma familiar to Abbas as well.
Like Fayyad, Abbas was once an unelected prime minister brought into office with U.S. backing but with little street credibility or public support. He was the first appointee to the newly created position of prime minister, created under pressure from Washington in the hope of weakening PA President Yasser Arafat. Abbas’ testy relationship with Arafat is strikingly similar to Fayyad’s recent conflict with Abbas. Abbas clashed with the distrustful president and Fatah party, which mobilized protests against him and branded him a puppet of Israel and the United States -- ultimately forcing him to resign the post. In leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, Abbas professed shortly after quitting that it should be a compliment to be called a Palestinian Karzai, referring to the Afghan president. Fayyad displayed a similarly keen sense for what U.S. officials might like to hear, proclaiming