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Palestinian Prime Minister Resigns

Because things weren’t hard enough already for John Kerry.

Salam Fayyad, the embattled Palestinian prime minister, has finally thrown in the towel after serving since 2007. For all his appeal to Western eyes and skill rustling up international support, he is despised by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (as well as by the rogues’ gallery of Hamas in Gaza, although their opinion is less directly relevant). Fayyad has been struggling to build credible Palestinian institutions essentially on his own all these years, without any politically powerful Palestinian allies. It’s a wonder it took him this long to realize the futility of his efforts.

This development is deeply awkward for Obama and Kerry, who have decided — hark, the familiar refrain — that a magical key to Israeli-Palestinian peace and harmony actually exists somewhere and can be located with the help of good old American gumption. While Fayyad was not directly involved in negotiations with Israel, his image — ex-IMF economist, US-educated, anti-corruption, distinguished, articulate — made the dubious narrative of the “peace process” much easier to sell, since Abbas — the purported “man we can talk to” — has long since lost any credibility. But Fayyad’s popularity abroad, significant as it was, was peanuts compared with the hatred he provoked at home, and he was never likely to win a final showdown with Abbas. Over at Haaretz, Barak Ravid goes into some detail on that relationship and its consequences:

Abbas and the Fatah party’s old guard that surround him saw Fayyad as a political rival who needed to be eliminated.

Fayyad’s resignation is another sign of the PA’s internal disintegration and the deep political crisis it is struggling with. In order to survive, Abbas imposed a semi-autocratic regime in the West Bank styled after that of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Journalists and bloggers are sent to prison, demonstrations and criticism are suppressed with an iron fist and the government doesn’t function while the ruler travels the globe.

The PA president looked on with jealousy as Fayyad gained popularity not only in Washington and Brussels but also in the West Bank. Senior Fatah party members saw Fayyad as an obstacle toward their political and economic ambitions. The Palestinian prime minister refused to transfer funds to them or to appoint them as ministers.

The financial crisis that struck the PA fell like ripe fruit into the hands of Abbas and the Fatah bigwigs. They decided to direct the public anger over the rising cost of living and high unemployment towards Fayyad and his government.

The conflict between Abbas and Fayyad grew following the latter’s objection to Abbas’ decision to unilaterally declare Palestinian independence at the United National General Assembly. Fayyad thought it was merely a symbolic step without real benefit and warned of the damage it would cause the PA as a result of Israeli sanctions. Fayyad was right. Israel responded by stopping the transfer of the PA tax revenues deepening the West Bank’s economic crisis and almost bringing it to a state of insolvency.

Abbas is no doubt feeling a warm glow of satisfaction over the political demise of his enemy, but he’d be well advised not to break out the champagne just yet. As Ravid notes, Fayyad’s departure is likely to increase the hesitation among foreign donors to open their checkbooks, which will only deepen the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis. It’s certainly not going to encourage the Israelis to be any more forthcoming either, financially or in any other way. And the worse the Palestinian economy gets, the likelier it becomes that the people will unleash their frustrations in the time-honored way. With the West Bank Palestinians descending into violence, particularly violence that spills over into Israel, the odds of a brokered peace — which were never very good anyway — disappear completely.