Middle East

Is Prime Minister Fayad Plotting to Replace Abbas?

Palestinians shout slogans and wave their national flag as they attend a rally commemorating the fifth anniversary of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Nov. 11. (Photo: Marco Longari/ AFP-Getty Images)

The Palestinian Authority (PA) was set up on July 5, 1994, as a five-year interim body, during which final negotiations for a two-state solution were to take place, but never did. Yasser Arafat became the first president of the PA. Arafat's rule was validated by an election in January 1996, but future elections were suspended.

Arafat remained president until his death on November 11, 2004, at which point Palestinian House Speaker Rauhi Fattouh assumed most of Arafat's duties and became interim president, although he never formally assumed the title.

New elections were held in January 2005 and won by Mahmoud Abbas. Elected to serve until January 9, 2009, he unilaterally extended his term for another year.

Abbas lost the parliamentary elections to Hamas in January 2006. The Fatah party lost its majority in the Palestinian parliament to Hamas as well.

Hamas' avowed intention of destroying the state of Israel quickly dried up the flow of international aid. Aid would be continued, the international community stipulated, if Hamas met three requirements: recognition of the state of Israel, a rejection of violence, and compliance with Fatah.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, Abbas brokered a power-sharing deal in 2007 that invested Haniyeh as PA prime minister. However, peace was short lived and in June 2007 Hamas took Gaza, ousting Fatah members.

As a consequence, on June 18, 2007, Abbas decreed that Hamas was an outlawed party and replaced Haniyeh with Fayad as prime minister. Fayad's appointment runs counter to Palestinian basic law, but was seen as a necessary measure considering the exigencies of Palestinian politics and the international situation.

On November 11, 2009, Fatah officials in the West Bank accused Prime Minister Salaam Fayad (reappointed in May 2009) of quietly staging a "bloodless coup" against President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, Azzam al-Ahmed, a prominent Fatah figure closely associated with Abbas, declared that Fatah had never recognized Israel's right to exist and would never do so.

Its main goal, as stated in Article 12 of the official Fatah constitution, is the "complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence."

Fatah is generally considered to have had a strong involvement in revolutionary struggle in the past and has maintained a number of militant/terrorist groups, though, unlike its rival Islamist faction Hamas, Fatah is not currently regarded as a terrorist organization by any government.

Fatah officials have said that Fayad was seeking to replace Abbas, with the help of the U.S. and some E.U. and Arab countries. The allegations were made during a series of meetings of Fatah representatives in Ramallah over the past few days. Fatah's Central Committee and Revolutionary Council, the faction's two most significant bodies, have been holding daily meetings since November 5, when Abbas announced that he had "no desire" to run again for president. On Sunday night, November 8, members of the Revolutionary Council held a stormy and tense meeting in Ramallah, where some members launched a scathing attack on Fayad and accused him of paving the way for a "bloodless coup" against Abbas.

The London-based Palestinian daily Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that several Fatah representatives had also criticized Fayad's latest plan for establishing a state within two years, because he had not consulted with them about it in advance. One senior Fatah official was quoted as saying that Fayad's plan appeared to be linked to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's "economic peace" initiative.

The official said that the Revolutionary Council considered Abbas to be the only and most suitable candidate to run in the presidential election, slated for January 24, 2010, although, according to the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), 60.7 percent of Palestinians recently polled believe that the economic situation in the West Bank has improved under the government of Fayad, and 61.9 percent of the respondents said that the economic situation in Gaza Strip under the government of Haniyyah has deteriorated.

Only 39.5 percent of the Palestinians polled said they would vote for Abbas as candidate for the PA presidency, yet 52.1 percent also said they would vote for Abbas if he ran as the Fatah candidate.

While only 14.5 percent of those polled said they would vote for Haniyyeh as the Hamas candidate, 32.3 percent said they wouldn't participate in the election at all.

Almost 60 percent of the Palestinians polled believe that Fatah has a better chance of winning against Hamas, while 32.8 percent believe the opposite.

Even if Abbas does not run in the next presidential elections, the elected president will still be answerable to him as chairman of the PLO and head of its executive committee. He also keeps his job as president of Fatah.

Reports that President Obama may have given Fayad the green light to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state have sent shock waves across Israel, and one can only speculate what will happen next.

Mr. Elias Kukali, a staff member of the Research and Studies' Section at the PCPO, said that all interviews of this survey were conducted inside the respondents' homes, i.e., face-to-face during different working hours, at least five hours a day, including the evening time, in order to ensure proper presentation of those sub-groups of the population that would otherwise be difficult to reach and selecting one individual in each household using the Last Birthday Method. The choices were taken from a total of 156 election sites, from which 116 are located in the West Bank and 40 sites in Gaza Strip.

Ms. Teri Schure is the founder of Worldpress.org, lectures on issues pertaining to publishing, and is a consultant in the magazine, web development and marketing industries.

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