News reports have lately revealed that a power-sharing conflict between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas and his Western-backed Prime Minister Salam Faya’d is developing behind the scenes.
After forming a caretaker government, which has been in place since Hamas took control of Gaza in June, Faya’d developed an agenda different from that of ‘Abbas and Fatah.
According to Tala Okal, a prominent political analyst based in Gaza, Faya’d wants to exploit the current situation in order to build a new party ahead of the next elections.
Fearing that such a new party would outpoll Fatah in the next elections, P.A. officials have warned ‘Abbas about Faya’d’s growing power and popularity, especially after restoring stability to the city of Nablus and securing more financial aid from donor countries.
Deciding that talks with Israel were futile, Faya’d also became less involved in the recent discussions with the Israeli side. He realized that negotiations at this stage would be no more than brainstorming sessions leading nowhere, Okal explained.
Meanwhile, Fatah officials are seeking the dismissal of either Fayyad or ‘Abbas in order to either dissolve the government or augment it by adding Fatah officials to the coalition so as to be able to stand up to the plans of Faya’d and his allies.
To avoid a likely internal crisis, ‘Abbas decided to delay the issue until after the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis Mideast peace conference, which set December 12 as the date for the resumption of final status talks with Israeli, sources close to his office said.
From the beginning, Fayyad realized that the ongoing talks with Israel would not yield tangible results and decided to leave peace negotiations to ‘Abbas. He rather selected a different policy of giving top priority to internal issues such as improving security and governance.
Although such a policy aggravated the current crisis with ‘Abbas, who interprets it as a challenge to his policy of handling peace talks with Israel, it enabled Faya’d to significantly increase his popularity both domestically and internationally.
“Faya’d brings in security and money. So, for the people, he has the money and the power,” Okal added.
Other experts, meanwhile, believe that the upcoming period is likely to witness a volatile situation of mutual recriminations, especially if the Palestinians and Israelis fail to build on the results of the Annapolis conference and establish serious talks within a fixed timetable.
A recent opinion poll published by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC), declared that the majority of Palestinians believed that the performance of Faya’d’s government was better than that of the democratically elected Hamas government.
The results claimed that 46.5 percent preferred Faya’d’s government performance, as against 24.4 percent of respondents who preferred Hamas’.
Although he was appointed, and although the Palestinian legislature is not functioning, Faya’d has decided to press ahead with what he has said in recent interviews: "to undo, as best and fast as we can, the damage sustained over the last two years," both financially and institutionally.
To achieve this goal, he has avoided including Fatah officials, especially the so-called “old guard,” in his coalition and has rather built it with independents and technocrats who are not affiliated with any political party, said Ahmad Awad, a political expert based in the West Bank.
In just a few months, Faya’d’s achievements on the ground have increased his popularity amongst Palestinians, while his performance in cracking down on corruption has gained him a good reputation among the Western countries.
This popularity and his good reputation were enough for the prime minister to press ahead with his plans to form his new political party, which is expected to take over in the next elections, Awad added.
“For people here he is the transparent leader. For the West, he is the one-stop shop official in the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
Despite all that, the prevailing trend in the P.A. and Fatah party now is that regardless of whether Annapolis ended in failure or success, ‘Abbas has to press ahead with ousting Faya’d and forming a new pro-Fatah cabinet.
But many observers, however, doubt Abbas’ ability to oust his Western-backed prime minister. Instead, they predict that the maximum ‘Abbas can do at this stage is bolster the government by adding more Fatah officials to its coalition.