Salam Fayyad has achieved what the world thought was impossible. He finally got Fatah and Hamas to agree on something: the two bitterly divided factions both happily accepted his resignation.
During the 2006 legislative elections, the American-educated Dr. Fayyad ran alongside Hanan Ashrawi as part of the Third Way party. Both won their seats. Fayyad was vocally secular and anti-corruption. In June of 2007, he was appointed Prime Minister by Mahmoud Abbas. The key word here is appointed, not elected, which means he had zero legitimate popular support. Fayyad stepped into his new role after Abbas lost control of Gaza and declared a “national emergency” that conveniently has yet to end. He is considered a technocrat, which I believe means he’s a Democrat who loves glowsticks.
Complicating things is the fact that Hamas has its very own Prime Minister, the ever-lovable Ismail Haniyeh. This did nothing to bolster Fayyad’s already shaky street credibility. It’s kind of like having two Popes minus the red shoes, and just like Pope Benedict XVI, Fayyad never caught on with the flock. The Palestinian streets’ number one beef with him was that they believed he was America’s puppet. This shouldn’t have been a deal-breaker, though, since rumor has it the entire leadership is bought and paid for by the U.S. So what made Fayyad so special that he didn’t get a pass and was, instead, the target of such wrath?
It could be because America loved him so much they refused to accept the fact that Palestinians were just not that into him. The U.S. administration would gush over Fayyad, just stopping short of calling him their Boo. This coziness made many feel Fayyad was putting the U.S. and Israel’s wants and needs above those of his own people. In the end, all the praise and support from the international community was for naught. Fayyad could not possibly build a state under these conditions and when he finally threw in the towel, America went into denial. They insisted he wasn’t leaving and would be “sticking around.”
No matter how hard he tried, Fayyad got no respect back home. Hamas and Fatah treated him like a piñata. He was the scapegoat for every economic failure that befell the Palestinian people. If Israel withheld the Palestinians’ tax money, it was Salam’s fault. When the U.S. Congress blocked almost $200 million in aid to punish Abbas for declaring statehood at the U.N., it was Salam’s fault. And when the public servants’ paychecks did not arrive, it was—you guessed it—Salam’s fault. One of the few accomplishments he is praised for is instituting direct deposit to help curb corruption. This innovation came back to haunt Fayyad when, as Prime Minister, he was late paying public sector salaries and couldn’t buy time by promising them, “Your checks are in the mail.”
Another accusation lobbed at Fayyad was that his state-building initiatives were easing Israel’s ability to continue the occupation while making the lives of Palestinians increasingly difficult. Students commuting to universities were unimpressed by the detour roads, beautifully paved by USAID, that the Israelis forced them to take. Meanwhile, Israel turned Fayyad’s dream of building a viable Palestinian state into a never-ending nightmare with its ongoing illegal settlement building. While his genuine effort to eradicate corruption was applauded, his success rate was abysmal. He also made a massive judgment error by going after the most vulnerable members of Palestinian society in his quest to strengthen the economy. The mere suggestion that he would start charging refugees for electricity at the same time UNRWA was strangling them with service cutbacks was met with protests.
Fayyad is also being blamed for introducing Palestinians to one of America’s favorite pastimes: credit card debt. Prior to his appointment, loans and credit were extremely rare. Now, several Palestinian families who were encouraged to take on debt under Fayyad are drowning in it. The average monthly payment eats up over half of their income. Unemployment is on the rise. The Israeli occupation continues to strangle the economy, and those lured into debt see no end in sight.
Asked if Salam Fayyad’s resignation would change anything for Palestinians, the most popular response was that nothing would ever change because, whether he stays or goes, Israel is still in control. Rima Najjar, a local university professor, said Fayyad’s resignation would only change things, “If Palestinians take the opportunity to push for a much more accountable and representative government than what they have now, including representation of Palestinians in the Diaspora.”
The overwhelming response to the question “what’s the best thing Salam Fayyad has done?” was simple: “He resigned.”
For those sad to see Salam Fayyad say goodbye, there’s still hope. Palestinian politicians are like soap opera characters; they tend to return from the dead. Saeb Erekat has resigned more times than Larry King has walked down the aisle; yet, there he is, still negotiating away Palestinian rights every chance he gets. Fayyad’s resignation may not be as permanent as it sounds, but his leaving has dealt a severe blow to any chances the mythical two state solution ever had. His mission impossible has officially been aborted.