x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US tries to dictate the terms for the formation of a Palestinian national unity government

The announcement of the resignation of Palestinian acting prime minister Salam Fayyid was followed by a report that the US will only recognise a future Palestinian national unity government led by Mr Fayyid. Senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the sudden resignation of Fayyad was a tactical move, designed to pressure Hamas into softening its opposition to Fayyad serving as prime minister in a unity government.

In a move ostensibly designed to promote progress in talks aimed at the formation of a Palestinian national unity government, acting prime minister Salam Fayyad announced his resignation on Saturday. "Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader who appointed Fayyad after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, triggering a schism amongst the Palestinians, said he asked the prime minister to stay on until results emerged from the Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks," Reuters reported. "Brother Salam Fayyad has submitted his resignation to us in order to support and strengthen the Palestinian dialogue on forming a government," Abbas told reporters. Nevertheless, a report in Haaretz indicated that in the eyes of Washington, Mr Fayyad remains indispensible in his current role. "The United States will only recognise a future Palestinian unity government if Salam Fayyad is reappointed prime minister, according to a message relayed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to European and Arab leaders at last week's donor summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The same message was relayed to Hamas by the Norwegian government, in response to the organisation's demand that Fatah replaces Fayyad with an independent candidate. "Senior Palestinian sources yesterday told Haaretz that the sudden resignation of Fayyad was a tactical move, designed to pressure Hamas into softening its opposition to Fayyad serving as prime minister in a unity government. The sources believe that the American threat, which is likely to be backed by the European Union and Egypt, will lead to Hamas changing its position and Fayyad rescinding his resignation. It is also feasible that the continuation of Fayyad's term as Palestinian prime minister will be on the agenda during talks between the US and Syria, where the head of Hamas' political wing resides. "Western diplomats confirmed over the weekend that Washington has relayed messages to Hamas, via a European country that is in contact with the organisation. The message intimated that a future unity government in the Palestinian Authority must be composed of technocrats who are members of neither Hamas nor Fatah, apart from Fayyad. "Even though Fayyad is not officially a member of Fatah, the US administration sees him as the leading candidate to replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas following the election that is due to be held within the next 12 months." In its vigorous support of Mr Fayyad, the Obama administration is not departing from the stance of the Bush administration as it was reiterated by the neoconservative former deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams in The Weekly Standard last week. Highlighting Mr Fayyad's administrative role in enabling the creation of Palestinian security forces that effectively assisted Israeli forces during the war on Gaza, Mr Abrams wrote: "Under US tutelage, training of Palestinian security forces has begun largely under the radar, at a training centre in Jordan. But it is working: Sixteen hundred police from the West Bank have gone through the course, and there are plans to double that number. The newly trained forces are not exactly crack troops, but they are a far cry from the divided and ineffective gangs created by Yasser Arafat. Their success was visible during the recent Gaza war, when they acted in parallel, and sometimes in concert, with Israeli forces to prevent Hamas violence and terrorism in the West Bank. Order was maintained. "Much of the credit goes to PA prime minister Salam Fayyad, a US-trained economist whose integrity, candour, and effective administration of the PA have made him a favourite of the United States and all other donors. Fayyad, a former finance minister (who brought order from chaos in the PA's finances and continues to fight PA corruption), has presided over continuing economic growth in the West Bank and maintains a working if unfriendly relationship with Israeli officials. Fayyad is well aware of the history of his sometime partner, sometime foe in Jerusalem, the government of Israel, and indeed of the history of the entire Zionist enterprise: Institutions were built over long decades to prepare for Israel's independence despite the uncertainty of when it would arrive. The Zionists struggled to be ready, hoping thereby also to bring the day closer. That is Fayyad's task for the Palestinian people, as he appears to see it." The National noted: "Mr Fayyad's government spearheaded tough security measures in the West Bank that often targeted Hamas activists and contributed to his becoming a hated figure in Gaza. "Hamas always considered Mr Fayyad's government unconstitutional and few tears were shed at his resignation in Gaza yesterday. " 'The Fayyad government was illegal and it was time to correct this mistake,' said Taher Nuno, a Hamas spokesman. "Mr Nuno said Palestinian factions could now focus on unity talks in Cairo. 'I hope we can concentrate on forming a unity government and that the dialogue will come to a positive end.' " The Associated Press noted that foreign support for Mr Fayyad translated into massive amounts of aid for the Palestinians. "In 2007, donor countries pledged US$7.7 billion over three years for the Fayyad government. Last week, another pledging conference, convened in the wake of Israel's Gaza offensive, yielded $5.2bn over two years. "It was not immediately clear whether the pledges would be affected by a change in the Palestinian government. Donors had said at the pledging conference that much of the aid would be funnelled through the Fayyad government." Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah described a series of moves by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that appear to have undermined the process through which a national unity government can be formed. "On Friday 27 February, the leaders of 13 Palestinian factions, principal among them Hamas and Fatah, announced they had set out a framework for reconciliation. In talks chaired by Egypt's powerful intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Palestinians established committees to discuss forming a 'national unity government,' reforming the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to include all factions, legislative and presidential elections, reorganising security forces on a nonpolitical basis, and a steering group comprised of all faction leaders. Amid a jubilant mood, the talks were adjourned until 10 March. "Then the blows began to strike the fragile Palestinian body politic. The first came from Clinton just before she boarded her plane to attend a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh ostensibly about pledging billions in aid to rebuild Gaza. "Clinton was asked by Voice of America (VOA) whether she was encouraged by the Cairo unity talks. She responded that in any reconciliation or 'move toward a unified [Palestinian] Authority,' Hamas must be bound by 'the conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet,' the self-appointed group comprising representatives of the US, EU, UN and Russia. These conditions, Clinton stated, require that Hamas 'must renounce violence, recognise Israel, and abide by previous commitments.' Otherwise, the secretary warned, 'I don't think it will result in the kind of positive step forward either for the Palestinian people or as a vehicle for a reinvigorated effort to obtain peace that leads to a Palestinian state.' "The next strikes came from Ramallah. With the EU's top diplomat Solana standing next to him, Abbas insisted that any national unity government would have to adhere to the 'two-state vision' and abide by 'international conditions and signed agreements.' He then demanded that Gaza reconstruction aid be channelled exclusively through the Western-backed, but financially bankrupt and politically depleted PA. Solana affirmed, 'I would like to insist in agreement with [Abbas] that the mechanism used to deploy the money is the one that represents the Palestinian Authority.' Solana fully endorsed the campaign waged by Abbas ever since the destruction of Gaza that the PA, plagued by endemic corruption, and which only pays salaries of workers deemed politically loyal, be in sole charge of the funds, rather than neutral international organisations as Hamas and others have suggested. "Was the Sharm el-Sheikh summit then really about helping the people of Gaza or was it about exploiting their suffering to continue the long war against Hamas by other means?"

pwoodward@thenational.ae