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Next Palestinian premier 'must be able to handle factional squabbles'

Despite international support for his reforms, it was opposition from the West Bank's ruling Fatah faction that is widely believed to have forced Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad to step down. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

RAMALLAH // The next Palestinian premier will be chosen for an ability to handle factional squabbles at home while juggling demands from financial backers abroad, say analysts.

It is a challenge that got the better of Salam Fayyad, who resigned last week. Despite international support for his reforms during six years as the Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister, it was opposition from within the West Bank's ruling Fatah faction that is widely believed to have forced the former IMF economist to step down.

Although no clear front-runner has emerged, analysts say the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, will probably select a premier more palatable to Fatah officials than Mr Fayyad.

"Fatah considers a personality like Fayyad as a burden because he's very much a man of his own will, not a yes man," said Zakaria Al Qaq, professor of political science at Jerusalem's Al Quds University. He was referring to Mr Fayyad's efforts to tackle corruption within the PA, which often angered those on the receiving end of his reforms.

"When Fatah considers the next prime minister, they want someone with the pedigree of Fayyad, who can still entertain aid from foreign countries, but this time they want someone who will be less of a threat to them," he said.

Several officials close to the PA's president, who also chairs Fatah, are said to be in the running, including Mohammad Shtayeh, a member of Fatah's central committee. So too is businessman Mazen Sinokrot, who maintains good relations with Hamas, Fatah's rivals in the Gaza Strip, as well as Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund.

A senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation said Mr Abbas would certainly weigh potential vetoes from the United States and Israel, which exerts potentially crippling influence over the PA.

"I think he's probably going to select someone who is seen as an independent," said the official.

Due to the PA's reliance on foreign aid, Mr Abbas has probably come under "a tonne of pressure" from the United States and other donor countries to pick a premier who would follow in Mr Fayyad's footsteps, said Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank.

That pressure likely also stems from the desire to keep the PA's security services de-factionalised and willing to coordinate with Israel's military, as they have been under Mr Fayyad.

Mr Thrall summed up the donor-country position as: "We don't want some Fatah crony controlling the security forces and bringing back all kinds of unpleasantness."

US officials, including secretary of state John Kerry, have made clear their desire for a continuation of Mr Fayyad's policies, if not Mr Fayyad himself. Speaking in Japan on Sunday, Mr Kerry told reporters: "Would I prefer that he weren't leaving? Sure, because you have continuity".

But in Palestinian politics, such foreign pronouncements of support can backfire. That may have been the case with Mr Fayyad and Washington's recent expressions of praise for him.

Writing in the Al Monitor news website on Sunday, Daoud Kuttab, a Jordan-based analyst, said Mr Fayyad had concluded the US officials' public vows of support would have made him appear "as an American stooge" if he did not step down.

Writing in the Al Monitor news website on Sunday, Daoud Kuttab, a Jordan-based analyst, said Mr Fayyad had concluded the US officials' public vows of support amid the recent speculation that he was about to step down would make him appear "as an American stooge" if he did not actually resign.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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