Fayyad's departure may signal comeback for old-style West Bank politics

The PA's prime minister, whose resignation was accepted on Saturday, was one of the last independents in the Palestinian government. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) accepts the resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during an April 13 meeting in Ramallah.
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RAMALLAH // The resignation of the Palestinian Authority prime minister may signal a resurgence of old-style politics in the West Bank, with a focus on backroom deal-making and patronage.

Salam Fayyad's offer to quit after nearly six years as premier was accepted on Saturday by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA, who is expected to appoint a replacement in the coming days.

The two leaders have increasingly been at odds over the scope of the premier's powers and Mr Fayyad, 61, a former International Monetary Fund economist who has strong international backing, had repeatedly threatened to step down.

Now, with his impending departure, some fear a return of a PA that is even more under the influence of Mr Abbas's Fatah faction and lacking the checks and balances imposed by Mr Fayyad, a political independent.

"He's almost the only non-Fatah personality in the Palestinian Authority, and his absence may return us to a one-party political regime," said Ghassan Khatib, a professor of contemporary Arab studies at the West Bank's Birzeit University and former PA spokesman.

Appointed by Mr Abbas to the premiership in 2007, Mr Fayyad streamlined the PA's bloated budget while reining in corruption and dismantling the militant groups that had roamed the West Bank's streets since the intifada that began in 2000. The result was more stability and glimmers of economic prosperity that, for a time, renewed Palestinian hope for independence.

Mr Khatib said "the absence of Fayyad for these reasons is creating some worries among the public".

It may cause concern in Washington and European capitals, which were comfortable disbursing financial aid to the PA through Mr Fayyad's coffers.

John Kerry, the United States secretary of state, yesterday said he hoped the Palestinians would select a new premier who can "establish confidence" with the US.

During a visit to the West Bank last week, Mr Kerry said he planned new efforts to help Mr Fayyad boost the West Bank economy as a gesture to encourage a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, expressed regret over Mr Fayyad's resignation and called his departure "a reminder of the urgency of returning to negotiations on a two-state solution".

Names of Mr Fayyad's potential successors that have been floated by Palestinian officials include Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, and the senior Fatah official Mohammed Shtayeh.

Officials in the West Bank's ruling Fatah faction have been especially critical of the reforms spearheaded by Mr Fayyad, who lacks a popular support base.

He also did not earn their admiration when he appeared to express opposition to Mr Abbas's diplomatic moves at the United Nations, including last year's elevation of Palestinian status in the world body to a non-member observer state.

Last month, the two leaders were at loggerheads over the resignation of Nabeel Kassis as finance minister. Mr Fayyad reportedly accepted it before consulting Mr Abbas, which caused acrimony.

An official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which Mr Abbas also chairs, said that spat encouraged the Palestinian president to accept Mr Fayyad's resignation.

"I also think Abu Mazen was tired of Fayyad resigning every two months," said the official, referring to Mr Abbas by his nickname. "But I also think Abu Mazen saw Fayyad's threatening to resign as a bargaining chip to leverage power."

Mr Fayyad's tenure as premier was supposed to end because of the 2011 reconciliation accord between the West Bank Fatah faction and the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers.

Hamas rejected retaining Mr Fayyad as prime minister of an interim authority as part of the unity agreement, criticising his security forces' coordination with Israel's military.

But despite Mr Fayyad's repeated offers to step down, Mr Abbas had reportedly been persuaded to keep him in his position for fear of angering the United States.

As last year's economic crisis worsened, it became more difficult for Mr Fayyad to stay on, an official close to the outgoing prime minister said. Fatah and the trade unions it controls began orchestrating demonstrations against Mr Fayyad over the rising prices of food and petrol in the West Bank, including one protest in September where protestors burnt effigies of him.

The official called this a diversion from the main impediment to Mr Fayyad's policies - Israel's settlements, financial punishments and general restrictions on Palestinians.

"He is not the cause of these problems," said the PA official. "But no PA prime minister can survive without the backing of factions within the PLO."

* Additional reporting by Associated Press

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