The resignation of Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last week, despite appeals by Secretary of State Kerry for him to stay on, presents the PNA with both an opportunity for reconciliation between the two Palestinian Parties, the secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas, and in turn a challenge to the peace process with Israel.
Fayyad is credited with rebuilding the West Bank security forces, improving the economy, and reducing corruption in his seven years since being appointed PM by PNA President Mahmoud Abbas.
In cracking down on corruption, Fayyad aides and political analysts say he made enemies in the Fatah-led PNA, where corruption is rampant. Having already lost support from the PNA, the strong support Fayyad received from western governments for his reputation for transparency, cooperation with Israel, and insistence on building a strong infrastructural foundation for Palestine, served to discredit him among Palestinians people. Finally, many Palestinians have come to see Fayyad and Abbas’s attempts at negotiation with Israel as “negotiations for the sake of negotiations.”
The vacuum created by Fayyad’s recognition may help recently renewed reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, the ruling Party of Gaza, which gained support during the fighting between Hamas and Israel in November. A new poll shows that 90.3% of Palestinians believe that Hamas and Fatah should pursue national reconciliation even if this leads to the United States and Israel imposing sanctions on the Palestinian Arabs.
Reconciliation would be extremely popular internally, however would cause international tension due to the recognition of Hamas as a terrorist organization by the E.U. and many Western governments, including the U.S. This recognition would cause the withholding of much-needed funding and would freeze peace talks with Israel. Hamas officials declared that for this resignation to lead to any real change would require a re-drafting of the national program such as to exclude any security coordination or negotiation with Israel.
Israel opposes reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as long as the Islamic group refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and will not renounce violence. An Israeli official told the New York Times, “We have always said that if the Palestinian Authority moves towards Hamas, it is moving away from peace and reconciliation with Israel.”
West Bankers seem to want to have it both ways: benefiting from the economic support the PNA has gained through its cooperation with Israel and Western governments, while unifying Palestine to wage a more effective resistance against the Israel government.
However, it seems as though the choice facing the PNA and Fatah is clear: pursue reconciliation with Hamas and unifying Gaza and the West Bank politically at the cost of cutting ties with Israel, or continuing negotiations with Israel as domestic support for the Abbas administration continues to weaken.