The National (Editorial)
March 9, 2009 - 12:00am

The resignation of the Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad on Saturday is a reflection of the tragedy of Palestinian politics.

Here is a man widely viewed as competent and clean, a technocrat who fought corruption, mismanagement and security disorder, but who, for the sake of Palestinian unity, is ready to fall on his sword – a rare occurrence.

Even Hamas, whose bete noire Mr Fayyad has become, will agree with that.

Mr Fayyad is not an uncontroversial politician. He became prime minister in 2007 after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and the president Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the unity government. As an independent but decidedly anti-Hamas prime minister, he set out to strengthen Palestinian institutions in the hope that the Annapolis peace process would achieve a breakthrough. His authority extended only over the West Bank, but there, by most assessments, conditions greatly improved during his time in charge.

Mr Fayyad became a darling of the international community, and especially of the US, which channelled unprecedented amounts of funding to the Palestinian Authority. But this embrace cost Mr Fayyad much domestic credibility. Just last week, Elliott Abrams, George Bush’s eminence grise for the Middle East and a man much criricised for his unashamed pro-Israeli advocacy, showered praise on Mr Fayyad in a magazine article otherwise notable only for its contempt for Palestinian rights.

Mr Fayyad’s departure is not inevitable. Mr Abbas and the PLO may reject it if the unity talks mediated by Egypt fail. But Mr Fayyad has taken the pulse of the moment and realised that for Palestinian interests to be best served, he must step aside for the moment.

It is now time for Hamas to show similar magnanimity and vision. The Islamist movement, militarily battered by Israel but politically on the rise, needs to reciprocate. Hamas is certainly no irrational organisation, but its political choices are too often dictated by its radical wing. From the relative safety of Damascus, Khaled Meshaal allowed the truce with Israel to lapse in December, leading inevitably to full-scale conflict. Mr Meshaal needs now to keep silent and let his more pragmatic colleagues reach a power sharing deal with Fatah without upping the ante to please his Syrian and Iranian patrons.

Both the US and Israel should take notice that Palestinian politics are changing. The demand for unity comes from the grass roots. The population on the ground are tired of the incessant bickering that has brought the country a civil war on top of an already gruelling occupation.

Ignoring this and shunning a national unity government in the name of grand principles in which no one else believes is to be expected from the hawkish Cabinet expected to run Israel soon. But the administration of Barack Obama has shown new inclinations in its international dealings that should extend to the Palestinian issue as well.

No one yet knows the shape of a future Palestinian government, but it is safe to assume that it will face significant obstacles: rebuilding Gaza, bringing Fatah and Hamas closer, agreeing on a negotiating position with Israel, and finally entering peace talks. It would be a betrayal of men such as Mr Fayyad not to honour the difficult choices they have made to ease these challenges.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017