Avi Issacharoff
December 2, 2011 - 1:00am

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Thursday that he would not serve as the prime minister of a Fatah-Hamas unity government, nor would he run for president.

"I don't intend to run for the presidency or anything else for that matter," Fayyad said in an interview to Haaretz. "I cannot accept being an obstacle, never was and never will be ... I made a very explicit call on the factions ... to go ahead and agree on a new prime minister. That's my position and nothing has happened since then to change my mind ... So the short answer is no."

Asked why there isn't a unity government, assuming he won't be prime minister, Fayyad said "that is a question you should ask those who actually claimed I was the obstacle. I told you I never thought of myself as an obstacle, I never was an obstacle and I never will accept being an obstacle, but ... it is my hope the talks will lead to something practical ... in reuniting the country, and that long-awaited process will actually begin the process of reunification. But this question really should be addressed to those who have maintained that I was an obstacle."

Asked why Hamas and some people in Fatah were so afraid of the possibility he would be appointed prime minister, Fayyad said, "you know in politics it's not the norm to have everyone's support. I mean it's only natural ... different people have different reasons for [supporting you] or being against [you]."

"All I can tell you is I was appointed, selected by the president [Mahmoud Abbas] for prime minister back in 2007 under difficult circumstances [following the Hamas revolution in Gaza]. The conditions in the Palestinian Authority were critical, not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank ... in terms of chaos and lawlessness and the PA was on the verge of complete disintegration, given those conditions of lawlessness and chaos. I tried the best I could with my colleagues then, and after that I tendered my resignation at the beginning of [reconciliation] talks. This was back in 2009, but these rounds of talks did not produce results. But the view that unity takes preference over anything else goes back to the talks in early 2009 when I tendered my resignation to President Abbas.

"All along we consistently made it very clear that we would step aside at a moment's notice. I have always maintained that my own role is not ... an issue. This whole effort in obtaining unity is far too important to be bogged down over the choice of prime minister. I'm doing the best I can until someone is ready to step in as a new government, and I will work with them and be as much help to the new government as possible, and will definitely be ready to step aside."

The reason for the hostility toward Fayyad both in Hamas and Fatah may be found in a survey released last week in the West Bank, conducted by a research institute in Ramallah. The survey shows that more than half (57 percent ) of the people want Fayyad to serve as head of the unity government. Fayyad is popular even among some Hamas supporters, 20 percent of whom said they would like to see him as prime minister. Fayyad is the favorite candidate for prime minister of the transitional government among 78 percent of Fatah supporters.

Since he was appointed prime minister in June 2007, Fayyad's popularity has constantly been rising. But so has the resentment toward him among senior officials in both Hamas and Fatah, mainly because of his extraordinary success in stabilizing the West Bank's economic and security situation.

Fayyad cleaned the stables, introduced reforms in the public sector, improved the economy, raised contributions from the international community and did not speak in contradictory terms. These achievements made several Fatah officials rise against him and they decided in the talks with Hamas that he will not be the next prime minister.

Fayyad says he does not feel Abbas has deserted him in any way. "Absolutely not - the answer is definitely no. After all, I was his choice in 2007, when conditions were very tough. As I said, I am willing to move aside at any moment. It was an honor for me to serve and I will continue to do so until my last day in the job."

Speaking about Israel's decision to resume the transfer of tax money to the PA, Fayyad said, "Israel's decision came 30 days too late ... It has become political football in Israel ... It is our money, our right to taxes that should be transferred ... As you remember it is not the first time money was withheld."

"I've heard it said by some Israeli officials that Israel is withholding the money as a punishment. It's a sad interpretation to punish Palestinians - this is the 21st century, how can anyone begin to use language like this? Punish Palestinians ... But it's wrong, because it contributes to weakening the PA in a very dangerous way. The PA should be strengthening the Palestinians. Yes, the PA has come under tremendous pressure because the political process has not produced an end to the Israeli occupation. Our response to this is not to succumb to pressure, not to throw our arms in the air and say it's the best we can do."

Fayyad comes to his office in the Finance Ministry almost every morning, and this is where Thursday's interview was held a few hours before he left on a visit to the United States. He first went to the White House in 2003 as Yasser Arafat's finance minister. American sources told Haaretz that during his meeting with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, she surprised him by taking him to the Oval Office to meet then-President George W. Bush. This was the beginning of his love affair with Washington, which tarnished his image in the West Bank and Gaza considerably.

Fayyad did not hesitate to defend Arafat, who was then under siege in the PA's muqata headquarters, and asked the president to talk to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to remove the siege. Fayyad told Bush the siege on Arafat was not only a fundamental political issue for the Palestinians but also a moral issue for Fayyad himself, the sources said.


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