WJC ANALYSIS – Fayyad and Netanyahu: The meeting that never happened
Last week, a relatively low level Palestinian delegation submitted a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at his official residence in Jerusalem. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was scheduled to submit the letter in person but instead, senior negotiator Saeb Erekat and the commander of General Security Majed Faraj delivered the letter.
The letter detailed the Palestinian position on the stalled peace process. It culminated in the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority has lost its raison d’être and de facto no longer exists. The letter brought the Palestinian Authority another step closer to its dissolution, a decision that will be taken following the US election in November.
Fayyad explained his absence from the meeting by an overly crowded schedule, signaling that he attributed no significance to the exchange of letters. Fayyad’s decision was likely partially influenced by the Palestinian commemoration of ‘Prisoners Day’, which took place on the day of the meeting. The emotional atmosphere of the ‘Prisoners Day’ amplified Fayyad’s cautious attitude toward the meeting with Netanyahu, especially in light of the fact that he was meant to replace Mahmoud Abbas, who did not wish to attend.
Fayyad and Abbas fundamentally disagree on the appropriate path to Palestinian statehood. Fayyad’s skepticism regarding the exchange of letters is an extension of his objection to the Palestinian strategy of a unilateral bid for statehood at the United Nations. The PM has been focusing on creating facts on the ground, i.e. establishing state infrastructure that would allow the declaration of a Palestinian state as an existing and viable reality. On the other hand, Abbas has put all his efforts behind diplomatic activity, declarative achievements, and occasionally provoking Israel. While the two leaders seem to compete with one another, in reality Abbas’ provocative diplomacy has led to a drop in financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority and left Fayyad on the frontlines defending the dire state of the Palestinian economy.
Abbas’ decision to ignore the international community’s plea to renounce a unilateral bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN has resulted in the loss of goodwill towards Fayyad’s infrastructure projects in the West Bank. It dramatically reduced the amount of foreign aid to the Palestinians from the West and brought down aid from Arab states almost to naught as they conditioned their funds on Western donor compliance.
That is the reason Fayyad has only just put together the Palestinian Authority’s budget, which still left the problem of a billion-dollar deficit intact. The prime minister fears that the PLO’s provocative actions under Abbas, against the advice of both Arab and Western powers, will result in further alienation of the donor community and render his ‘bottom-up’ statehood project unfeasible.
In addition to their opposing approaches to Palestinian statehood, Fayyad and Abbas disagree on the PA’s reconciliation effort with Hamas.
Any reconciliation scenario, whether one where Abbas establishes a new government under his leadership and calls for a general election, or another, in which an electoral committee will commence preparation followed by a cabinet formed by Abbas, will result in Fayyad’s ouster.
In fact, Fayyad has managed to hang on to his position for so long precisely due to the reconciliation failure between Fatah and Hamas. However, Fayyad’s situation may soon change, as sources in the Fatah movement have reported that an internal coup was brewing inside Fayyad’s cabinet, which would result in the dismissal of his loyalists and their replacement with Fatah cadres.
Fayyad’s refusal to attend the meeting with Netanyahu might be the opening shot in the coming struggle for the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.