Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tendered his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, according to Reuters and other news sources. Fayyad's office declined to comment, but American officials today are offering reassurances that Fayyad, celebrated in Washington for his common sense approach to state building and transparency, is "sticking around."
Whether or not Fayyad stays or goes, all is not well inside the Palestinian Authority (PA). Reports have surfaced recently that Abbas was preparing to sack Fayyad, and to replace him with Abbas' economic advisor Mohammed Mustafa, who also serves as the head of the Palestine Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth vehicle. Sources close to Mustafa have denied these reports.
It is no secret that Fayyad and Abbas have been at odds for months, if not years, on issues of governance. However, the timing of this increasingly public spat between Fayyad and Abbas is decidedly awkward. President Obama, during his recent visit to the Middle East, publicly lauded Fayyad. Secretary of State John Kerry has also expressed his support for the Palestinian prime minister.
Abbas' Fatah faction does not appear to be terribly concerned with optics, however. Fatah figures reportedly have been behind the anti-Fayyad campaign. The faction is apparently concerned with its ability to project power in the West Bank with Fayyad, a political independent, at the helm.
"Fatah has been left with no authority at all. All claims that Fatah had been in control of the West Bank are baseless and wrong," said Najat Abu Baker, a Fatah leader in the West Bank in an interview with the UAE based Gulf News. "Fayyad who is not a Fatah cadre has been in total control of the entire West Bank."
With the most powerful faction in the West Bank gunning for Fayyad, it is likely a question of when, not if, the Palestinian premier departs. This would be a blow to Palestinian reform efforts, but also shine a spotlight on the leadership deficit in the West Bank.
Abbas, whose legal term expired in 2009, has stifled the political space in the West Bank in recent years, making it difficult to identify the next generation of leaders. With no sign of change on the horizon, the West Bank Palestinians and international community can only watch and wait, while hoping that either Fayyad finds a way to hang on, or Abbas somehow settles on an equally competent premier who inspires the same level of confidence at home and abroad.
Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of Hamas vs Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan 2008).