Muhammed Muheisen/AP
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad

Fayyad Resignation May Clear Way for Fatah-Hamas Unity Government

March 09, 2009 04:28 PM
by Denis Cummings
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has resigned ahead of reconciliation talks between Fatah and political rival Hamas.

Fayyad Resigns

Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority, resigned from his position Saturday in order to aid talks between the nationalist Fatah party and the Islamist Hamas party scheduled to resume Tuesday in Cairo.

His resignation will take effect only after a unity government is formed between the two parties, who have been split since Hamas’ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Fatah formed an emergency government in the wake of the takeover and Fayyad was appointed prime minister.

“This move is meant to encourage the dialogue,” said an aide of President Mahmoud Abbas, a member of Fatah. “If we do not reach an agreement, the president can ask Fayyad to continue as prime minister.”
Fayyad is a political independent and former World Bank official who is favored by Western government and aid donors. He “is one of the very few Palestinian officials that Western leaders trust with financial aid and with genuinely reforming the Palestinian government,” according to Israel Today.

He has secured millions in international aid money for the rebuilding of Gaza, but his political independence and close ties to the international community irked some in Fatah, who felt that he wasn’t doing enough to help the party. Hamas, which regarded his position as prime minister as “illegal and unconstitutional,” thought he was a pawn of Israel and the West and demanded that he be removed from power during preliminary talks in Cairo.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration expects peace talks involving the creation of a Palestinian state to continue as planned. Western mediators require that the Palestinian government recognize Israel, honor past agreements and denounce violence.

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Background: Fatah-Hamas conflict

Fatah, a secular nationalist organization, had long been the most powerful Palestinian political force prior to the 2006 parliamentary elections, when it lost by a landslide to Islamist militant group Hamas.

Hamas, which doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist and advocates violence to achieve its means, refused to honor peace agreements made by the Fatah-controlled government. Fatah officials became unreceptive to the Hamas-controlled unity government and violent skirmishes broke out between to two groups in 2006 and 2007.

In June 2007, the two organizations battled in Gaza, ending with a decisive Hamas victory. Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip, while Fatah President Abbas declared the dissolution of the current government and the creation of an emergency government headed by Fayyad.

For the past 18 months the country has effectively been run by two different governments; Fatah controlled the West Bank, while Hamas controlled Gaza. Following Israel’s 22-day offensive in Gaza in December and January, the two parties decided to hold reconciliation talks in order to help rebuild Gaza.

However, the conflict between Fatah and Hamas may have been deepened by the Israeli offensive, during which Fatah was noticeably silent. Fatah lost popular support for refusing to support Hamas against Israel, further angering Hamas.

“Abbas’ behavior during the conflict, when he tried to score points against Hamas instead of rallying support against Israel’s assault, has shrunk his already low credibility among Palestinians and the Arab world,” writes Time.

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