A brewing feud between Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his Western-backed prime minister, Salam Fayyad, is further confounding the Palestinian situation, already plagued with a host of chronic political and financial problems, in addition to the decades-old Israeli occupation.
Unlike Abbas, who is head of the powerful Fatah organization, Fayyad lacks a real popular base of support among Palestinians. However, the fact he is favored and backed by donor countries, especially the U.S. and EU, makes him indispensable for the continuation of Western financial support without which the PA can't survive, at least financially.
Abbas has been facing pressure from many quarters within Fatah, and also from Hamas and other factions, to dismiss Fayyad and form a new government headed by an agreed-upon prime minister. Hamas in particular has bad chemistry with Fayyad for his indulgence in security coordination with the Israeli occupation army.
Last week, Abbas asked Fayyad to deliver a much-heralded letter, elucidating Palestinian warnings about the precariousness of the stalled peace process with Israel, to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the latter's office in West Jerusalem.
Fayyad refused to deliver the letter, arguing, "I am not a delivery boy, or post man. I must keep my dignity."
Eventually, Abbas dispatched PA negotiator Saeb Ereikat and Majed Faraj, the head of PA intelligence, to deliver the letter. Fayyad declined to accompany them.
Abbas had not consulted with Fayyad and his government as to the content of the letter beforehand, which upset Fayyad.
According to sources within the immediate coterie of aides and advisors, Abbas has been refusing to answer telephone calls from Fayyad. The same sources confirmed reports published earlier that there is a "silent crisis" between the two.
So far, all PA officials, including cabinet ministers, have been tight-lipped as to the real causes of the feud between the two leaders, which might suggest that the crisis is real, not merely a passing difference of opinion.
Earlier this month, Abbas said he would soon "renovate" the Fayyad government by hiring a number of new ministers to "replace those who have been exhausted," using the words of Nimr Hammad, head of Abbas's bureau.
However, the PA leader never acted on plans to that effect, ostensibly due to stiff opposition from Fayyad who probably thought that firing a number of his key and right-hand aides would be an unacceptable personal affront.
Fayyad, according to sources in Ramallah, wouldn't accept the move, arguing that, "either the entire government goes or the entire government stays."
This hardline opposition to a cabinet reshuffle infuriated Abbas who has been accustomed to issuing orders and seeing them carried out immediately. But Abbas's room for manoeuvre is limited.
On the one hand, dismissing Fayyad would cost the PA the crucial and badly-needed Western financial support without which the PA cannot pay its estimated 160,000 employees, one third of whom are security personnel tasked with safeguarding the PA and maintaining security coordination with Israel.
On the other hand, ignoring Fayyad's "insolence" would cost Abbas dearly, especially within Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization. It would portray him as a weak leader who is effectively held hostage to Western financial aid. It would also strengthen Fatah's main rival, Hamas, which has been calling for Fayyad's dismissal.
According to the Israeli media, donor countries have already warned Abbas against trying to replace Fayyad or take over control of the PA finance ministry.
The right-wing Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, quoted an unnamed Western diplomat based in Israel as saying that the West will not allow the PA leader to fire Fayyad: "We won't allow this to happen. We have made it clear to President Abbas that international aid will be affected if he or Fatah remove Fayyad."
Abbas had attempted to carry out a cabinet reshuffle but his attempt was foiled by Western donors. Some donors are worried that a takeover by Fatah of some specific ministries -- especially the Finance Ministry -- would take the PA back to the Arafat era when corruption was the norm not the exception.
Some PA officials argue that rivalry between Abbas and Fayyad is not new and that a certain amount of tension existed for some time. But this is no solace for Fatah leaders who think that Fayyad must always be answerable to Abbas, irrespective of any other considerations.
"Fayyad ought to realize that the PA is the accomplishment of freedom fighters not bankers and businessmen," said Najah Abu Bakr, a Fatah lawmaker.
In addition to its political overtones, the differences between the two men have also to do with differences in personality. Abbas is generally aloof, domineering and has a certain propensity to behave in an autocratic manner. On the other hand, Fayyad is more pragmatic, calculating the consequences of actions before acting.
It is unclear how the current crisis will affect the overall Palestinian situation, with Israel seizing more Palestinian land as every day passes. However, if the current problem persists, and neither Abbas nor Fayyad swallows their pride, the crisis in the PA overall will only deepen while the Israeli occupation continues to drive the Palestinian cause into the ground. g
— Al Akhbar