US efforts to rekindle peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians have suffered their first major setback. After weeks of threatening to resign, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad fomally announced his resignation from President Abbas’s Fatah government on Saturday. Although Fayyad was extremely well-respected by many Western observers (Via Meadia included
) for his efforts to build up stable political and economic institutions in the West Bank, the New York Times notes
that his reputation within Palestine itself was more mixed. In recent months, he has constantly been fighting off attacks from senior Fatah members and had become fed up with President Abbas’s refusal to defend him, leading up to yesterday’s resignation.This isn’t completely new—indeed, it was already clear
that Fayyad was in trouble by this time last year—but it’s particularly bad timing for the Obama Administration, which has just begun
a push to improve economic conditions within Palestine, an area seen as Fayyad’s forte. There are widespread concerns that Fayyad has been a bulwark against the more corrupt elements in Fatah, and some donors may fight shy of a Palestinian Authority seen as falling back under control of its less enlightened power brokers. Making matters worse, Fayyad’s move comes directly on the heels of intensive American lobbying against his resignation:
Since Mr. Kerry left the region, he has had more than one telephone conversation with [Fayyad and Abbas] to try to prevent the resignation. Israeli officials have also been quietly urging Mr. Fayyad to stay, aware that their public support is likely to backfire.“The U.S. has worked very hard,” one Western diplomatic official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Kerry asked him to stay. There’s been a lot of messaging from the Western community about how much we value Fayyad’s work.”
This is not a good start for Obama’s second term peace initiative. The Obama Administration has already failed to demonstrate much ability to move either Israelis or Palestinians towards substantive engagement, and the failure to influence Fayyad’s decision does nothing to change this perception. The signal to the rest of the region is one of weakness and diminished influence—not at all the signal Washington wants to be sending right now. We hope things will start looking up, but for now the Obama administration has made less progress on Israeli-Palestinian relations than any of its predecessors going back to Richard Nixon’s presidency.