April 15, 2013 | Quote
Who Will Be the Next Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority?
Mahmoud Abbas formally accepted the resignation of his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, this weekend despite the best efforts of the U.S. and John Kerry to reconcile the two. The rift between Fayyad and Abbas, which had been rumored to be growing larger, was exposed in full after the resignation of the finance minister, a move Fayyad had accepted but Abbas did not. There had been, of course, rumors that Abbas had wanted to fire Fayyad, or that Fayyad had in fact been prepared to resign last month and only delayed due to President Obama's trip, but these rumors were treated with a healthy amount of skepticism, as feigning one's resignation has become a recent Palestinian pastime.
Muhammad Mustafa, on the other hand, has been a career technocrat. Educated at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Mustafa spent 15 years working at the World Bank (coincidentally, so did Fayyad). Mustafa has a long-history in Palestinian economics: he was the founding CEO of the Palestine Telecommunication Company (PalTel), which is now the largest company in Palestine, and he currently heads the state-owned Palestine Investment Fund. Much like Fayyad, Mustafa's focus is on the Palestinian economy and institutions. His record at the PIF boasts of creating over 25,000 Palestinian jobs and mobilizing more than 3 billion in investment funds. The similarities between Mustafa and Fayyad abound, and it's clear that an appointment of Mustafa sends a signal of stability and economic focus to the Palestinian people.
And for Abbas, it appears to be all about what type of signal he wishes to send with the next PM. Early reports add millionaire mogul Munib al Masri and Fatah footman Azzam al Ahmad to the short list. Both would signal a further consolidation of Fatah control within the PA, but, according to Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, none of the four candidates are likely to push government-wide reforms any further. Rather, says Schanzer, their appointment would signal that the institution-building and transparency efforts would move to the periphery. Fayyad's efforts were often a point of consternation for Fatah members within the government. His acceptance of the Finance Minister's resignation late last week–which Abbas refused to accept–was a case in point. Fayyad challenged the system from the inside, but his efforts weren't always appreciated. Abbas is now likely to ensure that the next PM is lockstep with Fatah.
Years ago, Fayyad proposed an audacious two-year plan for developing Palestinian institutions, a step he viewed as vital towards declaring independence. The initiative had mixed results. The Palestinian economy is no doubt leaps and bounds further along than it was in the wake of the second intifada, but huge wealth disparities and high unemployment remain. It is somewhat morose, therefore, that the last great test of Fayyad's initiative will be to see if it withstands his own resignation. Any viable Palestinian state must be able to endure the turnover of politicians without taking drastic steps back in stability. For Fayyad, he should take comfort in this, as a smooth transition in power could be his greatest gift to the Palestinian people.