by Khaled Abu Toameh

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad may be a good man with good intentions, but those who think that he will be able to persuade the Palestinians to make peace with Israel are deluding themselves.

In Palestinian culture, it is more important if one graduates from an Israeli prison than from the University of Texas at Austin.

Fayyad never spent a day in an Israeli jail. Nor did he or any of his sons take an active role in the “struggle” against Israel.

The first question that people would ask Fayyad -- when and if he runs in a new election -- is, “What sacrifices did you make in the struggle against Israel?”

Palestinians will want to know if Fayyad has ever been detained or targeted in any other way by Israel. They would want to know if any of Fayyad’s sons had participated in demonstrations or attacks against Israel. This is why Palestinians who have sat in Israeli prisons for security offenses now hold senior positions in the Palestinian Authority.

Many Palestinians see Fayyad as someone who was “imposed” on them by Americans and Europeans and are willing to accept him as long as he is dealing only with the economy and infrastructure. But Fayyad, who appears to be more popular in Washington and London than in the Gaza Strip’s Jabalya refugee camp or Hebron in the West Bank, will never be able to sell a peace agreement with Israel to his people.

In the parliamentary election that took place in January 2006, Fayyad ran as an independent candidate at the head of a party called “Third Way”. His number two was the prominent Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi. The party got less than two percent of the votes. Like Fayyad, Ashrawi never spent a day in an Israeli prison. Nor had she or her daughters been involved in anti-Israel violence. This is the main reason “Third Way” did not appeal to the Palestinians. Because both Fayyad and Ashrawi lived and studied abroad for many years, they still have no grassroots following in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Fayyad’s “Third Way” won only two seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, turning him and Ashrawi into lawmakers. But shortly after the election, a sharp dispute erupted between the two and Ashrawi chose to break away. Since then, “Third Way” has been a one-man party headed by Fayyad. The party has since been completely paralyzed, and some say it no longer even exists.

If Fayyad runs in a new election, both he and his party are unlikely to get more than the two percent again that they got in the last vote. While he may have done wonderful things for the economy in the West Bank, Fayyad continues to lack popular support. Moreover, the two major parties in the Palestinian arena, Fatah and Hamas, have a common interest in preventing Fayyad from rising to power.

Fatah, whose followers control large parts of the West Bank, views Fayyad as a major threat to its power. In fact, Fatah officials have long been accusing Fayyad of working, with the help of the Americans and Israelis, to undermine Fatah’s authority in the West Bank. Fayyad has been accused, among other things, of cutting off funds to Fatah figures and institutions. On a number of occasions, disgruntled Fatah activists have distributed leaflets denouncing Fayyad as a “collaborator” with Israel.

Hamas, at the other end, considers itself to be at war with the Fayyad government. The Islamic movement has held Fayyad responsible for the massive crackdown on its members and institutions in the West Bank over the past three years. Hamas has even demanded that Fayyad be removed from his post as a pre-condition for achieving “national unity” with Fatah.

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