In a surprise move, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has frozen the bank account of a non-profit organization headed by former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The decision is seen in the context of PA President Mahmoud Abbas's effort to undermine and discredit Fayyad. Abbas believes that Fayyad, who resigned in 2013, is seeking to replace or succeed him as president.
Following his resignation, the US-educated Fayyad established a Ramallah-based group called Future For Palestine. According to Fayyad, the group's mission is to "enhance the resilience of Palestinian citizens in their homeland, especially in marginalized and severely impacted areas, by providing the basic development requirements."
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leadership did not like the idea from the beginning. Ever since Future For Palestine was established in August 2013, they have been working toward undermining the group and its founder, Fayyad.
The PA leadership is convinced that Fayyad is using the group to advance his own political goals and establish bases of power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
During the military confrontation between Israel and Hamas last year, Fayyad's group launched a campaign to aid the residents of the Gaza Strip. The campaign included the purchase of tens of thousands of bottles of mineral water that were supposed to be dispatched to the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority thwarted the campaign.
To justify the crackdown on Fayyad back then, the PA said that the former prime minister was part of a "conspiracy" to overthrow the Abbas regime. Some reports even suggested that Abbas had ordered his security forces to detain Fayyad for interrogation, but backtracked after threats from the US and several European governments.
Later, Abbas sent security officers to raid the offices of Future For Palestine and conduct a thorough search of its files. Some of Fayyad's top aides were taken into custody and questioned about the sources of the group's funding.
Last week, the campaign against Fayyad reached its peak when the Palestinian Authority announced that it has seized the assets of Future For Palestine, and accused the former prime minister of "money laundering."
PA officials claimed that Fayyad's group had received $10 million from the United Arab Emirates, a Gulf country that supports Abbas's political enemy, ousted Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan. The officials accused Dahlan and Fayyad of working together to topple the Abbas regime. Dahlan fled the West Bank several years ago after falling out with Abbas, who accused him of attempting to stage a coup against the Palestinian Authority leadership.
Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, pictured on January 25, 2013 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Image source: World Economic Forum)
Fayyad said this week that he is planning to take legal measures to cancel the decision to freeze his group's assets. Denying the charge of "money laundering," Fayyad added that Future For Palestine was operating within the framework of the law and did not commit any offense.
The decision to freeze the bank account of Future For Palestine came in the wake of increased talk about a behind-the-scenes power struggle to succeed the 80-year-old Abbas. The name of Fayyad has repeatedly surfaced as a potential successor to Abbas -- a suggestion that has clearly enraged the Palestinian leader and his senior officials in Ramallah.
It is no secret that several senior Palestinian officials see themselves as potential successors to Abbas. These include, besides Dahlan, the chief of the PA's General Intelligence Security Force in the West Bank, Majed Faraj, Palestinian Football Association Chairman Jibril Rajoub and Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Abbas believes that he has thus far succeeded in sidelining and discrediting at least two candidates: Fayyad and Dahlan. The charges made by Abbas against the two men are designed to depict them as agents of foreign countries who are plotting against him and the entire Palestinian people.
Like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, Abbas has stubbornly refused to share power with anyone. And like Arafat, he continues to run the Palestinian Authority as if it were his private fiefdom.
Fayyad's chances of succeeding Abbas are, anyway, very slim, if not non-existent. Fayyad is an independent figure who does not belong to Fatah, Hamas or any other political group. When he ran in the January 2006 parliamentary election at the head of the Third Way list, his group received two seats out of 132.
The reason most Palestinians did not vote for Fayyad is because he had not played any role in the "revolution" against Israel. In this culture, it is more important if one graduates from an Israeli prison than from the University of Texas in Austin. Fayyad did not participate in any armed attack on Jews and never supported the armed struggle against Israel. Nor did he send his son to throw stones or firebombs at Israelis. That is the real reason why people like Fayyad lack popular support.
If and when Abbas steps down, the only candidate who has a good chance of replacing him is one who was part of the "revolution." A Palestinian who carries out an attack on Israel has more credentials among his people than one who studied at Harvard or Oxford universities. It took Salam Fayyad too long to realize that no matter how many good things he does for his people, in the end he will be judged on the basis of his contribution to the fight against Israel, and not how much humanitarian and financial aid he provides.