Outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad.
Outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad. Photo by AP
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Saturday. 

The two leaders held a twenty minute meeting at the Muqata government compound in Ramallah on Saturday evening. Abbas accepted the resignation during that meeting.

The Wafa news agency reported Abbas had asked Fayyad to stay on as caretaker until a new government was formed.

Abbas' bureau has already begun efforts to replace Fayyad, and the president has said he will name a new prime minister within days.

The incoming leader is expected to be an independent yet influential figure closely associated with Fatah. He should have extensive experience in finance, and be perceived by the public as a technocrat rather than a politician. The top candidates in line to take over the role are Dr. Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, and Dr. Rami al-Hamdallah, president of An-Najah University in Nablus.

Another possibility is that Abbas would form the government himself, as agreed upon in the reconciliation agreement signed in 2011 between Fatah and Hamas, and will lay the ground for elections both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This scenario is unlikely to play out considering that leaders in the PA are convinced that the time isn't yet ripe for a unity government.  

Hamas expressed no sorrow at Fayyad’s resignation, but was quick to note that it was not part of the reconciliation agreement because Hamas had vetoed Fayyad’s continued leadership of a Palestinian national unity government.

Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu-Zuhri, said Fayyad’s resignation was due to internal disputes between Fayyad and the Fatah movement. According to Abu Zuhri, reconciliation did not depend on Fayyad’s resignation but rather on Fatah’s commitment to accept all the conditions of the agreement between the two groups and not only some of them.  

While Fayyad's resignation didn't come as a shock in Ramallah's political arena, what was surprising is Abbas' acceptance of it. Long-strained relations between the 61-year-old Fayyad and Abbas worsened last month when the prime minister accepted the resignation of his finance minister, against the wishes of the president.

Sources told Reuters Fayyad had offered his resignation to Abbas on Wednesday following a rift between the two men over government policy.

Contradictory reports have been coming out of Ramallah over the matter in recent days. Highly placed sources within the Palestinian Authority have said Fayyad was planning to quit before the Palestinian president sacks him in the wake of disputes over the management of the economic crisis in the West Bank and financial issues in the Palestinian Authority. Other officials, meanwhile, told Haaretz that the reports simply reflected the fantasies of the Fatah movement, which is trying to push Fayyad out.

Western governments have offered staunch support to Fayyad ever since he became prime minister in 2007, seeing him as the architect of Palestinian state-building efforts, and his departure could complicate their ties with Abbas. Donor countries are likely to put aid on hold until a successor is named.

According to a report from Friday, a meeting scheduled to take place the day before between Abbas and Fayad was postponed due to European and American pressure.

Sources have said the Americans are not willing to discuss the option of removing Fayyad from his position of prime minister.

The Fatah movement has not hidden its satisfaction over Fayyad’s resignation, and has criticized the U.S. government for what it says is the administration’s interference in the move. Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmed said the U.S. statements constituted intervention so blatant as to border on humiliation.

“The United States interferes in almost every public process internationally, but what happened in the Palestinian arena is humiliation we are not prepared to accept,” he said.