Guest post: Salam Fayyad’s Facebook outreach

Guest post: Salam Fayyad’s Facebook outreach

With Internet-organized protest movements sweeping the Arab world, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is trying his hand at social networking by posting a request on his Facebook page aimed at young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, asking for suggestions as to who should fill the seats of the new cabinet that he must form in less than six weeks.

"We appreciate the role of the youth and their participation in making this decision, they play a major role in our march toward freedom," said Fayyad.

Fayyad dissolved his Cabinet on Feb. 14, amid fears that the unrest would soon spread to the West Bank. As a result of the uprisings, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, controlled by Fatah, is now trying to return to the negotiating table with rival Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls Gaza, to form a unity government. Just days before, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the PA will hold long-overdue elections by September.

The Hamas-led government in Gaza has yet to confirm their participation, seeking confirmation it members will be allowed to campaign freely in the West Bank.

Fayyad’s social networking overture generated an almost instantaneous response, as nearly a thousand Palestinians voiced their opinion just hours later, many calling for increased democracy:

"We want new, fresh faces that are qualified and educated, and have a solid reputation, " commented Haitham Wafi, "Not officials that just want to appear on television."

Omar Adas wrote: "I have faith in this experiment using Facebook to hear our voices, and I hope that you, Mr. Fayyad, will give it enough time to prove useful."

Others were not as positive.

"Free elections will do, dear Fayyad, but apparently those who decide our destiny were not so happy with the results of that," said Hamza Abusalsah. "Claiming we are a true democracy is deluding," he said.

He was referring to the 2006 legislative council elections, in which Hamas won a majority, but was threatened with sanctions by the U.S. and other western powers due to its refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violent tactics. Hamas was sanctioned — there has been a strict blockade of Gaza implemented by Israel and supported by the Quartet — the U.S., E.U., U.N., and Russia.

Fayyad’s respondents also expressed anger at the blockade:

"I own a clothing store in Gaza City and my family has reached the point of hunger, because you Fatah and the brothers of Hamas are so stuck on your chairs," said Abo Abdalla Alaa from Gaza.  "Please take care of us in Gaza," he wrote.

Fayyad also posted a YouTube video of a brief speech from his Ramallah office in which he "presents practical ideas to regain national unity."

"You will have one government for Gaza and the West Bank, which has one mission to manage the affairs of the people and the country," said Fayyad, asserting the most essential step to ending the bitter division between the factions would be for Hamas to retain responsibility for security in Gaza, but under an official framework.

Unity is clearly a high priority for Fayyad’s Facebook respondents. Dania Elwan from the West bank wrote, "Our only demand is that you end the division between Fatah  and Hamas, and form a unity government between the West Bank and Gaza."

Other commenters focused on internal political reform.

"The most important priority to is professionalize public institutions, to prove there is change and to better serve citizens," wrote Mahmoud Amer.

Raef Sharab from Gaza wrote, "We would like to see people from Gaza fill the cabinet posts that are not from the previous government, and the interior ministry must be led by a senior military official."

Fayyad, with his eye on the presidency, is looking to demonstrate that he is a reformist who can deliver between Fatah and Hamas. His new online presence is a nod toward transparency from a government that many see as corrupt and unaccountable. Fayyad also clearly prefers for Palestinians to vent their frustrations on Facebook rather than on the streets.

Erica Silverman, is a reporter for the U.N. news agency IRIN in the Palestinian Territories and Israel.