Forming a Government in a Crisis, 2007 – 2009


When partisan conflict tore apart the Palestinian Authority in June 2007, economist Salam Fayyad suddenly found himself in the role of prime minister—responsible for security, for basic service delivery, and for recharting Palestine’s path to statehood. Few wanted to serve in the emergency cabinet the president had asked him to form, so great seemed the risk of failure. The cabinet faced competing claims to legitimacy from Hamas, which headed the unity government that had just collapsed. The Basic Law, the territories’ constitution, included specific provisions that both provided clear guidance on how to move forward under the unforeseen conditions and contained enough ambiguity that allowed government legitimacy to be politically contested. As the internationally recognized prime minister, Fayyad persuaded a diverse group of independents and technocrats to accept ministerial posts in the emergency government. To support decision-making and implementation at the center of government, he tasked a close adviser with setting up a prime minister’s office; strengthened the role of the cabinet secretariat; established systems for paying civil servants, including those in Gaza, where his predecessor, Ismail Haniyeh, continued to assert authority; worked with international partners to help meet basic citizen needs in the territory the government could not easily reach; and strengthened communications and transparency. Those steps enabled the cabinet to work more effectively and helped support urgent efforts to restore order, expand economic opportunities, and, ultimately, embark on a more ambitious political agenda toward independent Palestinian statehood.

Henrietta Toivanen, Jennifer Widner, and Gordon LaForge drafted this case study based on interviews conducted by Tristan Dreisbach in Ramallah, Nablus, and Jericho in June and July 2019 and by Dreisbach and others in additional locations during 2019 and 2020. The case is part of a series on state building in Palestine, 2002–05 and 2007–11. Case published April 2024.

semi-presidential system
caretaker government
emergency policies
Salam Fayyad
Focus Area(s)
Centers of Government
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Henrietta Toivanen, Jennifer Widner and Gordon Laforge