PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah remarked when he was sworn-in to succeed Salam
Fayyad at the helm of the Palestinian government earlier this month that his
government’s life will, by necessity, be short-lived.
It was intended to
last until August, at which time it would be dissolved in order to pave the way
for a long-awaited national consensus government comprised of both Fatah and
Hamas loyalists. Doubtless, not even Hamdallah expected his tenure to last
Following intense back-and-forth between the
recently-appointed prime minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas, Hamdallah on Sunday became the second “caretaker prime minister” in a
month, when his resignation – submitted on Thursday – was accepted by
Meanwhile, a power struggle is playing out in the PA.
the heart of the political machinations, according to sources inside the
government, is the appointment by Abbas of two deputies to the prime minister:
Muhammed Mustafa, director of the Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) and the
other name bandied about as a leading candidate to replace Fayyad before
Hamdallah was selected; and Ziad Abu Amr, a former foreign
While the pair of deputies was presumably a bid by Abbas to
assert more control than he had when Fayyad held the post, the absence of clear
lines of authority, responsibility and procedure created an atmosphere described
by one senior official as “conflicts and confusion.”
“There was a problem
in forming the government from the beginning,” Hani al-Masri, head of the
Ramallah-based think tank Masarat told The Media Line. “Assigning two close
aides to Abbas [to serve] as the prime minister’s deputies is against the
According to the Palestinian constitution, each member of the
cabinet has to have a portfolio or a specific topic in which to be in
In addition, the constitution affords the prime minister the
right to appoint a deputy of his own choosing. “This time, Abbas assigned the
deputies himself and he didn’t assign them any department to oversee, which is
in violation of the law,” explained Masri.
“The classic power struggle
between the president and the prime minister came between the prime minister and
his [president-appointed] deputies,” according to writer and political analyst
Jihad Harb. He told The Media Line that, “The presidency is trying to
concentrate all executive powers and keep them in the hands of the Palestinian
Authority practically, but not legally.”
Palestinian media was rife with
reports of the alleged dispute between Hamdallah and his deputies that lead him
A journalist who spoke to The Media Line on condition
that he remain anonymous explained that Abbas gave Mohammed Mustafa, whom he
appointed as the economic deputy to the prime minister, verbal approval to sign
agreements with the World Bank without first referring them to the prime
Muhammed Abu Khdeir, a senior journalist with Al-Quds, a
leading Palestinian newspaper, opined that Hamdallah quit because he was “like a
picture with no power.”
He described Hamdallah as being “upset,” and not
wanting to speak to anyone. Abu Khdeir said Hamdallah left Ramallah for Nablus,
where he has been serving as the president of An-Najah University.
blames the problem on the absence of a parliament and a viable system of
accountability. “Anyone in the position of the prime minister will do the same
thing. All prime ministers need authority and powers to function. Hamdallah is
an academic with minimal experience, so it took him some time to understand the
problem,” Masri told The Media Line.
The position of prime minister was
created by Yasser Arafat only a decade after the PA itself was established, as
the result of pressure to institute a series of reforms in 2003.
year, Abbas found himself in the same position Fayyad and Hamdallah now find
themselves in when – after only four months of leading the government under
Arafat’s rule – he resigned as the result of a power struggle with Arafat,
primarily over control of the security forces.
In 2007, Abbas gave Fayyad
the security and finance portfolios, but divisions between the two men
intensified as Abbas tried to strip authority from the prime
“Abbas felt that Fayyad had political ambitions. Also, Fayyad
refused to deliver a letter Abbas wrote to [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu,”
Harb told The Media Line.
Abu Khdeir told The Media Line that Abbas is
under pressure from Fatah because they want to lead the government. During the
last five years, Fayyad had replaced Fatah members with people on the political
Left, like Foreign Minister Riyad Malki and his chief aide Jamal
Senior Fatah members feel that Fayyad worked against both Fatah
A consensus of three possible scenarios has emerged among
observers in the PA, first among them that Abbas himself will lead a unity
government that will prepare for national elections. But this is not seen as a
priority for either Fatah or Hamas. Such a government failed to take shape
despite being agreed upon in the 2012 Doha agreement.
The second scenario
sees Abbas appointing PIF head Mohammed Mustafa, a close aide to Abbas, and the
candidate the president failed to appoint the first time around.
inside the PA speaking off the record told The Media Line that the primary
reason Mustafa was passed over is because the United States administration
didn’t welcome his candidacy, fearing the Fatah-Hamas split might actually be
Political analyst Harb agreed, telling The Media Line that, “I
believe the Americans rejected Mustafa’s name as well as all other candidates
because they didn’t want the reconciliation to be achieved.”
option is that Abbas will push for a Fatah-majority government led by a senior
“There has to be cohesion and harmony between the president
and the prime minister. A Fatah member will be less confrontational with
President Abbas,” according to Harb.
Abu Khdeir sees a fourth possibility
in Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh, a seasoned official who heads the Palestinian Economic
Council for Development & Reconstruction (PECDAR). Abu Khdeir’s option
recalls the importance Western nations placed in Salam Fayyad’s impeccable bona
fides within the international financial community.
Abu Khdeir suggests
that while Shtayyeh could possibly take the prime minister’s portfolio, but if
not, Abbas could opt to retain it for himself if it is not determined to be
illegal for him to do so.
The final scenario suggests that Abbas, too,
does not want elections because Fatah is weak and either Hamas – as they did in
2006 – or Islamist Salafis, could walk away with the electoral victory.
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