WASHINGTON -- Amid an aggressive push for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Rami Hamdallah on his appointment to the prime ministership of the Palestinian Authority on Sunday, stressing the significance of the moment for the fate of Palestinian leadership.
But the change at the top of the Palestinian Authority is unlikely to alter Kerry's current push for peace talks, as the Palestinian prime minister historically handles economic issues and the president-- Mahmoud Abbas-- handles negotiations with the Israelis.
"Right now, there's been a pretty positive preliminary reception," says David Makovsky, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Kerry's comments last week could have had an impact. But Abbas is in charge of negotiations, so I don't think its central."
Contacted by The Jerusalem Post, leaders in Congress on foreign policy matters were unprepared to comment on the weekend announcement without adequate knowledge of Hamdallah's past.
But from what little they know of the man, American officials in the State Department see both benefits and negative consequences in the choice of Hamdallah, independent of his personal intellect or prospective political abilities.
The US feared that Abbas might choose a crony, which he did not: Hamdallah is an academic with no prior experience in government work. And yet with no political past, it appears the Hamdallah choice reflects on the failure of reconciliation talks with dissenting parties-- and the PA's ability to actually implement policy.
"I don't think this is a major game changer," says Brian Katulis, a fellow at the Center for American Progress. "I'd be surprised that this appointment would change any sort of calculus Secretary Kerry may have. The only positive is that Abbas seems to have trust in him."
Since assuming office four months ago, Kerry has already traveled to Israel almost as many times as Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state in four years, expending valuable geopolitical capital on the historic conflict.
In his brief statement on Hamdallah, the latest ambitious secretary of state reinforced his interest in renewed negotiations, just a day before meeting with Israel's Tzipi Livni to discuss the topic in Washington.
"His appointment comes at a moment of challenge, which is also an important moment of opportunity," Kerry said. "Together, we can choose the path of a negotiated two-state settlement that will allow Palestinians to fulfill their legitimate aspirations, and continue building the institutions of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state that will live in peace, security, and economic strength alongside Israel." Hamdallah, who succeeds the popular Salam Fayyad, was educated in Britain and has been dean of the Palestinian al-Najah University for over fifteen years.
"People who are non-Hamas supporters are still raising questions of what the PA can actually do," Katulis says. "So [the choice] doesn't address the larger problem of a political legitimacy crisis that the Palestinians have faced for years."
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