Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walks with Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (unseen) as they review the honor guard in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian officials accused President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday of abusing his powers to settle scores with political rivals in the Palestine Liberation Organization and his own Fatah faction, by his unexpected cabinet reshuffle and dismissal of two dozen other officials in the past week.
In the reshuffle announced at the beginning of the week, Abbas replaced three cabinet members with men more loyal to him, as ministers of culture, justice and social welfare.
In a second controversial decision, Abbas dismissed 25 members of the board of directors of a foundation created to preserve the cultural, literal and intellectual heritage of Mahmoud Darwish, the famous Palestinian poet and author who died in 2008.
Abbas dismissed Yasser Abed Rabbo as head of the Darwish Foundation this week, six months after firing him as PLO secretary-general.
Abbas’s critics see both moves as an attempt to remove his political rivals from key positions.
Palestinian sources said Salim Al-Sakka was sacked as justice minister this week after writing a letter to Egyptian authorities inquiring about four Hamas members who went missing after crossing the Rafah terminal into Sinai in August. Witnesses have been quoted as saying that gunmen kidnapped the men as they rode in a bus.
Egyptian authorities were outraged at Al-Sakka’s letter for its suggestion that Egypt was being held responsible for the abduction.
A senior Fatah official acknowledged to The Jerusalem Post that Al-Sakka had been fired for “insulting a brotherly country,” referring to Egypt.
Hamas objected to the cabinet reshuffle as a unilateral decision aimed at hurting a reconciliation agreement signed with Fatah last year. The group said that Al-Sakka’s dismissal “proves that the Palestinian government is run by Fatah and is not linked to national accord (with Hamas).”
Headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, the latest Palestinian cabinet was formed after the Hamas-Fatah deal, and is more commonly known as the National Consensus Government.
The cabinet reshuffle also saw the removal of Ziad Abu Amr from his job as Minister of Culture. He too is believed to have fallen out with Abbas. Abu Amr was replaced with Ehab Bsaisso, who until recently served as government spokesman and is very close to both Abbas and Hamdallah.
The Darwish Foundation members were dismissed by means of a presidential decree, in a move viewed as stemming from Abbas’s campaign against Abed Rabbo and his supporters, Palestinian officials said.
Hasan Asfour, a Fatah official from the Gaza Strip who previously served as Minister of State in the Palestinian government, said that Abbas’s decrees amounted to a “hijacking of Palestinian legitimacy.” Abbas was able to settle scores by means of these decrees in the absence of regulatory institutions and a parliament which has not convened since 2007, Asfour said.
The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not convened largely due to the Hamas-Fatah split and the inability to muster a quorum of members, many of whom either cannot travel from Gaza to the West Bank or have been imprisoned by Israel for alleged involvement in violence.