Is an anxious Fatah behind bid to reshuffle PA cabinet?

Conflicting views over separation of party’s Central Committee, PA gov’t

By RACHELLE KLIGER / THE MEDIA LINE
April 20, 2010 20:58
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

mahmoud abbas 311. (photo credit: AP)

Rumors of an imminent reshuffle in the Palestinian cabinet have ignited debate over expanding Fatah Party presence under the independent Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is planning a cabinet reshuffle to include more members of Fatah’s Central Committee.

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Abbas has reportedly asked Fatah members to remain mum on the anticipated reshuffle, the final touches of which were still being made, the daily said, quoting a “high-ranking Palestinian.”

Fayyad’s current government is composed of independents and members of various factions of the PLO, including Fatah, which accounts for fewer than half the ministers.

Fatah is the largest party within the PLO and has played the biggest role in determining the fate of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for more than 40 years. But its prestige and power has suffered from years of corruption.

Fatah’s political body is the Central Committee, whose members are elected by secret ballot at the General Conference.

The possible political retooling by the Palestinians came amid increased criticism of Fayyad by Fatah members who say he has curtailed their influence in the West Bank at a time when their main rival Hamas has full control over the Gaza Strip.

Fayyad has informed members of the Central Committee that he will not prevent an increase in the number of Fatah ministers in the next government.

The prevalent view among analysts paints a negative prognosis for such a move, saying it would be counterproductive.

“Fatah people have argued that Hamas is in control of Gaza and that they, as Fatah, should be in charge of the West Bank,” Muhammad Dajani, a political science professor from Al-Quds University, told The Media Line.

“But when the Fatah conference took pace in Bethlehem [in July 2009], they took a decision that members of the Central Committee should not be members of the cabinet, for the sake of a separation of powers. That way, they will focus on their work in Fatah and not join the cabinet,” he said.

Dajani said this made sense to him.

“I think the cabinet should be run by professionals and technocrats, and not politicians,” he argued.

“I think these people who are pressuring for this [change] only want seats for themselves to promote their self-interests and not the national interests. They should stay out of the government, particularly when most of then are viewed as part of the traditional old school and there was news of corruption... Those who haven’t proved to be efficient should be eased out, but it doesn’t mean bringing in politicians. Salam Fayyad should bring in the best and the brightest to run the government rather than have people who were already there and didn’t deliver anything.”

At least one incumbent cabinet member, Minister of Public Works Muhammad Shtayyeh, appears to agree.

Shtayyeh, who is also a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, and did not step down after the conference last year, has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Abbas’s chief of staff Rafik al-Husseini, who was recently fired over his involvement in a corruption case.

“I am leaving the government,” Shtayyeh confirmed to The Media Line, “but I’m not going to take Husseini’s place. If the president wants me to help, I’ll see in what way I can help.”

The Media Line caught up with Shtayyeh during his last cabinet meeting as a minister. Although he would not comment on whether Fatah Central Committee members should be a part of the government or not, his actions appear to favor a separation.

“I was elected as a member of the Central Committee and I should be focusing on that,” he said.

Another issue that has come up is a possible change of interior minister, a significant post in the PA, since the ministry is in charge of the security forces.

Reports suggest that security strongman Jibril Rajoub, a former head of the PA Preventive Security Service in the West Bank who was elected to the Central Committee last July, is being touted to replace the incumbent minister Said Abu Ali, also a Fatah member.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi quoted unnamed Fatah sources saying its Central Committee and Revolutionary Committee wanted to oust Abu Ali since he had no security background and lacks what it takes to control the Palestinian security mechanisms.

Dr. Samir Awwad, a professor of international relations at Bir Zeit University, north of Ramallah, doubted that Rajoub would replace Abu Ali as interior minister, which he said had been functioned quite well lately.

Awwad echoed Dajani’s position that sitting on both the Fatah Central Committee and in the government could create a conflict of interest.

“This will divide the loyalty of the Central Committee members, because it will involve them in activities that they are not supposed to administer as Central Committee members,” he said. “It might make a person hesitant or accountable to other people such as Salam Fayyad’s government, or susceptible to pressure.”

Awwad said the main role of the few Fatah members in the current government was to act as a brake against attempts to bring it down.

Dajani said that “new blood” was needed in the system. Yet he doubted that Fayyad would cave in to Fatah and bring in more of its members.

“So far, he has resisted Fatah pressure to have the majority as Fatah members,” Dajani said. “I think he’s in a good position to keep resisting, because it doesn’t need the approval of the masses on the street. Fatah did not earn support in the elections and what [Hamas] did in Gaza also undermined them. I don’t think the popular sentiment is in favor of them, so Fayyad is in the position to resist. He’s on solid ground.”


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