Rami Hamdallah?

Why ruin relations with the PA over the appointment of Hamdallah at a time when so much energy is being channeled toward jump-starting negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel?

June 5, 2013 23:07
3 minute read.
Prof. Rami Hamdallah, president of An-Najah National University.

Rami Hamdallah 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)

One can only ponder what possessed US Secretary of State John Kerry to praise the appointment of English professor Rami Hamdallah as the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.

Perhaps the statement reflects the State Department’s relief that PA President Mahmoud Abbas did not choose a member of Hamas as part of a larger reconciliation deal with the terrorist organization. This is unlikely, however, since there never was a real chance for rapprochement between Fatah, which sees itself as the only legitimate ruler of the West Bank, and Hamas, which claims unlimited autonomy in the Gaza Strip.

More likely, Kerry was simply trying to make the best of a highly problematic development. Why ruin relations with the PA over the appointment of Hamdallah, an academic devoid of political experience, at a time when so much energy is being channeled toward jump-starting negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel? Kerry might have reasoned. Besides, the PA prime minister has no real role in the negotiations, rather it is the PLO and its head, Abbas, who represent the Palestinians’ interests vis-à-vis Israel.

The appointment of Hamdallah should have, however, elicited sharp US criticism because it clinches Abbas’s effective removal of Salam Fayyad as prime minister without providing a credible alternative.

Fayyad, we recall, was brought in to combat the pervasive corruption that flourished during Yasser Arafat’s years as president of the PA.

In 2002, following the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield, Arafat came under tremendous pressure to institute reforms and increase transparency and accountability. Condoleeza Rice, at the time the US national security adviser, pushed for the appointment of Fayyad, a former economist at the International Monetary Fund and manager of the Arab Bank in the West Bank, to the new position of PA finance minister.

The objective was to take responsibility for economic issues out of the hands of Arafat and give it to Fayyad. Despite Arafat’s vociferous opposition, Fayyad initiated numerous reforms, gaining him the trust of the international community, which had seen Arafat squander hundreds of millions of dollars in donations.

In 2007, Fayyad was appointed prime minister of the PA, once again in an attempt to regain the confidence of the international community, which was wary of transferring aid to the Palestinians. During his six-year stint, Fayyad clashed repeatedly with Abbas, primarily over anti-corruption reforms and Fayyad’s insistence on transparency. But Abbas managed, finally, to push Fayyad out. Hamdallah’s appointment finalizes the move.

Unfortunately, unlike Fayyad, who proved himself willing to confront even the likes of Arafat and who enjoyed a certain amount of political power thanks to the strong support he received from the international community, Hamdallah is seen as a non-entity, without a political base at home and without support abroad, who is not expected to stand up to Abbas. This is probably the reason Abbas tapped Hamdallah, as Khaled Abu Toameh, The Jerusalem Post’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent, noted in his analysis in Tuesday’s paper. Now Abbas will be able to return to the Palestinian custom, first instituted by Arafat, of stealing international aid.

As corruption begins to run rampant once again, Palestinians will rightly grow cynical and lose faith in the more “moderate” Fatah. Hamas will be the most likely candidate to take advantage of the unrest and political instability that is sure to follow in the West Bank. Chances for a negotiated peace will only get slimmer.

Under the circumstances, Kerry’s praise for the appointment of Hamdallah is incomprehensible. The ouster of Fayyad, an honest and brave Palestinian politician, in favor of a man lacking political experience and political power should be a source of concern in Washington.

Could it be that Kerry’s singular focus on the “process of peace” has made him oblivious to the underlying ailments afflicting Palestinian society – such as the tendency for widespread corruption – which are the real obstacles to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

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