Abbas asks Fayyad to form new government

Fatah officials claim move is unrelated to the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt.

fayyad lookin formal 311 (photo credit: AP)
fayyad lookin formal 311
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday asked Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to form a new cabinet to prepare for presidential, legislative and local elections by September.
The new cabinet’s mission would also be to make sure that Fayyad’s two-year plan for building state institutions would be ready by September, when the PA is scheduled to unilaterally seek international recognition of an independent Palestinian state along the pre- 1967 lines.
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Abbas instructed Fayyad to consult with all political factions and representative of various groups and institutions before forming the new cabinet.
Earlier, Fayyad submitted his resignation to Abbas, “to pave the way for the formation of a new government capable of pursuing the outgoing government’s plan for ending occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.”
Some Palestinians said that Abbas’s decision to call elections and reshuffle the cabinet was also linked to the recent popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
But Fatah officials in Ramallah denied that the measures were designed to stave off protests against the PA leadership.
“The decision to reshuffle the cabinet and hold elections was taken by President Abbas long before the events in Tunisia and Egypt,” explained Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmed, who is closely associated with Abbas.
Jamal Muhaisen, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said the new cabinet would consist of representatives of various Palestinian political factions and movements, as well as independent figures.
He said that the committee would meet on Tuesday to discuss the cabinet reshuffle and name its candidates for ministerial posts. “Fatah will have a strong presence in the new cabinet,” Muhaisen said. “The new cabinet will also include members of other PLO groups.” Abbas has long been under heavy pressure from Fatah to reshuffle the cabinet so that it would include more representatives of the faction.
Bassam Salhi, secretary-general of the Palestinian People’s Party, formerly the Communist Party, expressed hope that Hamas would agree to the establishment of a national unity government. He said that such a government would pave the way for ending divisions among the Palestinians and holding elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Fayyad has five weeks to announce his new cabinet, which will include at least five Fatah representatives, another Fatah official said. He expected Fatah representatives to be given the portfolios for Jerusalem, health, agriculture, education and tourism. Israel had no official comment on Abbas’s decision to reshuffle the Palestinian cabinet, with an official in the Prime Minister’s Office saying it was an “internal Palestinian matter.”
One government official, however, downplayed the significance of the move, saying Abbas had taken similar steps in the past, and that this did not change Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s stated position of wanting to immediately negotiate with the PA. The official said that the recent events in Egypt did not spark a debate in Jerusalem whether it was wise dealing with Abbas, given that he has postponed elections on a number of occasions, and it was not clear whether the Palestinians viewed his government as legitimate. “We are aware of the threats that the PA faces,” the official said, “specifically threats from Hamas. We see Abbas as the legitimate Palestinian leader, which is why we continue to call on him to come to the negotiating table.”
The official said that one lesson from Egypt that should be applied to the Palestinian track was that there must be “ironclad” security arrangements in any future agreement. These agreements would be necessary, he said, “first of all to protect the peace, and secondly to protect Israel if peace fails.”
Hamas, meanwhile, dismissed the PA cabinet reshuffle as “silly theater” and said it had nothing to do with reforms.
The Hamas government said in a statement that the decision to reshuffle Fayyad’s cabinet was a “chaotic step that reflected the state of panic and concern of the Abbas-Fayad regime.”
Hamas reiterated its strong opposition to holding elections in the PA-controlled territories, saying it would not allow the vote to take place in the Gaza Strip.