The new Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who was sworn into office 2.5 weeks ago, suddenly “offered” his resignation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 20 June — and then drove off in “a private car” [without security?] to his hometown of Anabta.
Even in a political culture which such an intricate resignation culture as the Palestinian Authority’s [renamed since January this year on the orders of Abbas as the Palestinian Government], this was a surprise shock.
It is a tactic that must not be over-used: serial resignations appear weak and temperamental, and will be ridiculed.
There are only two ways Hamdallah’s resignation can be respected, and the basic bottom line must be (1) that he really means it.
He could also get some points, in some calculations, if (2) he manages to get enormous concessions, and stays in office, and then amasses enough power to keep on getting what he wants, all the time.
Hamdallah — who said that he would only serve three months at the most, basically until the end of the academic summer vacation, and until a new unity goverment in place — will not get a second chance at this.
Hamdallah announced his decision in a terse Tweet on Thursday afternoon. It was only his second Tweet, on his official Twitter account:
Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov
I offered my resignation to the President of PA. Official note will be released soon. R.H.
Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov 4 Jun
Welcome! This is my official Twitter account. Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister of Palestine.
Does posting one’s resignation on Twitter make it definitive? Apparently not.
Mahmoud Abbas, a cagey politician who is used to getting his way and who is prepared to wait to have his revenge cold, was certainly surprised and most probably also embarrassed — and sent Tayyib Abdul Rahim, an adviser, and Majed Faraj, head of the Palestinian intelligence services in the West Bank, right up to Anabta after Hamdallah, apparently to try to persuade him to come back to the Muqata’a for a chat [or to agree to change his mind]. They stayed for three hours, and nobody had anything to say afterwards [though the media was informed that had Hamdallah agreed to come back to Ramallah on Friday evening — rather than immediately — to meet with Abbas].
News detail: I was in Samer Restaurant just before noon, getting a grilled chicken to take home, when I saw a group order of sandwiches and bottles of soft drinks [mostly Coca Cola, regular + zero, as well as Fanta orange soda] being assembled to take to the Prime Minister’s office. It looked like the sign of a convivial work session before the Palestinian weekend [Friday + Saturday], not of an imminent blow-up and resignation…
The first news reports spoke of a dispute over responsibilities and powers.
Then, attention began to focus on the peculiar imposition, by Abbas, of two deputy Prime Ministers to serve with Abbas — one a former Foreign Minister, from Gaza, who has a good and serious reputation, and the other one Dr. Mohammad Mustafa, who had recently resigned as head of the Palestine Investment Fund just before the resignation of former PM Salam Fayyad amid speculation that he was preparing to replace Fayyad. Mustafa, who apparently remains Abbas’ economic adviser, was privy to the business secrets of the Palestinian wealthy elite, and is a man who is used to not answering sceptical questions. Mustafa takes his privilege quite seriously.
AFP reported here that “Mustafa, who heads the Palestine Investment Fund and was handed the role of economic adviser, was initially tipped as a possible successor to Fayyad. And when the new government was sworn in, it was he who held the first news conference following its initial cabinet meeting on June 11, not Hamdallah, in a move which raised a few eyebrows”.
It had also been reported that Mustafa would be the spokesman of the new government. But, after the second cabinet meeting under Hamdallah on June 18, it was officially announced that Dr. Ehab Bessaiso would be the spokesperson for the government, as well as Director of the Palestinian Government Media Center [following in the footsteps of Ghassan Khateeb, a former Minister of Labor as well as Minister of Planning, who resigned within the past year and was replaced by Nour Odeh, a former correspondent of Al-Jazeera TV].
Dalia Hatuqa , a journalist who lives in Ramallah, Tweeted after the resignation “offer”:
Dalia Hatuqa @DaliaHatuqa
I don’t get why people are surprised. The man was assigned not one but two deputies for a reason: to do his job for him => power struggle
Dalia Hatuqa @DaliaHatuqa
Worth noting that Pal Basic Law doesnt mention 2 deputies. There was 1 instance (at least) where a DPM was assigned in 2007: Azzam Al Ahmad
Dalia Hatuqa @DaliaHatuqa
Also worth noting that the Palestinian Basic Law doesn’t mention a deputy prime minister position at all #previoustweet **
Dalia Hatuqa @DaliaHatuqa
2-3 weeks/months from now when Hamdallah resigns again, the news will not be met with today’s media frenzy
Dalia Hatuqa @DaliaHatuqa
We’ve seen this scenario too many times w predecessor to believe Abbas will accept Hamdallah’s resignation. Kiss-n-makeup session will ensue
** It’s also worth nothing that the Palestinan Basic Law hasn’t been adopted, as it wasn’t approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council, which was unable to meet due to a lack of quorum and whose mandate has now expired…
Also Thursday, the privately-owned Ma’an News Agency reported here that ousted Fateh strongman Mohammad Dahlan [now in exile in the Gulf and under indictment for corruption and involvement in Yasser Arafat’s death, who had previously been groomed by the American government under the Bush Administration for Palestinian leadership position] commented, in a statement, that “any present or future government will fail if all pivotal tasks remain monopolized by the presidency and dedicated to serve its interests.” Ma’an reported that “He added that the Palestinian people’s interests should not be run by ‘tools which proved to be self-centered and which do not prioritize the public interest’. The problem, added Dahlan, is not who serves as prime minister, both in the past and future, because even if all experts of the world work together they will fail to remedy the situation, according to Dahlan. He asserted that the Palestinians should have the courage ‘to reconsider some bases of the PA which have become unfit’ to continue. According to Dahlan, the main point is that the PA must be strengthened through building institutions “rather than be dependent on individuals” and that is the only way it can counter external pressures and internal crises”.
Jerusalem Post correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh reported here that “Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement: ‘Hamdallah’s resignation indicates that unilateral steps remain weak, are useless and do not resolve the internal Palestinian problem … The solution is not in having many governments. It is in the implementing the reconciliation agreement’. The timing is especially awkward, coming a week before Abbas is set to meet United States Secretary of State John Kerry as part of an American bid to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks”.
Kerry had comfortably and affably backed Fayyad, when the dispute erupted between Fayyad and Abbas over Fayyad’s quick acceptance of the resignation of Abbas-backed Finance Minister Nabil Kassis, who himself served rather briefly in a post that Fayyad himself occupied for most of the time since 2002 — even after Fayyad was appointed Prime Minister in late June 2007 [after the Hamas rout of Fateh/Palestinian Preventive Security in Gaza, and Abbas in response dissolved the National Unity Government led by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh].
There are Palestinians who believe that Kerry’s backing of Fayyad was a deliberate U.S. strategy to burn Fayyad, by making him appear to be “America’s man”. In any case, Fayyad himself insisted vehemently on resigning after that — knowing, these Palestinian sources say, that there is no way he could continue in office after being so publicly labelled. [According to these Palestinian sources, the American government had told Abbas that he could not touch several of his own officials, including Fayyad; negotiator Saeb Erekat; and the PLO Executive Committee’s Secretary, Yasser Abed Rabbo…]
UPDATE: Here’s what U.S. State Department Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said at the regular Friday briefing in Washington, posted here in response to a journalist’s question:
QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue — Have you had a chance to review the – under what circumstances the new Prime Minister resigned or have you spoken to anyone at the Palestinian Authority about this?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re following this situation closely but, of course, defer to the Palestinian leadership to comment publicly. We have a longstanding commitment to support Palestinian institution-building. And whatever happens, it’s important that the Palestinian Authority government remain committed to that effort of institution-building. So I don’t have any further information to share. I really refer you to them.
QUESTION: Okay. But did you have plans to meet with Mr. Hamdallah, the new Prime Minister who apparently was only there for a few weeks, or anything like that?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if he was going to be on the bilateral agenda, but when we talk about the peace process, President Abbas is our interlocutor and so it’s not going to have an impact on the Secretary’s discussion with —
QUESTION: He seems to have resigned under circumstances where there was fear on his part that there is a duplication of authority and so on. Do you support that it should actually be pyramidal* and should be at the top and conducting the business of institution-building and so on, rather than his deputies who apparently were placed there by the President of the Palestinian Authority to basically undermine him?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean…I really refer you to the Palestinian leadership for more details.
The meeting at the Muqata’a was reportedly scheduled at 6:00 pm passed without any news. Almost three hours later, there were reports that Hamdallah had retracted his resignation. But this was later modified: Hamdallah was considering retracting his resignation, and a further meeting was scheduled with Abbas on Saturday…ev
The official Palestinian media — Palestine TV and WAFA — meanwhile reported neither the resignation, nor the meetings, nor the possible retraction of the resignation…
UPDATE: On Saturday night, Ma’an reported that “President Mahmoud Abbas held talks with newly-appointed Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Saturday for the second time in 24 hours, a senior official told Ma’an. The 30 minute meeting aimed to solve a rift between Hamdallah and his two deputies Muhammad Mustafa and Ziad Abu Amr, but was ultimately unsuccessful, the official said”.
Saturday’s meeting lasted 90 minutes, and was inconclusive, Naharnet reported here. A third Abbas-Hamdallah meeting in this crisis is scheduled for 11 am on Sunday. According to the Naharnet report, “the two men will continue discussions on the division of responsibilities within Hamdallah’s government, which lies at the core of the current crises. He is demanding ‘clear and defined powers as prime minister and for his deputies, based on the law ***, so his authority is not encroached on’, an official said after the Friday meeting. Source close to Hamdallah say he was incensed by Abbas’s decision to appoint two deputy premiers — Mohammed Mustafa, who heads the Palestine Investment Fund and was given the role of economic adviser to the president, and Ziad Abu Amr”.
*** The law? There is no law in the West Bank… no clear law at all, just the pretense and trappings.