Salam Fayyad is replaced as “Caretaker” Palestinian Prime Minister by Nablus Academic Dr. Rami Hamdallah

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s Finance Minister since 2002, who then served as Prime Minister since late June 2007 when Mahmoud Abbas named him to replace Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh after the Hamas rout of Palestinian Preventive Security in Gaza — and who insisted on resigning on April 13 after John Kerry’s too-overt praise during an Abbas-Fayyad dispute — is finally being replaced by Nablus Academic Dr. Rami Hamdallah.

Hamdallah, who reportedly has a PhD in linguistics, was born in Anabta village near Tulkarem and has been the head of an-Najah University in Nablus for almost 15 years.

Ma’an News Agency reported here that Hamdallah told AFP: “President Abbas has asked me to form a new government and I have accepted…The government will be formed in the coming days…Most ministers of the outgoing government will stay and I will bring in a new finance minister”.

Ouch.  [Salam Fayyad has been PA Finance Minister virtually non-stop since 2002 — Nabil Kassis was the only other person who served as Finance Minister in this time, and it was Fayyad’s fight with Kassis, then Fayyad’s too-quick acceptance of Kassis’ resignation, that brought about the events that led to Fayyad’s resignation.]

That will completely end Fayyad’s position in the current government — but the post of head of the Palestine Investment Fund is open, following the recent resignation of Mohammad Mustafa, who apparently continues as Abbas’ Economic Adviser.

According to Ma’an, Fayyad’s role ended Sunday night, and “Hamdallah, who also headed the Central Election Commission and the Palestinian Stock Exchange [was] born in 1958 [and] is a political independent who received a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom. He has been president of An-Najah University since 1998”.

Munib al-Masri, the Palestinian billionaire from Nablus, has been one of the big backers of an-Najah University — and he is also is the Palestinian co-founder of the “Breaking the Impasse” initiative of some 300 Israeli and Palestinian businessmen who say they are urging their leaders to move forward on agreement on a two-state solution, and are working to build up a $4 billion “investment” fund to complement the US push for re-launched direct negotiations. Masri and his Israeli counterpart appeared with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea in Jordan to announce the initiative.

A highly critical comment was, surprisingly, allowed through Ma’an filters and says [until it is removed]: “this guy is worthless. The university steals money from the international community, has no regard for labor or human rights, and threatens students and staff. And now this guy is PM of your country. The prisons will get fuller”… This comment is signed “Nancy, UK”.

The New York Times was nicer with Hamdallah [and it doesn’t have comments]…

Isabel Kershner wrote [with reporting support from Fares Akram in Gaza] on June 3 that “The appointment of Rami Hamdallah, 54, a professor with no previous experience in government, ended the vacuum created by Mr. Fayyad’s resignation over internal differences… Mr. Hamdallah has not played a prominent role in Palestinian politics and is better known as a technocrat, though Palestinian insiders described him as being close to Fatah. He has a doctorate in applied linguistics from Lancaster University in Britain and has served as the president of An-Najah National University in the West Bank city of Nablus since 1998. Mr. Hamdallah is widely credited in the West Bank with having turned the university into a vibrant institution. [!!!+?] Still, some Palestinians questioned the effect of Mr. Hamdallah’s appointment on the confidence of foreign donor nations whose funds keep the Palestinian Authority functioning. Some also suggested that Mr. Hamdallah’s closeness to Fatah meant that there would be fewer checks and balances. Mr. Fayyad was a political independent who was often at loggerheads with Fatah. The Palestinian Parliament has not functioned since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections. One Palestinian expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly, said that Mr. Abbas had appointed a prime minister ‘from within the family’, harking back to the era of Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas’s predecessor. Then, the expert said, things were run ‘like a family business, and that was not healthy’. In Gaza, a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, described the new government being formed in the West Bank as ‘illegal’ and said Mr. Abbas had deviated from the national unity deals”. This is published here.

The next day, Jodi Rudoren wrote, with reporting help from Khaled Abu Aker, that Hamdallah “is expected to have as deputy prime ministers two men close to Mr. Abbas, Mohammed Mustafa, currently chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, and Ziad Abu Amr, a legislator and former foreign minister… Part of a wealthy family that owned large swaths of land in the northern West Bank, Mr. Hamdallah grew up in the village of Anabta, where an uncle later served as mayor. (Another uncle was in the Jordanian Parliament before 1967.) He has spent his entire career at An-Najah, starting as an English instructor in 1982, and he met his wife when she was a student there. Thirteen years ago, she was driving on the Nablus Highway when a collision with an Israeli vehicle killed their 11-year-old twins and another son, age 9, landing her in a coma for six months. The couple has since had a daughter. ‘This is the biggest test of a man’, Mr. Masri said. ‘He said this is the fate from God and we just have to take it’. Ever since, Mr. Masri added, ‘nobody dies in Nablus or around Nablus that he doesn’t say condolences — you always see him there in the sad times’. Besides the elections commission, Mr. Hamdallah is a member of more than a dozen boards, most related to higher education, but also the Yasser Arafat Foundation and the Palestinian Stock Exchange, where he has been chairman since 2008. The exchange’s chief executive, Ahmad Awaida, said Mr. Hamdallah has a dry sense of humor and is ‘smart enough to understand what you’re telling him even though he’s never been a banker’. ‘He is very firm’, Mr. Awaida said. ‘Meetings in the Arab world tend to drag on for hours and hours and hours’, he said, but with Mr. Hamdallah, ‘I don’t recall a meeting that took more than the required time’… Mr. Awaida said Mr. Hamdallah often approached him or other businessmen for money to support poor students at An-Najah; Maher Abu Zant, one of his senior university aides, said Mr. Hamdallah paid some student fees from his own pocket. Magjeh Awadallah, who has worked as a campus security guard for 20 years, said that when he once told Mr. Hamdallah he was short of money, the president arranged for him to get an extra month’s salary. When Mr. Awadallah had heart surgery, he awoke to find Mr. Hamdallah at his bedside. And when his newly married son had a car accident, Mr. Hamdallah visited the son, too, in the hospital — twice’.” This very flattering portrait [but what does it say about his being Palestinian Prime Minister?] is posted here.

The announcement was made on Sunday evening in Ramallah, just hours after Abbas met with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who helicoptered in from Amman for the discussion. According to the report published here by the official Palestinian News Agency [WAFA], Judeh delivered a verbal message from Jordan’s King Abdullah II to Abbas regarding Palestine and Jordan’s coordination policy on peace and US efforts to maintain the two-state solution. Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki … affirmed that both Palestine and Jordan are exerting great effort to make US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts a success. Judeh stressed that Jordan utilizes its influence in global decision-making platforms to ensure Palestinians rights”.

Grant Rumley wrote in The Atlantic here that Hamdallah studied in the UK.  Rumley added that: “His crossover into politics centers around an involvement in two organizations: the Central Elections Committee and the Yasser Arafat foundation. Hamdallah has been the Secretary General of the CEC, the institution charged with monitoring Palestinian elections, since 2002, and has been a trustee and member of the board of the Arafat Foundation since 2008. The pick of Hamdallah would be slightly unconventional, but not improbable. He’s a known quantity, a life-long academic, and a relative outsider to the political scene. As head of the CEC, he undoubtedly has had a relationship with the Hamas government in Gaza, a government that let in CEC monitors this past February to prepare for elections. Appointing a PM with a history of working with Hamas sends a clear signal that reconciliation efforts are not necessarily off the table”…

The assumption that he’s cooperated with Hamas because of his post as head of the Palestinian Central Elections Commissions is, however, a bit of a stretch…as is the statement that being on the board of the Arafat foundation [headed by Arafat’s nephew, Nasser al-Qudwa] is an entree into politics.

Rumley wrote that “Fayyad’s efforts were often a point of consternation for Fatah members within the government. His acceptance of the Finance Minister’s resignation — which Abbas refused to accept — was a case in point. Fayyad challenged the system from the inside, but his efforts weren’t always appreciated. Abbas is now likely to ensure that the next PM is lockstep with Fatah” …

But how could Abbas ensure that Hamdallah be “in lockstep with Fatah” if he is supposed, as Rumley also wrote, to have attained a reasonably good relationship with Hamas? And, if Hamdallah is somehow aligned with Fatah — even though until now he has been an academic and not a politician — how can he be named as head of a government of non-political [or, politically-neutral] technocrats?

In any case, Hamas is reportedly not at all thrilled by the Hamdallah appointment, according to the New York Times, which reported here that “In Gaza, a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, described the new government being formed in the West Bank as “illegal” and said Mr. Abbas had deviated from the national unity deals”.

In the Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh wrote here that “Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the new government would be ‘illegal’, because it had not won the approval of the Palestinian Legislative Council”.

At the moment — and of course this can change — Hamdallah is expected to serve as Prime Minister for only a short period, regardless of whether there is Palestinian reconciliation, or not.

Ma’an noted that “On April 27, Abbas announced that consultations had started to form a unity government under his own leadership, in accordance with a long-delayed reconciliation deal between his Fatah faction and the rival Islamist movement Hamas.  That five-week period ends at midnight on Sunday.  Last month, Fatah and Hamas agreed to set a three-month timetable for forming a unity government”.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement in Washington in the name of Secretary of State John Kelly, posted here saying: “We congratulate Dr. Rami Hamdallah, the next Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. His appointment comes at a moment of challenge, which is also an important moment of opportunity. Together, we can choose the path of a negotiated two-state settlement that will allow Palestinians to fulfill their legitimate aspirations, and continue building the institutions of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state that will live in peace, security, and economic strength alongside Israel. We also recognize the extraordinary contributions of outgoing Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad, who has worked tirelessly to build effective Palestinian institutions”.

It’s interesting that Kelly’s statement recognizes the “contributions”, not the “achievements” of Fayyad…

But [despite the fact that he broke a bone in his hand when he hit the table in anger during a discussion on the economy earlier in the year] who would have suspected Fayyad was such a hot-head that he just had to resign, he insisted on resigning, after John Kerry’s grating embrace?

There are those Palestinians who think that Kerry did this on purpose — did Kerry want Fayyad to resign.

Despite the scandal caused by Kerry’s remarks, if Fayyad had kept quiet and stayed in his place, he  might still be Prime Minister.

However, many believe that Fayyad’s ambitions focus on the Presidency, when new elections are ever held.

Rumley did note, in his piece for The Atlantic, that “a smooth transition in power could be his [Fayyad’s] greatest gift to the Palestinian people”.

However, Khaled Abu Toameh wrote here that “The appointment of Hamdallah shows that Abbas continues to act as if the Palestinian Authority is his private fiefdom. PLO leaders said that Abbas failed to consult with them about the appointment of the new prime minister, the same way he keeps them in the dark about many things, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resume the peace process with Israel”.

Hamdallah will have to hit the ground running. The Palestinian Government Employees Union head Bassam Zakarna told Ma’an News Agency on Monday that his union leadership has “decided to suspend protests to give Hamdallah’s government an opportunity to organize itself. The council will work side-by-side with the government as long as employees’ rights are respected, Zakarna said in a statement, urging the new premier to be a ‘cooperative and transparent partner’. Zakarna said he hoped the new cabinet would exclude ministers who played ‘the major role in the tension between the government and the union of civil servants’. He urged Hamdallah to cancel the ‘illegal resolutions made by the minister of finance, mainly the decision to stop paying salaries to Gaza-based employees’. The union also called on Hamdallah to approve a 2.78 percent salary increase to adjust for the high cost of living, as well as a 1.25 percent periodic salary increase. Zakarna added that he expected the new government to reduce fuel prices and make major tax cuts in light of high prices”. This is reported here.

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