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.]

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

Yes, Hamas leadership does support Mahmoud Abbas' UNGA move to upgrade Palestine status

In a report from Amman, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said today that “President Mahmoud Abbas Monday received a phone call from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in which he confirmed his support for the Palestinian bid to the United Nations General Assembly to gain a non-member state status”. This is posted here.

There has been confusion about this since last week, when WAFA published something similar, just after the cease-fire announced from Cairo. But some Hamas people denied the report.

This time, there is no denial.

Ma’an News Agency then wrote a corroborating report, posted here, saying: “Hamas chief-in-exile Khalid Mashaal telephoned President Abbas on Monday to confirm the Islamist movements’ support for the upcoming UN bid, the official news agency Wafa reported”.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, Ismail Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza that he supported the move in the UNGA:  “nobody is against statehood, and (my government) supports any political movement to establish a Palestinian state on the occupied Palestinian territory…Our vision is to have a state based on inalienable Palestinian principles, and a state on the pre-1967 borders does not mean ceding the rest of Palestinian land”. This is published here.

We reported this Hamas position last week — see our earlier report here.

"Tell him to come in": Mahmoud Abbas once (twice) gave refuge to Ismail Haniya in Gaza

Today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Hamas leadership are supposed to sign a reconciliation accord initialed by all 13 Palestinian factions in Cairo yesterday.

This comes after a bitter, extremely bitter, rivalry between the two largest Palestinian political factions

Here is an account — to mark this date, and “in the spirit of things”, as a colleague has written elsewhere –of the time that Mahmoud Abbas gave Ismail Haniyah, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, refuge to save his live when Haniyeh feared being killed in an Israeli bombing or targetted assassination.

This story was told to me in an interview in Ramallah in late 2008 by Mahmoud Abbas’ oldest surviving son, Yasser Abbas [Mazen, the first-born male child in the family, died after surgery in Qatar some years ago].

I have since been told by others that Abu Mazen often tells people this same story:
Do you know a story – it’s important, before I tell you other stories about me – that this house that they [Hamas] seized [in Gaza in mid-June 2007], that Ismail Haniyeh took refuge in it twice. When he thought that Israeli jets were chasing him, he came to my parents’ house at 3:30 in the morning. To be exact, it was 3:25, because my Mom told me the details. They were still up, and they heard the bell ringing. And my Mom told my Dad, ‘Hold on, I’ll open the door’. She went to open the door, then she saw Ismail Haniyeh in her face. And then she saw Maher, one of the guards there, and he said to her, ‘Madam, we have so-and-so coming here’. And she ran back and told my Dad,’“Ismail Haniyeh is at the door’. He said, ‘Tell him to come in. Tell him to come in’. So, she automatically puts the lights on in the living room, for him to come in. She told him, ‘Come in, come in. Mr. President will come to see you in a minute’. So he came, and he was complaining to my Dad. He took refuge at his house in Gaza, because he was afraid that the Israelis were trying to nail him. And it happened again, three days later. He took refuge there for two or three hours, and then they left in the morning“…

Fatah and Hamas – Yasser Abbas and the house built for his father, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Gaza

Other excerpts:
Part 4: Separation of Powers in Ramallah
Part 3: Business and Businessmen in Palestine
Part 2: Fatah and Hamas – what’s the problem?

Yasser Abbas is the second son of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen, after the given name of his oldest son, Mazen, who died following surgery in Qatar some years ago).  He is also an international businessman who is based in Palestinian West Bank, but who also travels frequently.

Last December, he spoke to me at length in his office in Ramallah about his businesses (Falcon Holding Company), his views, and the development of Palestine.

A few days later, when Israel launched a massive military attack against Gaza — Operation Cast Lead — from 27 December to 18 January, I took a decision not to publish anything from the interview at the time, in case it might have inadvertently made anyone more vulnerable, or anything worse.

Now, as Fatah and Hamas are on the verge of possible reconciliation — or a possible slide to the worse — Yasser Abbas’ views give us an insight into the mind-set in Ramallah:

(Marian Houk) Question: In every country in the world, of course, Presidents and leaders have relatives who make their living. But the question is – your position gives you so much more influence, how do you decide, for you what’s ethical, and what’s not ethical? How do you make these decisions? How do you decide how you’re going to function?

(Yasser Abbas) Answer: Well, first of all, the first company that I’ve ever established in my life – no, it’s not the first company, I established one in Canada, but maybe the second company I established in my life was in Palestine, in Ramallah, 1996, when Mahmoud Abbas was not the President, not the Prime Minister. He was Secretary-General of the PLO. I decided to open a company, and to go and compete like any other company in the market. And there you go, it happened. And from 1996 until 2000, we had those rosy years that we’ve never seen back again. Everybody was working. So we went and started bidding, and we started making relations with international companies coming from outside, like any other engineering office. So, that’s the way I started, and that’s the way I do business here, in Palestine. I can claim that all my projects that I take are competitive bidding. Nobody has any privilege to me, personally, to come and tell me, “I will give you this”, or “I will give you that”. Nobody has any power to do so. I have no power over anyone, and I mean anyone, to tell them, “This project is mine, nobody touches it”. Or, “I have a concession on such-and-such sector, and nobody touches”. I don’t have that. I challenge, I challenge, though you, publicly, anyone – anyone – who can come to me and point his finger at me to tell me, “I, or we, or such-and-such agency or ministry, gave you the job”, or “I have a concession on any sector of this economy”. I challenge him.

After the coup, Hamas – before they went into the Presidential headquarters – they went into my store, and they robbed it: goods, desks, office equipments, computers, worth half a million dollars. So I had the great lost [the greatest loss], money-wise, out of all the Palestinians, as an individual.

Q: Yours was the greatest loss?

A: Yes – as an individual. I’m talking about, as an individual. Maybe other companies lost much more than me, companies.

Q: What was the company?

A: Falcon, Falcon Tobacco Company – we are the importers of British-American tobacco. We have negotiated this, and it is one company, and it is not the monopoly of the importation of cigarettes in the world. I hope you understand this. British-American is one company. Philip Morris is another company. Gauloise is another company. And all the other importation from Israel is another company. So. it’s a big, broad market. BAT – British-American Tobacco – happens to be one of the largest in the world. We are their importers since nine years. Hamas went into my stores and robbed all my stores, and our loss was greater than any other.

Q: They took cigarettes?

A: Yes, and they sold them in the market. That’s one of the things.

Q: You know, when I was there, right after the coup, first we were met when we arrived in the parking lot by these people who careened up, some of them had black uniforms, and some of them looked like Taliban … with different layers of robes, and vests, and turbans. It was a little bit tense. And then, I asked them where they got the car – and they said, “from Abu Mazen”…

A. You know, they took Abu Mazen’s house.

Q: This is what I wanted to tell you. Then, we went to the house.

Continue reading Fatah and Hamas – Yasser Abbas and the house built for his father, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Gaza

Where is Abu Mazen?

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, was due to return to Ramallah by now — the latest advisory said he would be back by Thursday night. There is still no sign of him yet.

U.S. Special Envoy on the Middle East George Mitchell is back in the region again to try to re-start Palestinian-Israeli talks that were broken off during last winter’s Israeli large-scale military operation in Gaza. Mitchell held talks with Israeli government ministers on Thursday, while the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stayed on in Rome to speak with the Pope. The U.S. State Department has announced that Mitchell will be meeting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday — and with the Palestinian President. But where?

And then, on Saturday, Mitchell is scheduled to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Rumors circulated in Ramallah that Abbas is going to make a televised address to his people in the next day or so. Since the decision last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to delay — until March 2010 — consideration of the report into last winter’s Gaza war issued by a Fact-Finding Mission headed by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, Abbas has given no clear explanation to his increasingly angry people of how and why the decision was made.

A demonstration called by members of Fatah organizations was supposed to take place in Ramallah today — not about the Goldstone report, but rather to show support for the Palestinian position in East Jerusalem. However, many — including the demonstration’s organizers — decided not to attend, because Palestinian security forces reportedly insisted that, in order to obtain permission for the demonstration, the marchers should agree to wear business-like civilian attire, and carry posters with pictures of the Palestinian president.

Continue reading Where is Abu Mazen?