Muqata'a announcement Sunday morning: Abbas accepts PM Hamdallah's resignation [then statements + denials…]

A third meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his recently-appointed Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who suddenly “offered” his resignation on Thursday afternoon, was scheduled for Sunday morning at 11:00 — but it didn’t happen.

Instead, shortly after 10:15 or so, Presidential Spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told the Agence France Presse [AFP] that “President Abbas has accepted the resignation of Hamdallah after he refused to work with 2 deputies.”  This was published here, and here.

President Abbas had appointed his economic adviser, Dr. Mohammed Mustafa, as one of two deputy prime ministers to serve with Abbas; Ziyad Abu Amr is the second.

Rami Hamdallah was clearly not a go-along, get-along kind of guy — in the circumstances, this is to his credit.

There was no [third] meeting this morning between President Abbas + Prime Minister Hamdallah, according to the Palestinian Government’s new Spokesperson, Dr. Ehab Bseisso — the statement from Presidential Spokesman Abu Rudeineh preempted the meeting.

Reports [in English] on Friday that Hamdallah had withdrawn his “offer” of resignation on Friday were later amended — it seems that  Hamdallah had not retracted his resignation, and it remained on the table.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported, here, that “President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the resignation of newly-appointed prime minister Rami Hamdallah, who has been in office for less than a month, and asked him to stay on as a caretaker government until a new one is formed, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Sunday”.

Not long afterwards, two Tweets suddenly appeared on an account that had been opened in early June and declared the official Twitter account of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah [see our earlier post]:

Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov — The President officially accepted my resignation. R.H.

Rami Hamdallah @PalestineGov — The situation in this country forced me to resign. Conflicts, confusion, corruption. Palestine needs a real political reform. R.H.

There is no indication, yet, that Hamdallah has agreed to stay on as “Caretaker” Prime Minister for another two tortuous weeks.  [One report suggested that Abbas must name a new Prime Minister within two weeks.]  But, a colleague who interviewed Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad today in Ramallah said that it might be seven weeks before a new government is in place .  [However, al-Ahmad declined to repeat his remarks in a recorded interview.]

UPDATE: Apparently Hamdallah is staying on.  Ma’an News Agency Tweeted on Monday morning that Hamdallah told their reporter in a statement that the Government “will pay salaries on time, without delay”...

After Then, the Government Media Center Tweeted this:

Gov. Media Center @PalestinianGov Ramallah-Government Media Center: Prime Minister D. Rami Hamdallah wishes to make clear that he does not have a…

The full test of this statement, posted on the Facebook link, says:

Ramallah-Government Media Center: Prime Minister D. Rami Hamdallah wishes to make clear that he does not have a personal Twitter account. He stresses that the Palestinian Government Media Center is the official institution for issuing statements for the Prime Minister and the Palestinian government.  PGMC Note: We urge all media to take care in reporting statements purported to be from the Prime Minister and emphasize the necessity of checking with the PGMC for confirmation of any statements.

This statement was issued shortly after I contacted Dr. Bseisso to ask about Dr. Hamdallah and Dr. Mustafa. Dr. Bseisso promised to call back with answers to some questions, but never did.  [It makes no sense, however, to urge media to take care and to check with the Palestinian Government Media Center for confirmation, if calls are not returned.]

Was it with this Tweet that the Government Media Center took over this @PalestinianGov account?

The statement of denial [of having a “personal” Twitter account, which was not the question] is  in Hamdallah’s name, but issued by the Government Media Center @PalestinianGov … In the absence of any further information, it is not unreasonable to continue to believe that the Hamdallah Tweet could be genuine, but someone doesn’t like it and wants to supress it.  The other possibilities are deliberate sabotage [by someone with access to the this Twitter account], or the Twitter account was hacked.  Neither possibility is mentioned by the statement issued by the Palestinian Government Media Center –+ it sure looks like damage control by someone who did not  if not censorship.

Two Ramallah-based journalists had a laugh about it:

Dalia Hatuqa @DaliaHatuqa – lol @emilie_baujard: Pal Gov Media Center: PM Rami Hamdallah wishes to make clear that he does not have a personal Twitter account

Continue reading Muqata'a announcement Sunday morning: Abbas accepts PM Hamdallah's resignation [then statements + denials…]

The worst, most awful show on Palestinian TV

The worst and most excruciatingly awful show on Palestinian TV is a wierd, arrogant, and embarassing nightly half-hour which has now become a part of the Ramadan post-Iftar must-watch family programming that airs every evening after the day’s fast is broken, the table has been cleared, and the formerly drooping audience its not quite yet adjusted to having some food and water in their systems.

It is called “The Cedar and the Olive Tree”.

Palestinian journalist Maher ash-Shalabi, who all winter wore a suit and a tie and held hour-long interviews with Palestinian political and “intellectual” types (a while ago, he worked for MBC), is now roaming the narrow streets of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in a short-sleeved shirt and khaki chino trousers, holding a microphone with a clean new cover embellished with the new Palestinian TV logo (one letter is graphically transformed into the shape of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, with a crescent moon on top). He walks up to men sitting on plastic chairs in alleyways, or to middle-aged women walking with with headscarves and long coats in the dusty streets (younger women, also wearing headscarves and long coats, answer the doors of their family apartments).

The journalist, an apparition from Ramallah, de facto capital city of the occupied West Bank and seat of government for the Palestinian Authority (though word must have gotten around fairly quickly that he was around), always starts by asking his interlocutors where they are from.

Most of those asked reply immediately with the names of small villages near cities like Acca or Ramla, or even from places in the West Bank. Some few are of Lebanese origin.

He then asks: “How many people are at home”? The replies indicate large families — and suggest suffering. (“There are nine people at home, nine now, but there were eleven before. [Two — the lady’s husband, and one of her sons, for example — are “martyrs”, meaning were killed in conflict.]

Does anyone in the household work? “No”, is often the reply.

Then, he asks them questions like: “Can you name five cities in Palestine?” (Just over 50% of those asked can manage to do this by themselves.) In every episode, he also asks, several times: “What is the capital of Palestine”? (The correct answer is: Al-Quds, sometimes pronounced Al-Kudus, meaning Jerusalem.)

If those being questioned manage to answer correctly, the journalist then hands over a crisp $100 (one hundred dollar) bill! $100! Sometimes, apparently just when he feels like it, or when the story he has just been told is particularly moving, he hands over two of these bills!

His attitude is patently patronizing — he is distributing largess from the donor-supported Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, to the poor Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. [They are definitely poor — a bill was passed in the Lebanese Parliament only last week, that finally allowed Palestinian refugees who have in Lebanon for over 30 years or more to be able to seek work, although they have no residency status and no official papers.]

The money comes from the Palestine Investment Fund [!].

Tonight’s episode was filmed in Beddawi refugee camp. One lady said she was from “Bared” — and the journalist quickly asks her if she was from Nahr al-Bared, which was in part destroyed during a Lebanese Army assault several years ago on militants who were said to be part of a group called “Fatah al-Islam”, which the Palestinian representative in Lebanon quickly denounced. That lady said that she and her large family were still being sheltered in a garage. “What can we do?”, she asked plaintively.

She was the only one who told the journalist that she didn’t want the money he was distributing. She just wanted Palestine said, in an even tone. [But, exhibiting a practical streak nonetheless, she kept the $100 bill she had been handed…]

In the unsuccessful Camp David negotiations hosted by the U.S. then-President Bill Clinton in July 2000, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reportedly asked Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak to agree that the Palestinian refugees living without papers in poor conditions in Lebanon (about 175,000 of them, it was estimated) should be the ones whose situation would be addressed first.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were always vulnerable, but their situation became extraordinarily delicate in the late summer of 1982, after Israel’s then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon pushed quickly up through the south of the country and then surrounded and laid siege to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, in what he said was an effort to kill — or to expel — the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership that had regrouped there, and formed what was called a “state within a state”, following their flight from Jordan in 1970 during clashes with the Jordanian Army over raids to “liberate” Palestine by armed struggle.

Once thousands of PLO fighters were shipped out of Beirut “under a UN umbrella” into a 12-year long exile, mainly in remote desert location around the Arab world, Lebanese Christian militiamen carried out a horrific massacre of unprotected Palestinian refugees left behind, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in southern Beirut, while Ariel Sharon’s troops were very nearby.

None of those being interviewed on this special Palestinian TV program seem to have any words to say about those days, or about those responsible…

Nor do they complain about the lese-majeste with which they are handed $100 dollar bills by an employee of the Palestinian Authority’s official Palestinian Television, funded by an organization of elite businessmen (hand-picked by the leadership) who have little or no accountability either to the Palestinian Authority itself, or to the public, for what they decide to do with the money generated by some of the holdings that late Palestinian leader, and his then-economic adviser, were obliged to set up to comply with donor requirements for greater financial transparency and accountability…

It must be mentioned that a certain number of this program’s viewers are staunch defenders — they say they get so little information otherwise about the Palestinians in diaspora in Arab countries…and besides, they say, the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon need the money…

Today, the journalist mentioned — twice, as if it were a promotional commercial — that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has just recently decreed that any Palestinian refugee in Lebanon who has just completed secondary school may apply to the Presidency for funding for university studies, either in Lebanon, or abroad…

The journalist also instructed his cameraman to linger on the tangle of electrical wires running along the narrow alleyways of Beddawi and branching off into individual homes along the way — to illustrate the difficulty of life for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as if the same difficulties don’t exist in refugee camps in the West Bank, or even in neighborhoods of Ramallah, or in East Jerusalem…

Wataniya makes surprise decision to launch today

After huffing and puffing to blow the house down (well, to sue the Palestinian Authority, for Israel’s refusal to release sufficient telecommunications wavelengths), the Qatari and Kuwaiti-owned Wataniya mobile phone company made the surprise announcement that it had launched its service in Palestine today, just two weeks after the planned date — and despite Israel’s continuing refusal to release all the wavelengths that it had promised.

We reported earlier that Wataniya’s (second) launch date on 15 October (it was postponed once from April) was missed, due to exactly the same problem that was said to be insurmountable at the time two weeks ago, but somehow (inexplicably) became manageble today — see our previous post here.

The Ma’an News Agency reported tonight that “Mohammad Mustafa, head of the Wataniya Palestine’s board, said the firm had begun functioning with a frequency range of 3.8 MHz, less than the 4.8 MHz Israel had agreed to open under an agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed last year. ‘They will give us the additional 1 MHz as soon as possible’, Mustafa told Reuters, adding that Quartet envoy Tony Blair had promised the firm it would acquire the remaining frequency … Wataniya was further implicated in Israeli-Palestinian politics in late September when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israeli military officials were refusing to release the frequency in order to pressure the PA to drop a war crimes case against Israel in the International Criminal Court”. This Ma’an story can be read in full here.

It is not immediately clear what, exactly, had changed to make this possible…

The Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) owns 47% — a minority — of shares in Wataniya Palestine mobile phone company, which will introduce competition into the Palestinian mobile phone market. Until now, only the Palestinian company Jawwal was operating in the occupied Palestinian territory (Gaza and the West Bank). Wataniya apparently will operate only in the West Bank, at least for now.

Wataniya will be the competitor of PALTEL – described on its website as “the national telecommunications provider in Palestine”. The website also says that “The company has an exclusive License Agreement with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to develop the telecom sector”. This description is posted here.

In addition to its 47% ownership status in Wataniya, PIF has also invested in its competitor PALTEL, and in another company (the Palestine Development and Investment Ltd., or PADICO) which has also invested in PALTEL (PADICO owns 37% of Paltel, and is currently the largest investor in PALTEL) … Earlier this year, in May, a preliminary agreement was signed for the merger of Paltel with Zain, a Kuwaiti Telecommunication Company. At the time, PADICO Chairman Munib Masri stated that said “this transaction allows Palestine mobile Telecommunication Jawwal to expand within the Palestinian territories, as it was not possible to get through previously, due to Israeli restrictions, particularly in the Jericho area; now it will help guarantee connections with the Jordan Valley”. This news was posted here.

PADICO (which the PIF has invested in, and which in turn is the largest investor in PALTEL) announced in mid-September that “it submitted an application to the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy to be registered as a foreign company in Palestine”. However, PADICO apparently has always been a foreign company in Palestine — according to its website, it is registered in Liberia. The PADICO website says that “The Palestinian Council of Ministers, on 7 September 2009 approved an amendment to income tax law no. 17 2004, which includes a clause that obliges foreign companies registered in Palestine to pay income tax on profits generated from the company’s activities outside Palestine. These amendments have been referred to President Mahmoud Abbas for ratification. This opened the door for foreign companies, including PADICO, to begin registration procedures”. The PADICO website also says that its “registration in Palestine is in line with its pioneering role as a fundamental pillar to the Palestinian economy”. And, the website reports that PADICO’s CEO, Samir Hulileh, said in mid-September that “PADICO’s decision to register in Palestine reflects its strategic commitment to investing in Palestine and building relationships based on cooperation and trust with the Government and the Ministry of National Economy”. This news can be viewed here.