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Reports [in English] on Friday that Hamdallah had withdrawn his “offer” of resignation on Friday were later amended — it seems that  Hamdallah had not retracted his resignation, and it remained on the table.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

September (or November) State

Because it is so amusing, we are cross-posting from our sister blog ( here the “September State (Dawlat Aylul)” by Jerusalem-born artist Ahmad Dari, a long-term resident of France, which is on Youtube here:


Earlier, Ahmad Dari compiled his impressions on the mission of former U.S. Special Envoy, George Mitchell, posted on Youtube here:

Yesterday, after weeks of practically begging for the restart of negotiations with Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly decided to put internal Palestinian negotiations — between Fatah and Hamas, on the formation of a new “technocratic government” pending new Palestinian elections — on hold. One reason, of course, is that Israel would refuse to enter into new negotiations with any Hamas-approved government.

Abbas, who had apparently not informed Hamas of his intentions to go-slow on the formation of a new Palestinian government, told journalists that “negotiations are continuing, but he hinted at difficulties. ‘I hope that we will succeed, but it needs a little bit of effort’, he told reporters during a visit to the Netherlands”.

According to a report in Haaretz on Thursday, an unnamed Palestinian official, apparently in Ramallah, “said Abbas does not want to form a unity government only to have it boycotted by the West, and that he wants to avoid new complications while he is pursuing the UN option … The PLO official said Abbas’ priority is to obtain UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem when the UN General Assembly meets in September. It would be a largely symbolic step that the Palestinians hope will nonetheless improve their leverage against Israel”. This Haaretz analysis is published here.

The Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, has published an article which shows some of the ambivalence about the “September State”, expressed by an architect heading RIWAQ [Center for Architectural Conservation], an organization committed to saving some Palestinian buildings. The JPost wrote that: “Today, under [Khaldun] Bshara’s leadership, RIWAQ’s role in highlighting Palestinian physical history has taken on an added significance as the leadership prepares to make a controversial bid for statehood this coming September. ‘I don’t like this idea of declaring statehood’, states Bshara boldly, as we sit down together in what was likely a kitchen or storage room in this former family home. ‘We have declared statehood twice before and it’s like we just want to declare something so that people will listen to us and not really anything more than that. I believe that certain practices are much more worthy than declarations and that such declarations need to be enforced by these practices’. Bshara is referring to the practices that RIWAQ has committed itself to: preserving and restoring the Palestinian physical heritage while at the same time addressing some deeply-rooted socioeconomic issues and, more importantly, strengthening national identity and pride. ‘At Riwaq we are not innocent’, he admits. ‘We are not necessarily doing this work for architecturally aesthetic values, but more to create and retain our identity. We believe that these buildings and cultural sites are the only physical [artifacts] that are left for us to use as an identity symbol and we see our work as a central element to creating a national identity of Palestine’.”

Bshara told the JPost that: “We were born into Israeli occupation and we still function under this occupation, but we were also born into a thriving civil society before our state became a fact, and that has unfortunately been undermined by the emergence of the PA … They see NGOs as competitors to what they want to do and say we cannot work without their blessing, but they cannot do what we do either, so they need us”.

The JPost story added that “Bshara further explains that because Palestinian law is based on a mix of laws from the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate period, Jordan and Israel, only buildings from before 1700 are officially protected by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Also, the complicated political map constituting areas A (under full Palestinian control), B (under Israeli military control) and C (under complete Israeli control) means that roughly 10,000 sites that RIWAQ considers part of the Palestinian heritage – built, designed or decorated by Palestinian architects or craftsmen – fall under Israeli jurisdiction and cannot be touched by the NGO. Instead, the organization focuses on renovation and restoration projects in 16 districts spread across the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, where it works as a consultant for international groups”. This JPost article is published here.

A very good reportage — after a three-week visit to the West Bank — has just been published on the website of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. It has the unfortunate title, on the JVP website of “Where are the Palestinian leaders?” And it’s postedhere. But, it’s actually from the London Review of Books, with another uninspired title: “Is Palestine Next”? And, it’s posted here.

Shatz wrote: “Abbas can hardly go to the UN in September and request formal recognition of the Palestinian state – as he has announced he will – if there are two Palestinian leaderships pursuing opposed agendas. The declaration of statehood is the culmination of Fayyad’s project to build state institutions and promote neoliberal ‘reform’ while still under occupation. ‘The mission has been accomplished,’ he recently told Haaretz: the PA has done everything the world has asked of it, having restored law and order and established the infrastructure of statehood. Many Palestinians ridicule Fayyad’s claim – ‘instead of a state, we got a ministry in charge of garbage disposal’ – but the ball is now in the world’s court to recognise Palestine as a state. Abbas’s plan to make his declaration in September is a gamble. Fayyad has long questioned the tactical wisdom of declaring statehood unilaterally while the occupation remains deeply entrenched. Palestinians, he warns, could find themselves in a ‘Mickey Mouse’ state, recognised by the world but without the sovereignty a state requires, if the US uses its power in the General Assembly to prevent Palestine from getting the votes it needs to attain full UN membership. In his speech on the Middle East in May, Obama echoed the Israeli view that declaring statehood is an unacceptable form of unilateralism. If Palestine isn’t recognised, some Palestinian officials have hinted, there could be unrest, even a third intifada. The statehood declaration matters to the leadership, which wants the fruits of diplomatic recognition, and hopes to sell that recognition as a victory for the national cause. But it doesn’t stir much enthusiasm in the West Bank. One reason is that it’s a toothless strategy: ‘Who cares if we get recognised as a state if the Israelis can still block the roads?’ Another is that the declaration sticks to the modest, 1967 parameters at the very moment the Netanyahu government is building a Greater Israel. If Israel continues to act as if 1948 never ended, and shows no sign of wanting to reach a compromise on the 1967 borders, many Palestinians say, why shouldn’t we call for more too? And there’s yet another reason for the lack of interest in the declaration: as the prospect of a genuine – a sovereign and independent – Palestinian state has receded, another discourse has returned, one with much deeper roots in the Palestinian political imagination than talk of statehood, and much closer to the ideas that inspired the Arab uprisings. It’s often forgotten that until the mid-1970s, Palestinians were looking not to establish a state but to achieve ‘national liberation’, to restore their rights in the land from which they had been driven – beginning with the right of return. Palestinians rarely talk about statehood, but they often talk about their rights; statehood is viewed, at best, as a means to achieve them. And because they don’t often talk about statehood, it seems unlikely that the failure to win recognition at the UN would be enough to spark an uprising. Any sign of serious unrest, moreover, would not be viewed kindly by the PA, which would do everything in its power to prevent a third intifada that might sweep it away. Indeed, the PA already uses the American-trained National Security Force to undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation. (Hamas, in Gaza, has cracked down on protest even more harshly.) ‘They are the police of the occupation,’ Myassar Atyani, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told me. ‘Their leadership is not Palestinian, it is Israeli.’ On 15 May – the day Palestinians commemorate their Nakba – more than a thousand Palestinians, mainly young men, marched to the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem and clashed with Israeli soldiers; but when Atyani tried to lead a group of demonstrators to the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus, PA security forces stopped them. The road from Ramallah to Qalandia is in Area C, which is not controlled by the PA; the road from Nablus to Hawara is in Area A, which is. And protesters who have attempted to march to settlements along PA-controlled roads have also found themselves turned back. It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land. This is, not surprisingly, a source of considerable anger and shame in the West Bank. The question is whether Palestinians will grow exasperated enough to confront the Sulta”.

George Mitchell in Ramallah calls for "mechanism" to bring legal goods into Gaza

George Mitchell, the new U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, said after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today that he wanted to convey the deep concern in the U.S. about the loss of Palestinian life.

Mitchell arrived in the region just days after the end of the active phase of a three-week Israeli military offensive in Gaza in which some 1,300 Palestinians died and about 5,300 were wounded, according to Palestinian figures.

There was a palpable but non-verbal reaction in the room in the Muqata’a, or Palestinian Presidential compound, where Mitchell was making remarks to the press.

Mitchell arrived in the region just days after the inauguration of new U.S. President Barak Obama, whose first overseas telephone call on his first full day in office was to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas did not join Mitchell for this statement to the press.

During the first week of the Israeli military operation against Gaza, Palestinian Authority President Abbas called off direct negotiations with Israel under the process that began in Annapolis at the end of November 2007. That process was to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008 — or at the very latest, by the end of George W. Bush’s term in office on 20 January this year. Many Palestinian groups, including Hamas, have called throughout 2008 for an end to the negotiations in protest of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, and its violence against Palestinians both in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Mitchell also stated Thursday that the U.S. was also concerned about the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and added that “To be successful in preventing illegal weapons smuggling into Gaza there must be a mechanism to allow the import of legal goods — and that should be with the participation of the Palestinian Authority”.

There are probably too many mechanisms in place already, however — almost all of them under the control of the Israeli military — which do not appear to be working very well.

And, there is also the problem of allowing exports from Gaza, which have been banned for a year-and-a-half. The ban on Gaza’s flowers, strawberries, and finished goods has plunged the Gazan economy into a deep crisis, even before Israel’s recent military operation damaged a significant part of Gaza’s small-industry infrastructure.

Mitchell’s statement did not sound like a call for just throwing open the borders — as most Palestinians (and even many Europeans) would want.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said several times that Israel would not just withdraw and “throw the keys over the border”, and let the Palestinians do whatever they want. Mostly she has been talking about the West Bank, but she has recently said this in regard to Gaza, as well.

The Agence France Press reported that Israel’s Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said again that Israel would not open the borders as long as rocket, mortar or missile fire from Gaza continued — and acknowledged that this would mean a delay in any reconstruction efforts. ” ‘To start such works, you need cement, pipes, all sorts of construction materials. If Hamas leaders want to leave this area in the state that it’s in right now, they will have to answer to the residents’.”

AFP added that Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Mitchell today that the opening of the border crossings into Gaza depended on the release of an Israeli soldier who was seized in a cross-border raid from Gaza in June 2006, and who is still believed to be held captive somewhere inside the badly-battered Gaza Strip. AFP reported that a senior Israeli official quoted Olmert as telling Mitchell that “A permanent opening of the crossings will be linked to solving the issue of Gilad Shalit”. This report can be read in full here.

AFP reported that Mitchell said, after his meeting with Olmert, that “The prime minister and I discussed the critical importance to consolidate the ceasefire, including a cessation of hostilities, an end to smuggling and re-opening of the crossings based on 2005 agreements”.

The 2005 agreement was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It put European Union observers at the Palestinian crossing from Gaza into Egypt at Rafah — but real time images were monitored by the Israeli military at Kerem Shalom (near where Shalit was captured). The Israeli military monitors had final say on any passage through Rafah.

European Union observers left their positions at Rafah after Hamas routed Fatah security forces in Gaza in June 2007, and the crossing has been closed almost all the time since then.

Mitchell said in Ramallah today, too, that it was important to consolidate a sustainable and durable cease-fire. “Lasting peace is our objective”, he said, adding that the U.S. has a lasting commitment to “two states living side by side in peace and security”.

It was announced many times that Mitchell would not be taking any questions from the press. A U.S. official did not answer when asked if the decision to take no questions was from the American side, or from the Palestinian side.

Mitchell’s brief in the region is to “listen”.

Mitchell arrived in Israel from Cairo on Wednesday, and held talks in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and on Thursday morning. He also held talks in Jerusalem on Thursday, before going to Ramallah to meet Abbas. The Israeli officials Mitchell met include Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Ashkenazi, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and State President Shimon Peres.
Mitchell will apparently have no contact with Hamas.

Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat, who greeted Mitchell upon his arrival in the courtyard of the Muqata’a, made a brief statement to the press — and then answered one question in Arabic and one in English.

Erekat said that “It is a vital American interest to end the occupation”. He added that “We hope President Obama will shift American policy”. Erekat said that “what’s needed is to transfer the vision into two states … by ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967″.

Then Erekat left.

The journalists were then locked into the room where the press statements had been made — and stayed locked up for 40 minutes. It was explained that this was a decision of Palestinian security, because President Abbas wanted to leave the compound. Palestinian security in Ramallah is often very heavy handed, but this had never happened before.

Bring back Rice!”, one journalist chanted, jokingly.

The new U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, said earlier this week in Washington that the new Administration “wanted to reengage vigorously from the very beginning in the Middle East”. She said that Mitchell would be carrying the message that “we’re going to be working on a series of short-term objectives with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but that we remain committed to the long-term objective of a comprehensive peace that provides security in the context of a two-state solution for the Palestinians”.

Clinton added that “we want to give him [Mitchell] the opportunity to listen and bring back his impressions and information. And we are at this moment focused only on the Israel-Palestinian track … We have, as I said, some short-term objectives such as a durable ceasefire, which as you know has receded somewhat today because of the offensive action against the IDF along the border. But of course, we’re concerned about the humanitarian suffering. We’re concerned any time innocent civilians, Palestinian or Israeli, are attacked”.

A senior Hamas official, meanwhile, separately gave from Gaza the same message as Sa’eb Erekat gave from Ramallah. In remarks to Al-Jazeera Thursday, Ismail Haniyeh appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama to change American policies in the Middle East. News agencies said that “it was not clear where the interview was taped as Haniyeh has been in hiding, fearing Israel will kill him”.

Israeli officials have suggested that Hamas leaders are hiding also because the public rage at the death and destruction inflicted on Gaza — because of Hamas, Israel says — during the three-week Israeli military offensive.

Some Palestinian officials in Ramallah have echoed the same thought.

But many Palestinians in the West Bank say they believe that Israel would have attacked Gaza anyway, even if Hamas had stopped rocket, mortar and missile fire from Gaza onto surrounding Israeli land.

Meanwhile, top Hamas officials, including Haniyeh in Gaza and Khalid Meshaal in Damascus, have now said that they do not require emergency aid or reconstruction assistance to pass through their hands.

While Hamas continues to reject any linkage between freeing Gilad Shalit and the opening of the border crossings into Gaza, they do say they are willing to engage in a long-term cease-fire with Israel if the border crossings are opened.

Shalit’s liberation, they maintain, depends on the freeing from Israeli jails of a certain number of Palestinians whose names are on a list they have submitted to negotiators. Israel is currently holding some 11,000 Palestinian prisoners or detainees.