On the separation of powers in Ramallah

Excerpts from an interview with Yasser Abbas (son of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) in his office in Ramallah, 18 December 2008:

Previous excerpts:
Part 3: Business and Businessmen in Palestine
Part 2: Fatah and Hamas – what’s the problem?
Part 1: Fatah and Hamas – and the Abbas family house in Gaza

Marian Houk (Question): Can I ask you, what do you know about the relations between your father, the President, and his Prime Minister (Salam Fayyad)? Is it true they’re not speaking to each other at the moment, or they’re fighting?

Yasser Abbas (Answer): That’s absolutely not true. That’s absolutely not true. They have a very good relationship. Every now and then the President says, “this is MY Prime Minister”, and “this is MY Cabinet, I’m the one that appointed it”. Eventually, they might have differences. Definitely, they might have differences in dealing with things. But I know, I know from the President’s point of view, he gives the authority to the Prime Minister to deal in the Ministry, in the internal issues, the way he sees fit. He comes back to him with difficulties, with problems, with things that really he cannot really decide on as a Prime Minister, he needs the President’s decision, and he gives him his honest opinion. I believe that the President, our President, has confidence in this Prime Minister. So none of what you said is true.

(X): Can I just add one thing about this, Marian? President Abbas is not like Yasser Arafat – he never takes any professional differences personally.  So, this is really amazing.  I don’t know where you heard this from, but it’s a ridiculous, silly…

Marian Houk: You know it’s published in the media.

(X): Even if it’s published in the media, it’s really silly.

Yasser Abbas: Ok, if they have a small difference with each other, people make it…

(X): “They don’t talk to each other”… Yaeni [I mean], we’re not in a kindergarten, at the end of the day.  And, it’s really weird…

Mahmoud Abbas casts ballot in Fatah elections in Bethlehem - his son Yasser Abbas stands behind to the left in the photo - 9 Aug 09

Photo from the Ma’an News agency website – Mahmoud Abbas puts the ballot it took him 20 minutes to complete (because of the long list of names of candidates) into a Fatah ballot box during the 6th Fatah General Conference in Bethlehem in August.
His son, Yasser Abbas, stands behind and to the left in the photo.

Marian Houk (Question): Is it true that your father deals with the negotiations and leaves all the running of the government machinery to the Prime Minister?

Yasser Abbas (Answer): Well, the majority of it, yes. This is how it goes. This is how it is supposed to go. Because if the President has to start putting his nose in any Ministry’s work, then the Prime Minister will be there, doing nothing. And the President will, his job will be, day and night, how’s this Ministry doing? How’s that Ministry doing? But he meets with the Cabinet eventually, like once every God knows, I don’t know, how many sessions they are meeting, he goes and meets with them. And he interferes on a part-time basis, because that’s his job. His job is to appoint a Prime Minister that he really trusts, that the Prime Minister is in full charge of the running of the internal issues of the ministries. That’s why Salam Fayyad, our Prime Minister, Dr. Salam, he does not get himself involved in negotiations, eventually, because this is the PLO job, it’s not the Authority’s job. And the way I see it today, it’s a very clear relationship between the President and the Prime Minister, and if anybody looks at it really under a microscope, he will understand how things are run. Salam Fayyad, and the Ministries, and the Cabinet, have nothing to do with the Israelis in terms of the final status negotiations, and this is the way it should be.

Q: Can I just ask you, who has responsibility for decisions about security now – is it the President, or the Prime Minister?

A: I think the higher decision is the President, implemented partially by the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister, according to the by-laws, has the control over the Police, the fire-fighting, and the Preventive Security, I believe. The Secret Service, the National Guard, and the rest, and the Presidential Guard, are by the President. And yet, they are in agreement that one way or another, in any way, we have to have security all around the West Bank. It’s very simple, loud and clear. So he takes the orders from the President, he implements them, he believes in them. The Prime Minister believes in all the instructions that he gets from the President – so they are in agreement on those terms.