Palestine: No prime minister? No big deal

Sharif Nashashibi

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It was a saga typical of the Palestinian Authority. In June, Rami Hamdallah submitted his resignation as prime minister - just two weeks after taking up the post - due to an undisclosed “dispute over his powers.” He changed his mind the following day, only for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to accept the resignation nonetheless two days later.

This sorry episode reminds me of my time as a media consultant for the U.N. Development Programme in 2004, working from the prime minister’s office in Ramallah. At the time, Ahmed Qureia threatened to quit so many times that media requests for information - even just verification - were met with embarrassing admissions of ignorance from his staff. The media was informing Qureia’s office, not the other way around!


In Hamdallah’s case, many Palestinians were reportedly not even aware of his appointment as prime minister, let alone his resignation. Such is the insignificance of the position. Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has described it as “the most ungrateful job in the West Bank,” and Hamdallah’s chances of success as “so low that some would say agreeing to take the post is akin to taking a suicide mission.”

For an institution whose name contains the word “authority,” the PA has so little of it.

Sharif Nashashibi

For an institution whose name contains the word “authority,” the PA has so little of it that the Palestinians could have as many prime ministers - and even presidents - as they wish, and it would make little if any difference. It is in charge of isolated bantustans in a small minority of the West Bank, and its jurisdiction does not extend to the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas. It is Israel, the occupying power, that controls every aspect of Palestinian life.

As such, the prime minister of Israel is of far more significance to Palestinians than their own - not that there is any discernible difference on the ground between the policies of left-wing, right-wing or centrist Israeli governments. The rhetoric might vary, but all preside over the entrenchment of the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.


The only person who will be affected by the resignation is Abbas, who was widely seen as using Hamdallah’s predecessor Salam Fayyad as a scapegoat to deflect increasing public frustration at the PA’s resounding failure to improve daily life or bring Palestinians any closer to independence.

Abbas’s tenure “officially ended years ago,” said Reza Aslan, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He has remained in his position by fiat and canceled elections to replace himself. In other words, in the eyes of many Palestinians, Abbas is as much a legitimate president as was [Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali and [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarak.”

Abbas said in Sept. 2012 that “the Palestinian Spring has begun, and we are in line with what the people say and what they want,” even though his government was the target. Hamdallah would have served the same purpose as Fayyad, who quit in April following months of tension with Abbas. As such, domestic attention and pressure will now be focused squarely on the president, and the PA will be increasingly seen as inept, divided and irrelevant.

Mission impossible

Fayyad, a former World Bank official who was feted by the West, failed in his mission - developing the Palestinian economy despite Israel’s occupation - because it was impossible. No economy can survive, let alone develop or flourish, if it is at the mercy of a belligerent foreign power that actively undermines its viability.

Furthermore, Western powers - particularly the United States - reduced funding for the Palestinians because of their audacity at seeking an upgraded status at the United Nations. This has greatly worsened the economic crisis in the occupied territories. What hope, then, for Hamdallah or anyone else, when Israel is intent on maintaining the status quo, regardless of how pliant Palestinian leaders are?

Low expectations

Some see a silver lining to what has happened, in that this might focus minds on the deal agreed in May between Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government and organize elections (though how they can properly take place under occupation and territorial separation is anyone’s guess).

Indeed, Hamas described Hamdallah’s appointment as “illegal,” and complained that it went against the deal, though PA officials said he would only govern on an interim basis until its implementation, scheduled for August.

However, both parties have proven woefully incapable or unwilling to make good on past agreements on national unity, despite its obvious benefit to the Palestinian people. As such, hopes are extremely low, not least because the last thing Israel and the United States want is a unified Palestinian polity, as this would hinder the ability to divide and conquer. The continuing political vacuum is only helping Israel in this regard, and will galvanize a Palestinian population that is understandably fed up with its own leaders.

Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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