Hamdallah’s resignation reflects Palestinian divisions

Abbas seems wary of Hamas gaining international recognition through receiving foreign officials and financial support from Qatar under Israeli approval and facilitation.
Sunday 03/02/2019
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (L) waves to supporters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, January 28. (Reuters)
Endgame. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (L) waves to supporters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, January 28. (Reuters)

LONDON - The resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah sparked new tensions between Fatah and Hamas.

The step was intended to allow for a new government primarily made up of factions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and does not include Hamas. The change in government was recommended by the Fatah Central Committee but it reflected long-existing divisions between the two feuding sides.

Hamdallah, an independent technocrat, has been serving as caretaker prime minister until a new cabinet is formed, on directions of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamdallah led the West Bank-based Fatah’s reconciliation efforts with Hamas. He formed the first government in mid-2013 and a government of “national consensus” a year later.

Possible successors to Hamdallah as prime minister include Fatah members Mohammad Shtayyeh, Saeb Erekat and Azzam al-Ahmad.

Fatah argues that the goal of the new government is to advance towards parliamentary elections and encounter “big” challenges — Israeli-US policies — facing the Palestinian cause.

While Hamdallah urged Hamas to take part in the new government — although Fatah officials said Hamas has not been invited to do so — Hamas did not take Hamdallah’s resignation kindly.

“Fatah has no legal right to form a new government and its practices are a coup against the democratic process. There is no legitimacy for any future government without national consensus,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi.

Dissolving the national consensus government was the latest step by Abbas to pressure Hamas in Gaza. Other moves include punitive economic measures against Gaza, withdrawing Fatah employees from the Rafah crossing and dissolving the legislative council.

Abbas seeks to assert that he is still in charge of Palestinian politics and hopes the steps would help Fatah take control of Gaza from Hamas. He has repeatedly insisted that the PLO is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian cause, not Hamas.

Abbas seems wary of Hamas gaining international recognition through receiving foreign officials and financial support from Qatar under Israeli approval and facilitation.

Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo two years ago that included plans for the Palestinian Authority to resume governing in Gaza and control the strip’s crossings into Egypt and Israel. Disputes over power-sharing hampered progress towards full implementation of the agreement.

Fatah argues that Hamas, which won the 2006 parliamentary election and, a year later, seized control of Gaza, isolated itself after failing to implement various agreements. Hamas, which is not part of the PLO, argues that Abbas, whose 4-year term as president officially expired in 2009, is seeking to establish a “Fatah government” to serve his personal interests.

The constant exchange of accusations for the past 12 years reflects the deep distrust between the two factions. The divisions threaten to widen the split between the West Bank and Gaza.

Abbas has two weeks to select a new prime minister, who would then have three weeks to form a government.

Hamas has two options: give in to Abbas’s terms or risk being isolated. It is unknown whether Abbas’s measures can end Hamas’s “stubbornness” — as Fatah describes it — or if they would further complicate the political situation.

What is certain is that Palestinians need national unity in the face of mounting challenges, not least from Israel under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the United States under President Donald Trump.

15