Jun 06 2013

Hamdallah’s Complicated Job As Palestinian Prime Minister

Published by at 10:37 am under Articles,Palestinian politics



By Daoud Kuttab

It is not clear what we can conclude from the appointment of Rami Hamdallah to head the Palestinian government following the resignation of Salam Fayyad.

On the one hand, Hamdallah is known during his long term as the president of Palestine’s largest university as an efficient, centralized bureaucrat who gets the job done. On the other hand, many suspect that he is an interim prime minister being brought in to fill the vacuum that exists between the departure of Fayyad and the expected elections that will occur once all the details of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas are resolved.

One hint as to which of these two options is the valid one might be found through keeping an eye on what is happening at Hamdallah’s current employer. The talk at An Najah University in Nablus is that Hamdallah is expected to appoint a deputy — possibly Vice President for Academic Affairs Maher Natashe — who will be given the title of acting president. If that takes place and Hamdallah doesn’t officially resign from his position, then we are witnessing an interim prime minister and not one who will be around for some time.

Faculty and students alike at An Najah say that Dr. Rami Hamdallah is very much a hands-on bureaucrat who tries to be involved in all details of almost every aspect of university life. He is given, every morning, a list of attending faculty, what time they arrived and who was late. He is not a delegator, but rather a control person.

Political watchers of the Palestinian scene note that Hamdallah’s major weakness is that he has little political experience. He has not been a minister or held any governmental job. As an English major from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, Hamdallah has little economic experience as well. This leaves the public with the feeling that he doesn’t have the stamina to last a long time in a highly political position such as the prime ministry.

Hamdallah is politically independent. Sources at An Najah University, however, note that he cooperates closely with the Palestinian security forces and is seen positively by PLO forces. As the president of a university that for some time had Islamists running the student council, Hamdallah has had good although careful relations with the Islamists.

One possible solution for some of these issues might be a look at the suggested finance minister. Shukri Bishara, the Arab Bank’s former regional director, is a no-nonsense economist who also knows how to get around in the politics of Palestine. Bishara set up the regional offices of the Arab Bank shortly after the Oslo Accords and had to resolve problems with both Palestinian and Israeli officials.

Another noteworthy appointment is Ziad Abu Amr who comes from Gaza and has excellent relations with both Hamas and Fatah. Abu Amr, who served as a minister in a number of previous governments, will certainly be expected to help mend relations with Gazan leaders in the process leading the reconciliation.

But while a number of new faces like Hamdallah, Bishara and Abu Amr will appear, most of the current Cabinet is expected to remain. Ministers such as Foreign Minister Riyad Al Malki and Interior Minister Said Abu Ali, who have been Abbas’s men in previous governments, will continue in their positions, thus strengthening the position of the president after a few years in which a successful prime minister cleverly chipped away at many of the powers of the resident of Ramallah’s Muqata’a.


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