The resignation of Rami al-Hamadallah as prime minister epitomizes the crisis of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) in particular, and the Palestinian national project in general.
Among the problems characterizing this crisis are: The PA government’s lack of legitimacy, because of the moratorium placed on the work of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which has prevented it from exercising its jurisdictions; the repercussions of its negative lineup on the efforts for reconciliation; and the diminished powers of the prime minister, which prompted al-Hamadallah to resign.
Al-Hamadallah may continue to serve as the caretaker prime minister in the coming period, or PA President Mahmud ‘Abbas may appoint another independent figure from Fatah to form the cabinet. ‘Abbas may also form a government himself, with or without national consensus.
Regardless, the crisis remains quintessentially that of a political system with no direction or vision, and with a stalled national project, and not a government crisis. This requires calling for a new political track based on ending the occupation and intra-Palestinian division, and building real national partnership.
After only two weeks in office, Prime Minister Rami al-Hamadallah resigned on June 20, 2013, in a sudden and dramatic move. Al-Hamadallah sent his resignation letter to the president’s office, and then took his private car, refusing to use the official motorcade.
Al-Hamadallah cited a dispute over the powers within the government as the reason for his resignation, but did not explain what this meant in detail. Observers believe the dispute took place between al-Hamadallah and his deputies, specifically Muhammad Mustafa, his deputy for economic affairs, after the latter signed an agreement with the World Bank, as authorized by President Mahmud ‘Abbas. This effectively meant that three individuals, the prime minister, finance minister, and deputy prime minister for economic affairs, are all authorized to sign agreements related to financial affairs. Al-Hamadalla saw this as an infringement on his powers guaranteed by the amended basic law governing the post of prime minister.
To explain what happened, official sources said that Mustafa’s authorization dates back to an earlier tradition, whereby Salam Fayyad would sign agreements related to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the head of the organization’s economic division, and not as prime minister. This arrangement was introduced after the 2006 legislative election, to circumvent the international boycott of the tenth government formed by Hamas, after it won a majority of seats in the PLC.
Rami al-Hamadallah, before he accepted his appointment, was aware that the government was the president’s government, but he was surprised to find that he would serve only as a front for his deputies who are close to the president, and who would, practically speaking, discharge the duties of the prime minister in his stead.
In addition, the fifteenth government made a series of legal violations. To be sure, this government, just like all the governments formed after the Palestinian political and geographical split, was lacking in constitutional legitimacy, as it had not received a vote of confidence by the suspended PLC. Then, unlike previous cabinets, this government had 25 ministers, which is inconsistent with the law that states the number of ministers may not exceed 24. This government, also unlike previous ones, included two deputy prime ministers without cabinet portfolios, when the law stipulates that it the prime minister may appoint a deputy who must have a ministerial portfolio.
Al-Hamadallah’s resignation at record speed, and the president’s acceptance of his resignation after failing to reach a solution over the issue of powers within the government and the relationship with the president, are all due to the fact that the Palestinian political system, with the absence of the PLC, has turned into a presidential system that the president completely controls.
1. The continuation of al-Hamadallah’s government in a caretaker capacity as long as legal deadline allows it
This scenario would see the continuation of the government of Rami al-Hamadallah in a caretaker capacity over the period stipulated by the law, which obligates the president to appoint someone else to form a new government within two weeks of accepting the cabinet’s resignation. The prime minister-designate forms a cabinet within three weeks, which can be renewed for a maximum of two more weeks. If the prime minister-designate fails to form a government, then the president has to appoint someone else. Therefore, the government cannot continue to serve in a caretaker capacity for seven weeks without appointing a new prime minister.
2. Al-Hamadallah’s government continues in a caretaker capacity for longer than the legal period
In this scenario, al-Hamadallah’s government would continue to serve in a caretaker capacity for longer than the period allowable by law. If this happens, then it will be a new violation of the law. In this scenario, the government may remain until things in the region become clearer, especially in terms of negotiations and the fate of Kerry’s mission, and the implications of this on the issue of reconciliation.
This is a likely scenario, especially since it already happened more than once with the government of Ahmad Qurai‘ and then Salam Fayyad. Naturally, it requires the approval of Rami al-Hamadallah, in which case he would be accepting to remain a prime minister without powers – something that he rejected when he submitted his resignation only two weeks after he was sworn in.
3. Formation of a new government led by an independent figure or one of the members of Fatah’s Central Committee
This scenario would see the president appointing another figure to form the new cabinet, who could be an independent personality or one of the members of Fatah’s Central Committee. This does not preclude the continuation of the conflict over jurisdictions, and the eruption of crises resulting from the nature and characteristics of the Palestinian political system, which, after the creation of the post of prime minister in 2003, changed from being a presidential system to a hybrid (presidential-parliamentary) system. After the assassination of President Yasir ‘Arafat, it reverted to a presidential system, but without amending the basic law to reflect this.
4. Formation of a government headed by the president
This scenario would see the president forming a government led by him, which would mean that the system will become presidential both in form and substance, where all powers are concentrated in the hands of one person. However, this scenario would require the amendment of the basic law by the PLC, which is not possible without ending the division and restoring unity, or by issuing a law through a presidential decree, which would draw wide opposition as it would perpetuate and deepen the division.
5. Formation of a government of national consensus headed by the president
This scenario would see the formation of a national consensus government, led by the president, in accordance with the Cairo Agreement and the Doha Declaration, and in implementation of the timetable agreed on by the delegations of Fatah and Hamas in May 2013.
This scenario requires a political decision by both Fatah and Hamas, to give priority to the supreme national interest and joint national program over factional interests and plans, and foreign pressure and meddling. It also requires an agreement over a new Palestinian strategy to confront challenges and risks facing the Palestinian issue, so that the fate of this government, if formed, would not be similar to that of the national unity government formed after the Mecca Agreement in March 2007, and which only survived for three months.
This is an unlikely scenario given the large rift between Fatah and Hamas, and mutual attacks in the media as well as arrests and conflicting wagers on developments in the region and the world and their repercussions on the Palestinian issue in general, and the Palestinians and their internal relations in particular.
Another factor involves the false hopes some continue to pin on resumption of bilateral negotiations brokered by the United States and the international quartet. However, the quartet is nothing but a form of circumvention of international law and the role of the United Nations, the party that is otherwise supposed to be the umbrella and the serious framework for negotiations, and not just one powerless party among four.
The crisis goes far beyond being that of a government, prime minister, or a dispute over jurisdictions and powers with the cabinet or even with the president. Instead, this is a crisis of an entire political system that is misdirected because the path it chose has reached an impasse along with the Oslo Accords, which engendered an Authority that is completely dependent on foreign aid and political, security, and economic commitments.
Consequently, this authority is nothing more than a limited self-rule administration that legitimizes the occupation, and indefinitely prolongs the status quo.
Thus, the solution does not lie in changing the government, the prime minister, or addressing the dispute over jurisdictions inside an Authority that is devoid of any real powers because it is controlled by the occupation.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. Hani al-Masri for authoring the original text on which this Assessment was based.