By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
I don’t know why did Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh put himself in this awkward position, by accepting to form the “eighteenth” Palestinian Authority (PA) government. Shtayyeh is one of the brightest, most efficient and experienced leaders in the Fatah movement, holding a Ph.D. in Development Studies, a former Minister of Public Works and Housing, and chairperson of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR). He endorses an open-minded political discourse, and does not have the tendency to tense the atmosphere with Fatah’s dissidents, as some of his colleagues in the Fatah leadership do. It was more of a priority to someone like him to come to a government that fosters comprehensive Palestinian unity, consolidates consensus, implements the Reconciliation Agreement; rather than be the head of a government that fosters division, and tries to impose the agenda of a certain faction on “all” Palestinian national forces.
From the beginning, and before it was formed, the expected Shtayyeh government became a “crisis” government, an “Impasse” government and a “recipe for failure”; for the bases and circumstances of this government made it a structure built on loose mud, thus they denied it a minimum chance of success.
Officially, President ‘Abbas in the designation letter asked Shtayyeh to restore national unity and bring “Gaza back to the bosom of national legitimacy.” He asked him also to take all necessary measures to hold parliamentary elections in the country’s governorates (The West Bank (WB) including Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip (GS)) as soon as possible, to “consolidate democracy and political pluralism.” As for Shtayyeh, who accepted the appointment, he mentioned in his acceptance speech that he accepts the designation in the name of Fatah, addressing ‘Abbas not just as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the State of Palestine, but also as the head of the Fatah movement!! Without referring formally to ‘Abbas as the PA president, Shtayyeh stressed the need to work with the partners in the PLO to implement the national program, he stressed also “the one legitimacy and one law.”
Mandating Shtayyeh to form a government came in the midst of deep crisis of the National Palestinian Project, as well as the disruption and deterioration of the PLO and its institutions. It came during the PA’s transformation from being a project that aims to establish an independent full sovereign Palestinian state in the 1967 occupied Palestine, to being a functional authority that serves Israeli objectives more than its own national project. It came also at a time when the Palestinian leadership failed to implement the reconciliation agreement and its implications, and when Rami Hamdallah’s government failed to perform its duties, which were supposed to be based on “national consensus.”
The course of the former government reflected ‘Abbas’s policies and Fatah’s tendencies. For it sought to subdue Hamas, impose a selective policy when implementing the reconciliation, and continue to execute decisions and programs that not only infuriated Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ), but also the main factions of the PLO, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the Palestinian National Initiative. Unlike most Palestinian forces and factions, the former government insisted on continuing the security coordination with Israel, and the sanctions on GS. As a result, these forces boycotted the last session of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC).
The Fatah leadership has also escalated the crisis, when the “Constitutional Court” in Ramallah dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC); which was rejected by most Palestinian forces and factions, in addition to the fact that prominent constitutional law scholars have denounced the court’s decision as unconstitutional. Also, most factions have refused to comply with the court’s decision and participate in the elections.
Thus, the forming of Shtayyeh government has come in the midst of an environment of political crisis, in which Fatah itself suffers from further isolation. Hence, was it suitable to carry too far the same aggravation policies by excluding Hamas, and trying to form a government that lacks the support and participation of the main PLO factions?! How could this government “restore national unity,” according to the designation letter, unless it thinks that Hamas would submit to its dictates, and come “bare,” as a senior Fatah leader had put it.
Actually, the main PLO Palestinian factions has refused to participate in the upcoming government—before Shtayyeh was mandated to form it—since it fosters division and complicates the crisis, and as such official statements were issued by the PFLP, DFLP and the Palestinian National Initiative. Furthermore, when the designation letter was sent, it deepened the worries concerning the reconciliation tracks, for it neither referred to the National Reconciliation document nor to the Reconciliation Agreement. In addition, Shtayyeh’s acceptance speech came in the name of Fatah to determine that those who will be part of the government must be PLO members.
An Impasse Government:
It was supposed for any new government to have on top of its tasks holding democratic elections, to be a consensus government that enjoys the widest national participation, to provide a healthy political environment and a fair trustworthy electoral environment. However, to mandate to form a factional government led by Fatah was a step backward, and a blow to the atmosphere required for any credible elections. Thus, such a government would mirror the Palestinian “impasse,” rather than being a passageway to exit from it. It will establish the failure of the Palestinian political system, in which, for more than fifty years, one faction (Fatah) insists on solely leading it.
We do not know how will the Shtayyeh government achieve “national unity,” if the national and Islamic factions will not participate in it?
And we do not know how will the Palestinian democratic elections that reflect “political pluralism” be held, if most of the Palestinian factions will boycott it?
Can his government hold the elections without the Hamas-controlled GS? How can the Palestinian forces feel assured that free and fair elections will be held, as long as the WB is administered by chasing the resistance forces and “political Islam” movements, and by continuing the security coordination?!
And if the way, and the basis on which Shtayyeh was chosen to be a prime minister, mean that the procedures and sanctions against Hamas and GS will continue, by using subduing methods, then the elements of fueling and exploding the internal Palestinian situation will remain. Shtayyeh’s government will find itself the key tool in the confrontation, hence ti can be said that it “ensured its failure” at achieving national unity or political pluralism.
Recipe for Failure
In the midst of what the Palestine issue is passing through, and within the environment of the so-called “Deal of the Century,” a normalization climate, and Israeli arrogance, Palestinians need to rally their forces and overcome their differences to face these challenges. As for forming a one-color governmnet that faces the greatest dangers with tools that anger the Palestinian public, fosters Palestinian schism, wastes efforts, weakens the immunity and power factors, it would be the best “recipe for failure.”
The government in Ramallah doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring the most popular movement, or the Islamic and national forces that are actually on the ground, who are demanding national consensus, stopping security coordination, lifting sanctions on GS, and without transgressing to the resistance weapons… The govenrment itself sees this in the opinion polls that follow this direction.
Thus, the Shtayyeh government will be more widely exposed and weak, when facing the extremist encrouching Zionist project, and its Judaization and settlement programs, which will keep pressuring the PA to continue its functional role to protect Israel’s security and stability. This government will also be more exposed and weak, when facing the US campaign that aims at implementing the “Deal of the Century,” accomplishing normalization, wasting Jerusalem and the right of return, and closing the Palestinian dossier.
Shtayyeh, the economy expert, will face a difficult economic task in light of the enormous imbalances in favor of the occupation, imposed by the Paris Protocol; in light of the spread of corruption in the PA institutions, affirmed by 80% of those surveyed; in light of the fact that 80% of the PA income depends on “clearance” revenues collected by the occupation and on external support; in light of the fact that 58% of PA imports and 83% of its exports are with Israel; and in light of the Israeli “piracy” of Palestinian tax funds.
This government that is loaded with tasks, that overwhelms mountains, will practically shot its own legs, when it operates away from the national public majority, both in the PLO and outside it.
If there is one word of advice to Dr. Shtayyeh, it would be that your expertise, skills, and capabilities to understand those holding opposing views, must make you a bridge for the national forces to reach a true reconciliation. However, and since the environment and conditions of your mandate will lead to more crises and failure, and you will be held responsible for it, it would be more of a priority to execuse yourself from continuing to carry such an important task.
This article was originally published in Arabic on “Arabi 21” on 15/3/2019.
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