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Proposed factional Palestinian cabinet: A new hurdle to national reconciliation?

According to Palestinian analysts, Fatah’s recommendation to form a factional government is another stumbling block on the path to inter-Palestinian conciliation

Haitham Ahmed , Thursday 31 Jan 2019
Palestinian protester
A Palestinian protester throws back a tear gas canister towards Israeli forces during clashes following a demonstration along the border with the Israeli-occupied territories, east of Gaza City, on January 25, 2019 (Photo: AFP)

A recommendation by Fatah’s Central Committee to dissolve the Palestinian government of national accord led by Rami Al-Hamdullah and form a factional government composed of Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) members is another sticking point that threatens conciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas.

The Central Committee recommended forming a sub-committee to begin discussions and consultations with PLO factions to choose new cabinet members.

Youssef Mahmoud, spokesman for the national accord government, said: “Prime Minister Al-Hamdullah is putting his cabinet at the disposal of President Mahmoud Abbas.”

Reham Owda, a Palestinian political analyst, believes that forming a new government would prepare for a new political phase to overhaul the Palestinian house, especially after the ineffective parliament was dissolved.

Owda stressed that one of the main missions of the new government will be holding the next parliamentary elections and may extend to holding presidential elections if the situation stabilises.

She continued that Al-Hamdullah’s government was ineffective and a formality in the Gaza Strip since its work there is mostly handicapped.

She hoped that new and effective ministers will be chosen in the next government, especially in the Gaza Strip, who have a vision of how to manage the issue of conciliation.

Owda expected that most cabinet members will be chosen from the West Bank, which will exacerbate problems in Gaza. She added that some believe there is a need to prepare for the post-Abbas era to ensure political stability in the West Bank and offset any attempts to cause upheaval and hold the reins if anything happens to Abbas.

She noted there is a need for new blood in government, in order to send a message to the people, especially after recent criticism and protests rejecting the social solidarity law, which tainted the image of the West Bank government.

Talal Okal, another political analyst, said that Fatah’s recommendation has been presented to Abbas and discussions on the matter are expanding, but it is unclear why a factional government would be better or how it would look or what role it would play.

Okal believes the proposal is just a distraction and that forming a factional government without Hamas is not a step towards conciliation, but rather places a large obstacle on its path.

He added that the advantage of Al-Hamdullah’s government is that it is a national accord cabinet that was agreed on with Hamas and other factions as part of Al-Shatie Agreement in 2014.

Forming a government that excludes Hamas and the Islamic Jihad will not create Palestinian consensus, which means the new government will be viewed as biased. Okal doubted that current consultations will succeed in bringing on board major Palestinian factions.

Meanwhile, disputes are engulfing PLO members, such as between Fatah and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

“It would have been better to resolve these disputes,” Okal suggested. He does not expect a PLO government to succeed in light of ongoing disputes, which could result in a deformed government led by Fatah as the sole political faction along with some minor partners from the PLO.

Okal wondered if the new cabinet will have a new political agenda, and if so then it should have presented it to the PLO Executive Committee first. He believes there is no need to change the government right now, but no one knows Abbas’s reasoning.

Adnan Abu Amer, a political analyst, warned that changing the cabinet will gradually distance national conciliation, drive a deeper wedge between the two sides, and entrench division due to unilateral decisions by Abbas and Fatah.

He added that if the decision is implemented and a new government is formed without national conciliation, it will be Fatah by itself and no other factions.

The PFLP and DFLP said they will not participate in this cabinet, which will heighten internal tensions, impede Egyptian mediation for conciliation, and hinder any domestic or international efforts to mend Palestinian fences.

“There are already problems and divisions under Al-Hamdullah’s government, so what will forming a new cabinet achieve right now?” asked Abu Amer.

“The problem is that every new prime minister wants to begin from square one. This wastes a lot of time and allows the occupation to gain more time to change reality on the ground. This hurts the Palestinian cause.”

Abu Amer noted that many inside Fatah believe that a new cabinet now will hurt Fatah or Abbas. “There will be another crisis, and it will make Hamas circles more hardline in rejecting conciliation, which will lead to more unilateral decisions on all sides,” Abu Amer stated.

He suggested that Fatah “should not walk alone or hijack Palestinian decisions or exclude key political factions such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the left.” He expects Abbas to suffer in the coming phase if the status quo continues, due to doubts about his legitimacy and his inability to represent all Palestinians.

Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesman, said that Fatah’s intention to “form a government without national consensus is a way to evade national partnership and continue unilateral policies and exclusion, as well as entrench divisions caused by Fatah and its president Mahmoud Abbas”.

Barhoum continued: “Our people need a national unity government that includes the Palestinian people from across the spectrum. It is necessary to hold a meeting of Palestinian leaders to form a unifying national council and hold general elections (presidential, parliamentary and the National Council).”

The politburo of the DFLP called for a national dialogue to correct and address relations among PLO members. “A factional government is not a national priority and we will not participate in it,” it stated.

“Our national priority is to confront the Trump-Netanyahu alliance by implementing the decisions of the Central Council and National Council, ending division, rebuilding national institutions based on coalitions and national partnership.”

Fatah said the new phase requires forming a new political government with new missions, in order to address the challenges targeting the Palestinian cause.

Atef Abu Seif, Fatah spokesman, said there is a need to form a political resistance government with the primary goal of entering political battles to stop all attempts to negate Palestinian national demands and political rights.

“This does not diminish the achievements of the accord government or its remarkable performance,” Abu Seif said. “The only path now is to hold elections, which means the last word is with voters. This is not a precondition, but the demand of the Palestinian people.”

He justified forming a government from PLO factions because the organisation has “jurisdiction over the Palestinian National Authority which is one of the components of the PLO. Hamas and the Jihad are not members of the PLO, so why should they be included in the cabinet?”

He continued: “PLO factions are invited to participate in this government, but some PLO factions, including colleagues in the PFLP, were never members in government.”

Abu Seif said this will be a government “for those who want to be part of the cabinet, to stand up to the political challenge, and those who want to provide service for the people in a new manner because the foundation of a government are the people that provide services to citizens.”

He asserted that Hamas “did not allow any Palestinian government to operate in Gaza since its ‘coup’ in 2007, not even the cabinet of Salam Fayyad. Therefore, what difference does it make?”

Azzam Al-Ahmed, member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said the reason for forming a new government with PLO factions is “to disengage with Hamas on the national accord government. After reaching a screeching halt in conciliation talks, it is necessary to move to a political cabinet.”

Mahmoud Al-Aloul, Fatah’s deputy chairman, agreed saying that the recommendation to form a new cabinet was due to dozens of reasons, including that the accord government was formed in agreement with Hamas.

“We had hoped this climate of consensus would not end, but everyone knows how they set a trap to undermine the government,” he asserted.

The national accord government is the 17th Palestinian cabinet and the first national accord cabinet since 2007. It was formed 2 June 2014 after consultations with all Palestinian factions.

Al-Hamdullah was chosen prime minister on 29 May 2014, and 17 ministers were sworn in by Abbas at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 January, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: All together?

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