Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas has appointed a new prime minister. He is Ram Hamdullah.
It is useful to remember that the post of PA prime minister was originally forced on PLO, PA, and Fatah leader Yasir Arafat ten years ago, in the hope of getting the PA to be more moderate and more competent as an economic and administrative entity.
It has not worked too well.
Hamdullah’s predecessor was Salam Fayyad. Fayyad, named six years ago, was a serious economist who actually tried to curb the ruling Fatah party’s corruption. The Western donors liked Fayyad and kept him in office for years against the will of the Fatah bosses, who periodically tried to get rid of him. Yet they feared that if they forced out Fayyad, the money would be cut off. At any rate, they blocked all of Fayyad’s reform measures, and he never played any significant role in negotiations with Israel.
The Fatah bosses run the PA’s broad policy. The 18 members elected in 2009 are mostly hardliners, either radicals or old Arafat loyalists. After the election, moderate Ahmed Qurei (better known as Abu Ala) — who missed out on the election by two votes — said, albeit with exaggeration, that the Fatah elections were more dishonest than the recent ones in Iran. But even he, perhaps the most moderate individual in the higher ranks of the organization, revealed the culture of Fatah by accusing Israel of fixing the election … and accusing those who won of being Israeli agents. The arguably most moderate leading figure claimed that Israel conspired to control the election … by picking hardliners?
This tells you part of the problem.
The victory of people like Jibril Rajoub, Muhammad Dahlan, and Tawfik Tirawi — all security force commanders — showed, claimed Abu Ala, that “someone wants to see rubber stamps” in Fatah’s leadership. He implied that these people were too soft on Israel and were actually willing to make concessions as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. Of course, such a comprehensive agreement has not appeared in the last four years, and is nowhere in sight.
No need to wonder why this conflict continues when you have thinking and behavior like this.
At the same time, Gaza Strip leaders of Fatah have resigned. Even aside from vote-fixing, they do have a case. After all, since Hamas prevented many from attending the meeting, they couldn’t vote for candidates from Gaza.
And there is still more. Who beat Abu Ala for the position on the Fatah Central Committee? Tayyib Abd al-Rahman. He was for many years the head of Arafat’s personal public relations operation. I remember him well from the 1980s, running Arafat’s press conferences. So much for new leadership.
Now, however, this is a sign of the contempt that Fatah bosses feel toward President Barack Obama, as someone too powerless or unwilling to pressure them. It is a sign of their low respect that the replacement of Fayyad comes only a few days after Secretary of State John Kerry offered them a fund of $4 billion if the PA went back to negotiations with Israel. Which the PA refused.
According to the theory that the PA really wants a two-state diplomatic solution with Israel, this makes no sense: doesn’t it want to compromise to end “oppression” and ”occupation” as soon as possible? No. Unfortunately, they would rather wait decades in hopes of wiping Israel off the map, or of leaving the issue open for the next generation; or they fear that compromise would mean being called traitors and being pushed out by their Islamist rival, Hamas.
Hamdullah is the perfect compromise. He is a nobody, a technocrat, lacking all political experience so he won’t try to challenge the party bosses and cannot do so. Hamdullah will do what he is told.
Also, Hamdullah — dean at al-Najah University — is a Fatah party member (plus 1), is British-educated (plus 2), and an English professor (plus 3). In other words, he knows how to deal with the West and will hopefully keep the money rolling in, but cannot do anything himself and won’t try. Hamdullah cannot negotiate even if he wanted to do so. He will ignore Western encouragements to return to the bargaining table, but he will keep accepting the checks and will provide the PA with a moderate face that will gain PR points with his British-accented English.
Long forgotten: the late Bush and early Obama administrations’ strategy. The idea was that with the PA’s cooperation, the West Bank would be turned into a relatively successful entity, while heavy pressure would be put on the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians would allegedly see the difference and support the PA and not Hamas, a wave of moderation would start, and a compromise peace would result with Israel.
Today, however, Hamas survives, is entrenching itself, and now has — despite serious frictions between them — a patron in the advancing Muslim Brotherhood movement. The PA is still a mess, with aid having a bigger chance of ending up in the PA leaders’ Swiss bank accounts than building a stable economy.
Meanwhile, we will all wait for a year or two or three to see who Abbas’s successor will be.
Abbas has long passed the end of his elected term without anyone in the West pointing out that his government is no longer legitimate. His desire to become partners again with terrorist Hamas gets a pass, as does the fact that the PA has now rejected the Oslo Accords of 1993 with Israel on which its own existence is based.
Corrupt, incompetent, and hardline as it is, the PA serves a purpose. It preserves the fiction that the “peace process” is still alive and keeps Hamas out of power. It keeps Hamas from overthrowing the PA, which of course only rules the West Bank, since Hamas already controls the Gaza Strip. Fatah might go to war with Israel again but the revolutionary Islamists would definitely do so backed by the other Muslim Brotherhood regimes.
That in itself is worthwhile, given the fact that there is zero alternative of a moderate Palestinian leadership that would make peace with Israel. Of course, the PA has no interest in doing what is necessary to actually obtain a Palestinian state.