Bloomberg News

Palestinian Premier’s Status Uncertain as Kerry Heads to Region

June 21, 2013

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s future was up in the air as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry headed to the Mideast seeking to restart peace talks.

Hamdallah, 54, submitted his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas on June 20, after less than two weeks in office, according to the official Wafa Palestinian news agency. Yesterday, the Palestinian MAAN website said at first that Hamdallah withdrew his resignation and then reported that he will meet with Abbas today to resolve the matter.

Kerry is pushing Israelis and Palestinians to restart peace talks that have been stuck since 2010, saying that a chance for peaceful resolution of their decades-long conflict is fading fast. A U.S. official said yesterday that uncertainty over Hamdallah’s plans won’t affect Kerry’s efforts during a visit June 27-29 to Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan.

“When you talk about the peace process, President Abbas is our interlocutor, so it’s not going to have any impact on the secretary’s discussions,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

Still, Hamdallah’s flip-flop underscores questions about the Palestinian leadership’s legitimacy and popularity, and that could affect Kerry’s efforts, according to Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Abbas. She said the U.S. is engaging with a leadership in which “there’s nobody who can claim legitimacy.”

Elections haven’t been held since Abbas’s democratic mandate expired in 2009. The prime minister is appointed, not elected, and the Palestinian parliament collects paychecks even though it’s been out of session since 2007, according to Buttu.

Legitimacy Questioned

“The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is seen by more and more Palestinians as lacking any legitimacy, as failing to serve Palestinians, advance their cause, or help them advance their rights,” Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, said in a telephone interview.

Hamdallah quit after two weeks in office because he felt he was being given insufficient authority, Ihab Besieso, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office, said in a telephone interview.

The position of prime minister was created in 2003 by the Quartet -- the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia - - as a way to avoid negotiating with President Yasser Arafat. The first candidate was Abbas, who held the position for seven months before resigning. In a complaint that echoes Hamdallah’s, Abbas said that he was being undermined by Arafat. He also said he wasn’t getting enough support from the U.S. or Israel.

Replaced Fayyad

Hamdallah, the former president of An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, had been appointed by Abbas to replace Salam Fayyad, who resigned in April.

While often clashing with Abbas, Fayyad won the trust of bankers and foreign donors because of his campaign to root out corruption and build the governing foundations for a Palestinian state. The International Monetary Fund, where Fayyad worked for 14 years, said in March that the Palestinian Authority’s ability to govern was being eroded by its financial difficulties.

Without foreign aid, Abbas’s government would face a budget deficit of more than 7 percent of gross domestic product at a time when government borrowing from local banks is, according to the World Bank, “at the limit that the banking sector can sustain.” Foreign aid accounts for about 14 percent of GDP, while public-sector jobs are 22 percent of total employment, according to the World Bank.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

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