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Hamdallah declines overtures to remain Palestinian PM

PA sources cite 'conflicts with deputies' as reason behind resignation after two weeks. Hugh Naylor reports

GAZA CITY // Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, accepted the resignation of his newly appointed prime minister yesterday despite three meetings urging him to retract the decision.

Rami Hamdallah offered his resignation on Thursday, just two weeks after he was sworn in as premier and amid efforts by the United States to restart peace negotiations with Israel.

The decision took many by surprise, which analysts said likely signalled infighting over the distribution of power between the presidency and the prime minister's office.

A Palestinian Authority source told AFP that the decision had been taken when Mr Abbas and Mr Hamdallah met during the morning for their third meeting in 48 hours.

"President Abbas has accepted the resignation of Hamdallah after he refused to work with two deputies," the source said.

Mr Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdaineh, said the president designated Mr Hamdallah to head an interim government.

Mr Abbas initially requested that Mr Hamdallah, an academic with no political experience, reconsider his position. A Palestinian official told Maan news agency that Mr Abbas met Mr Hamdallah on Saturday but efforts to persuade him to stay on ultimately failed.

Among the names being floated for the next prime minister is Mohammad Shtayyeh, a charismatic Fatah official who is close to Mr Abbas.

The next premier may struggle to secure the degree of independence that defined the six-year tenure of Mr Hamdallah's predecessor, Salam Fayyad. A former IMF economist, he gained respect internationally and among a section of Palestinians for streamlining government institutions and tacking corruption.

Mr Fayyad's no-nonsense governing style also put him at odds with Mr Abbas and the Fatah faction that he chairs. Coupled with an acute economic crisis exacerbated by Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, Fatah's opposition to Mr Fayyad's policies are believed to have ultimately forced his resignation in April.

Analysts said Mr Abbas wanted the next prime minister to toe Fatah's line. Moreover, they say, the Palestinian president created the position of two deputy prime ministers after Mr Fayyad resigned to weaken the powers of the prime ministry.

Those deputies, Mohammed Mustafa and Ziad Abu Amr, reportedly clashed with Mr Hamdallah from the outset.

Daoud Kuttab, a political analyst who lives in Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan, said Mr Hamdallah's lack of political experience probably played a significant role in his decision to resign so soon.

"I think he was in above his head," he said. "He's not a politician and I don't think he knew how to finesse the situation he was in."

Mr Kuttab described Mr Hamdallah as a "control freak", citing his leadership style during the 15 years as president of An Najah National University in Nablus, the West Bank's largest university.

"He controls everything at Najah, but in politics you can't do that. You have to have compromise," he said.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, is due to return to the region this week in his effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Mr Abbas has refused to engage Israel in peace talks until it stops constructing settler homes in the occupied Palestinian territories, which are wanted to form a Palestinian state.

Mr Abbas has ruled by decree since 2009, having repeatedly postponed presidential and parliamentary elections primarily because of the split between his Fatah faction in the West Bank and Gaza's Hamas rulers.

The latter swept the last round of parliamentary polls, in 2006, precipitating a crisis that led to the Islamist group's takeover of Gaza a year later.

Last month, Hamas and Fatah vowed to form a unity government of technocrats and hold national elections but there have not been any signs that the sides are moving towards forming a government.

The factions have struggled to implement the reconciliation accord they brokered in May 2011. Forming a unity government on independent figures is part of that accord.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Reuters

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