x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Palestinian Authority PM quits after two weeks

Rami Hamdallah, who took the post a fortnight ago, is believed to be in dispute over his powers. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

RAMALLAH // Rami Hamdallah resigned yesterday as Palestinian Authority prime minister, just two weeks after taking the post.

It was unclear whether the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, would accept the resignation.

Mr Hamdallah's office declined to comment, but an official close to him said the decision was made because of a "dispute over his powers".

Analysts said Mr Abbas's decision to appoint Mr Hamdallah, a little-known academic with no political experience, signalled an attempt to consolidate power within the presidency.

The president's office handles diplomacy and negotiations with Israel, while the premiership focuses on day-to-day affairs in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

The resignation comes at a sensitive time for the PA. Economic conditions in the West Bank remain fragile and the peace process with Israel looks moribund despite recent efforts by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, to revive it.

Mr Hamdallah replaced the pro-western Salam Fayyad, who resigned after six years as prime minister.

Many credit Mr Fayyad for rooting out corruption and streamlining PA institutions, but those reforms also put him at odds with Mr Abbas and the ruling Fatah faction that he chairs.

That friction compelled Mr Fayyad, a former IMF economist, to threaten to resign on several occasions.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, a think tank in Washington DC, said Mr Hamdallah's appointment appeared to be an attempt by Mr Abbas to "have a weak prime minister".

The Palestinian president, who rules by decree, this month created for the first time two positions for deputy prime ministers under Mr Hamdallah.

Mr Abbas filled those positions with loyalists Ziad Abu Amr, a former PA foreign minister from Gaza, and Mohammed Mustafa.

The latter is an economic adviser to the president and chief executive of the Palestine Investment Fund.

Mr Schanzer said it "was clear that Mohammed Mustafa … had more power than the prime minister himself, who had no practical experience in running a government".

He said it "should therefore come as no surprise that Hamdallah wants out".

The position of PA prime minister was created in 2003 under pressure from the United States to weaken the powers of the president, Yasser Arafat.

Mr Hamdallah, 54, is considered to be politically close to Fatah.

He has served as president of Nablus's An Najah National University since 1998, and many credit him for expanding and improving the university's course offerings.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters

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