الرئيسية » هاني المصري »   12 آب 2023

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هاني المصري

"Starting a short time after the current government's formation, endless rumors have been circulating about a reshuffle or total overhaul of the government lineup, reportedly fueled by some of PM Mohammed Shtayyeh's biggest supporters abandoning him and by the government's failure to fulfill its promises," recounts Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian news-portal www.masarat.ps.

These rumors have not always been baseless. After all, there is no smoke without fire. Some ministers have indeed been told to prepare to leave office and agreements were struck with their intended replacements. However, higher authorities intervened to cancel the whole affair. There were also reports on multiple occasions of the PM handing in his resignation to the president if a significant government reshuffle was not approved, or of the president deciding to relegate his government to caretaker status.

Many names have been placed on the candidate market for the new PM position or membership in the government lineup, in a bid to test the waters, divert attention from what is really brewing, or buy time and distract the public with sensational news. However, the public is completely indifferent to such news, just as it hardly cares about news of reconciliation meetings. Experience has taught it that nothing substantial will change whether reconciliation meetings are held or not, whether they produce statements and agreements or not, and whether the government remains unchanged or undergoes a reshuffle or overhaul or a new government is formed. The same leadership structure and forces will remain, with no appreciable changes. The prevailing approach and the government program will still be the same. The occupation's actions will remain a major obstacle to any government, and it makes no sense for the government to stand neutral in the face of incursions, assassinations, arrests, intense settlement expansion, home demolitions, alterations to al-Aqsa's status, and the aggression and blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, the government does not govern. Indeed, the real head of the government is the president, who has consolidated all executive, legislative, and judicial powers in his own hands. He has reinstated a presidential system and relegated the PM to a mere first minister, effectively ending the presidential-parliamentary system that was established after the late president Yasser Arafat was forced to accept the creation of a PM office that was afforded broad powers under the pretext of implementing reforms to the PA, when the real reason was Abu Ammar's refusal to comply with the demands and diktats of the U.S administration and Israel.

The presidential autocracy was further consolidated after the powers of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) were delegated to the Palestinian Central Council (PCC), which was formed while shunning and excluding many figures to suit the whims of the president and the official leadership following the dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). New elections were canceled on the pretext that the occupation state would not permit them to be held Jerusalem, citing a specific protocol that strips the city of its sovereignty by limiting the election to 6000 voters casting ballots at six designated post offices, without the presence of an elections committee, list representatives, and local or foreign observers. There was not even an attempt to rely on a national consensus to provide factional legitimacy in light of the ongoing split, which has only deepened vertically and horizontally. It has become a reality with which everyone coexists, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people recognize its disastrous consequences and the immense importance of unity, which is the key to victory for any people in the process of national liberation from colonialism.

Before the El Alamein meeting, rumors circulated that the PM had handed in his resignation to the president. In another version of the story, the president informed him to prepare to step down after the meeting, whose outcomes would determine whether the upcoming government would follow a national unity or national reconciliation formula – that is, assuming that the meeting produced positive outcomes. But if it failed, as it indeed did, then the government would remain unchanged or undergo a reshuffle, or a new government would be formed in anticipation of potential changes in the region.

Rumors spread about two possible government lineups, one led by Dr. Mohammad Mustafa, a recurring favorite candidate for PM, and another led Dr. Ali al-Jarbawi. Other names proposed as potential PM candidates include Dr. Imad Abu Kishek, Dr. Marwan 'Awartani, Dr. Rami Hamdallah, and even Mahmoud al-'Aloul.

Note that most of these rumors originated from sources high up in the PA and its followers. In the absence of the proper official disclosure of information in keeping with the people's right to be informed about what is happening, rumors have a compounded impact. This is further fueled by the public's inclination to source information from Israeli media outlets and social networks. 

Will the government be reshuffled or overhauled, or will it stay the same?

The only person who knows is President Mahmoud 'Abbas. He holds all the power, and there is no institution, either in the PA or PLO that has authority over him or is a true partner in the decision-making process. Therefore, it makes no difference and does not matter whether the government stays the same or is reshuffled or overhauled, as long as its true leader is the president and as long as his policies remain unchanged. There is ample evidence of this. For instance, the foreign, interior, and finance ministers, among others, are appointed by the president, the deputy PMs are chosen from the president's inner circle, and the media and security establishment are under his control. We can all recall several instances where the finance minister – who is the president's representative – made statements that contradicted those of the PM, and it was the minister's statements that turned out to be true. Moreover, laws have been issued without the PM's knowledge.

It seems that the president's reasoning on the matter is as follows: If Shtayyeh's government remains, it is a problem. It has performed poorly and attracted major criticism, creating fodder for infighting and rivalry between Fatah and the PA. Therefore, it is a convenient scapegoat. But if the government is replaced, it still poses a problem because change gives people hope that something new will happen, while there is nothing new to be had. A Saudi/Israeli deal is not guaranteed despite the U.S.'s keen interest in brokering it. Business will proceed as usual as long as the approach, policies, plans, and even the individuals involved remain unchanged. There are no prospects of a political process. In fact, any chances of that have disappeared with the current Israeli government, whose fundamental program and concern is to annex the West Bank and establish it as a part of Israel. Meanwhile, its residents are expected to accept it, leave, or face death or imprisonment. Furthermore, we lack effective and suitable strategies. All we have is a reactive policy that deals with each day as it comes. Meanwhile, the grand ideas promoted like development clusters and economic disengagement from the occupation are merely media fodder, while the situation worsens and economic dependency on the occupation increases.

Despite all of this, we may witness a government reshuffle that replaces a number of ministers or even the formation of a new government, in light of internal demands from PM aspirants as well as external pressures, especially from the U.S. administration. The U.S. deems it of paramount importance for there be a governmental overhaul led by an individual with a reformist agenda. This governmental overhaul is part of a comprehensive plan to stop the PA's attenuation and erosion and prevent its collapse. Other components of this plan involve the provision of Israeli facilitations like those approved in the recent cabinet meeting, as well as stopping settler transgressions and suspending the rapid annexation program. Meanwhile, the gradual annexation of Palestinian territories would continue, which is a situation that may be tolerated.

To understand the U.S. perspective, we must read an article co-authored by Ghaith al-Omari and Dennis Ross, who has very close ties to the Biden administration. The thesis of the article, entitled 'Why a Weak Abbas Is Dangerous for Israel' is summed up in the lede, which reads: 'To restore security and expand the Abraham Accords, Washington and its allies must take urgent steps to keep the PA from collapsing, such as organizing donor pressure to appoint a reformist prime minister and increasing employment opportunities for younger Palestinians who no longer see a reason to refrain from violence.'

Thus, the article's authors do not see the root of the conflict as lying in the occupation and its crimes, cold-blooded killings, and various acts of aggression. Instead, they equate Palestinian violence and terrorism with settler violence. Therefore, the primary goal is to aid Israel by expanding Arab normalization agreements with Israel instead of sanctioning it for its crimes and for killing the peace process. This aligns with the Biden administration's central goal of brokering Saudi/Israeli normalization between the end of this year and next March, when the presidential election season kicks off. As one of the outcomes of the normalization effort (if it succeeds, which is a tall order), the PA would be provided with generous support in exchange for it agreeing to a broader deal (in light of reports that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has informed President Mahmoud 'Abbas that Palestine is part of the deal). If this deal is struck, it would establish Israeli dominance over the region by opening the doors of Arab and Muslim nations to Tel Aviv's leaders, distancing Saudi Arabia from China, Russia and Iran, rescuing Israel from its current crisis, and paving the way for a new 'deal of the century' that strives to neutralize the Palestinian cause in a calmer and more gradual manner, rather than all at once as Trump's deal intended.

The article also argues that the PA lacks popular legitimacy for many reasons, including 'widespread corruption, poor governance, the unwillingness to hold elections, a sclerotic political system that blocks any advance of younger potential leaders, and the absence of any real political vision or achievements vis-à-vis the Israelis.'

However, it neglects to mention that the lack of political vision for which the PA is blamed is the result of successive Israeli governments destroying the peace process while U.S. administrations turn a blind eye to their actions, protect them, and shield them from accountability and punishment. On top of all that, the U.S. pressures the official leadership to wait for the revival of the process until God only knows when, while doing everything in its power to prevent the PA from charting a different path capable of achieving Palestinian objectives and interests.

Regarding the failure to hold elections, it was encouraged and enabled by the U.S. and Israel due to the fear of Hamas winning or gaining legitimacy even if it does not win a majority.

Poor governance, especially ongoing human rights violations, can in large part be attributed to the PA's political, economic, and security function, which has created a wide rift between the leadership and the people. The Biden administration seeks to maintain this function by upholding agreements that Israeli governments have long since violated, in order to ensure the occupation state's security and label legitimate resistance as 'terrorism.'

Do Ross and Omari imagine that it is possible to establish a democratic, capable PA under occupation and division? Do they think that it can fight corruption while maintaining the same approach without having national and electoral legitimacy, especially now that the political process is dead and Palestinian/Israeli relations have been redefined within security and economic parameters that exclude Palestinian rights even as enshrined by UN resolutions and the unjust accords the PLO signed with the Israeli government? Or is the entire concern how to help Israel, even if it means rescuing it from itself? What the article does not explicitly state is that the formation of a strong, 'reformist' Palestinian government may ensure the occupation's security and facilitate a smooth transition of power if the PA presidency becomes vacant.

The Palestinians need to radically change the course they have followed for the past thirty years as part of a new, comprehensive vision. In the process of radical change, the formation of an effective national unity government would make a difference. In that event, the government's advent would be part of the process of changing the PA's role, functions, obligations, and dynamics to become an establishment adjacent to the resistance that serves a unified PLO and a joint national program.

"However, this is not in the offing until further notice," concludes Masri.