“The formation of the government has become akin to a Ramadan riddle,” writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
The story began shortly after the formation of the last [national accord] government [in April 2014] when it became clear that it could not take off because of disagreements within it, the existence of a parallel [Hamas] government in the Gaza Strip, and because no government under occupation can rule in light of the unfair restrictions imposed by the  Oslo Accords. It is the occupation that rules, and the remaining dregs of ‘administrative and service matters’ are left for the PA president to decide, and not the government. The government, in fact, is just a façade.
Rather than facing the truth and dealing with the reasons that prevent the government’s success, [outgoing PA PM] al-Hamdallah asked to change the ministers that are not in step with him – especially since the government line-up was imposed on him, as he himself openly admitted on TV. This time, he wanted to add ministers that are on the same wavelength as him, or to form a government that is in line with its PM.
President Abu Mazin [Mahmoud Abbas] then asked him to wait for a number of reasons until the picture gets clearer after the Israeli [March 2015] elections, and to see whether there will be any political movement to revive the so-called ‘peace process.’ Moreover, any government reshuffle or change would require an agreement with Hamas.
We then witnessed new chapters of the story in the government’s ‘peripatetic’ journeys aimed at asserting its presence in the Gaza Strip. These ended with ministers being besieged and their movements restricted against the background of the disagreement over PA employees who are refraining from going to work and those employees appointed by Hamas. This continued until the deputy-PM and minister of the economy tendered his resignation, while the other deputy-PM absented himself from numerous meetings (but without resigning) after his efforts to reconcile the government with the parallel government failed. The story then reached a new peak with a verbal exchange between the PM and the minister of education who stormed out of the meeting after announcing that she would remain in the cabinet.
Later, we witnessed yet new chapters of this saga when the president announced during the [Fateh] Revolutionary Council meetings that the government would resign in the following twenty-four hours. The following day, his advisor announced the resignation of the Hamdallah government, adding that the president had asked Hamdallah to form another government. But the president’s official spokesman denied that the government had resigned and announced that the entire matter had been referred to the PLO’s Executive Committee to decide. But what new thing has occurred for the PLO Executive Committee to decide such an important matter, when it is usually the last to know what is going on, and when its role has been restricted to either endorsing or keeping silent about whatever the president decides?
In light of all the above, there are numerous scenarios regarding the form of the next government:
- First: The government remains in its current form, but without the ministers that disagree with al-Hamdallah and new ministers added to end a situation where some ministers are in charge of more than one portfolio. This scenario is achievable because the current government remains in place, has not been disbanded and has not resigned – as has now become clear after the initial confusion.
The obstacles facing this scenario arise from the fact that it requires Hamas’s consent, because if the government were reshuffled without its agreement, we would be back to square one. In that case, Hamas would form its own government or some national body to administer the Strip. That would make way for transforming the inter-Palestinian split into an inter-Palestinian secession. It would also increase the likelihood of the establishment of a ‘mini-state’ in Gaza, and the chances of a security deal and a long-term truce [with Israel] in return for lifting the siege [on the Gaza Strip]. But Hamas’s consent remains possible if it is offered some incentive, such as paying the salaries of its employees and merging them into the PA’s employment structure.
- Second: A government is formed from the PLO with the participation of some independents. This means that Fateh’s role in the government would grow. In this case, the government may play a larger political role – for example in the negotiations, if an agreement is reached to resume them, especially after Hamdallah has expressed more flexible terms for their resumption.
The obstacle facing this scenario stems from the fact that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and possibly the Democratic Front (DFLP) as well as the People’s Party [Hizb ash-Shaab] will not agree to take part in this government, having called for a national unity government instead. Should they maintain this stance, it would strip the government from its political cover and sow disagreement between the PLO’s member organizations. It would also isolate Fateh, which would find itself on one side together with factions that have no significant presence on the ground. Moreover, this scenario would deepen and consolidate the inter-Palestinian split, taking matters back to square one or perhaps even what is less.
- The third scenario: A strong national unity government is formed. If headed by the PA president, this would be even better. Such a government would be more effective than any other option if it comes into being within the framework of a vision that aims to totally change the track that has been pursued so far, rather than merely patching it up or improving it. It would also be much better placed to deal with foreign and domestic challenges and make use of opportunities while cutting its losses and costs. In addition, it would block the way before the establishment of a ‘mini-state’ in Gaza and a ‘provisional’ state in the West Bank.
But what prevents the formation of such a government is the commitment to the International Quartet’s terms [imposed on Hamas] as well as the PA president’s insistence – as he told French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius – that the government would not ‘include any parties that do not recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept the Quartet’s preconditions; therefore, the government will not include Hamas.’ In short, the government will have to be his government, in the sense that its program should be his program.
Despite this, Fabius said that President Abu Mazin told him that he would try to form a national unity government. Therefore, the issue of relations with this government can still be raised; that is, if the factions accept the Quartet’s preconditions, the government will be a national unity government.
But the president does not seem to have such a strong argument; i.e., that a government that does not accept the Oslo commitments and does not abide by the Quartet’s preconditions would suffer international, U.S., and perhaps European boycott. It may also be subject to Israeli sanctions and aggression. But that argument collapses when we note that fragmentation and gradual collapse will be the PA’s fate if it sticks to Oslo’s evil commitments. In fact, the latest evidence that the Palestinian Authority lacks all authority is the manner in which the occupation authorities have been dealing with the issue of facilities and permits [for the Palestinian population under occupation], where the PA has come across as a mere secondary agent that does not know what is going on and has no ability to protest against what is decided on its behalf.
Abu Mazin has a very strong argument he can use to defend the formation of a national unity government if he wishes to do so, namely, that Israel has concluded a prisoners-exchange deal and tahdi’a [lull or calming down] agreements with Hamas. Moreover, negotiations have been underway between Hamas and Israel for some time now – even if indirectly and via third parties – to reach an agreement on a long-term truce in return for lifting the siege on Gaza. Thus, and since Hamas is negotiating with Israel, we should not give in to Israel’s demand that Hamas not take part in the government, given that the Palestinian national interest requires this. Furthermore, neither the international community nor the U.S. nor of course Europe would be able to boycott such a government for too long since they would be effectively boycotting all the Palestinians and would be driving the region over the abyss and into the unknown.
To contain any possible reactions, the unity government’s program could include terms, which, in addition to insisting on Palestinian national rights, commit it to international law and UN resolutions.
The national unity government could constitute the government of the Palestinian state that the world has recognized. It can help end the split if formed as a step in the context of a comprehensive implementation of the [Fateh/Hamas] Cairo Agreement. For there would then be a single body that speaks in all the Palestinians’ name, which would strengthen the Palestinians at every level, whether in confrontations or negotiations.
Establishing a national unity government is difficult because it threatens those groups that have an interest in the persistence of the inter-Palestinian split. These groups have grown, developed, and became more influential and enriched as a result. Moreover, such a government would harm the pattern of relations that link the Palestinian parties to the various Arab, regional, and international parties, axes, and groups. It would threaten the regime of absolute individual control over the various elements of the Palestinian political system in light of the absence and absenting of all the PA and PLO’s official bodies.
“In addition, this is a political system that has lost its legitimacy because the legal mandate of the various elected institutions has expired, and because resistance and national accord have not been chosen as the basis for partnership, and while the other PLO institutions have not been renewed until it becomes possible to hold elections,” concludes Masri.