The new interim Palestinian cabinet expected to be announced Monday might provide an insight into just how well the rival Palestinian groups — Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip — are functioning after signing a reconciliation pact.
But a key cabinet post was still unfilled Tuesday — that of prime minister. Salam Fayyad, the current prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, was originally thought to be out of the running because of opposition from Hamas. But Fayyad was back in the region this week after having recovered from a health scare last month while visiting his son in Texas — heart surgeons unclogged a blocked artery — and he resumed talking Palestinian politics.
Ziad Asali, founder and president of the American Task Force on Palestine, said Tuesday that he would not rule Fayyad out of the new cabinet. He said the reason the post of prime minister was taking so long to fill is “because nobody is able to resolve this issue quickly. …It clearly has to be resolved, which tells you it’s complicated.”
The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper quoted Palestinian sources as saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would like Fayyad to continue as prime minister. It said Abbas has asked Egyptian leader Gen. Mohammed Tantawi and other Egyptian leaders for help in convincing Hamas to accept him.
Hamas has blamed Fayyad for Fatah security forces arresting a large number of Hamas members in the West Bank. But Abbas is said to be arguing that without Fayyad overseeing American and European foreign aid to the Palestinians, such assistance might end.
Among others mentioned in the Palestinian press as possible contenders for prime minister is philanthropist Munib al-Masri. Mordechai Kedar, a professor of Arabic studies at Bar-Ilan University, noted that al-Masri spearheaded the unity push and has many Israeli friends in the business community.
“He would be good for them as a kind of person who the world loves to love,” Kedar said. “Fayyad does not have money himself and managed money like a banker; al-Masri is a billionaire.”
Also said to be under consideration was Ziad Abu Amer, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Kedar said he would fit the mold the Palestinians are looking for.
“They want a nice face to show the world so the world would see modern people with whom it can make business,” he said. “This is the façade they want to give themselves — not as killers or jihadists but as those who would promote the image of a modern state. They want the world to believe they became a normal story led by people from academia.”
In addition to the job of prime minister, observers are anxious also to know whether the new minister of Interior will be a true technocrat as promised or will have ties to either Fatah or Hamas. “He controls domestic security and will be the commander of all [Palestinian] forces,” Kedar said. “This is a key position. If he is from Fatah and tries to spread his authority over Hamas, or if he is from Hamas and tries to control Fatah, it will not work.”
Egyptian officials brokered the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation last month at a time when there was still violence in the streets, noted Nonie Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel.
“Churches were being burned, there was civil unrest and Egyptian leaders were defending Iran,” Darwish said. “There will probably be more civil unrest in Egypt, and it will probably expand to the West Bank and Gaza. Israel should be very careful, because they will try to suck Israel into a war. Whenever Arabs fight, the way to end it is to shoot at Israel and when Israel shoots back, they stop fighting each other.”
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Israeli forces were reportedly on high alert this week in advance of Palestinian demonstrations called for in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria to mark the anniversary of the Six-Day War. During that war, Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, east Jerusalem and the Sinai Peninsula, which it returned to Egypt in 1982 as part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
Abbas and other Palestinian leaders continued to speak this week of their plans to ask the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly to recognize the Palestinians as a state whose borders would be based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
But a vote in the General Assembly recognizing a Palestinian state is meaningless as a matter of law, according to Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN.
“Even Israel was not created by the UN partition plan in November 1947,” he said. “It was recognized by the UN only after” Israel’s declaration of independence a year later.
“If Abbas goes to the General Assembly, all he can obtain is a declaratory resolution that is legally non-binding that advocates for the creation of a Palestinian state and suggests its borders should be along the June 4, 1967 lines. But for him to actually change the status of the West Bank and Gaza, he has to declare a state when he goes back to Ramallah from the UN, and it is not entirely clear that he wants to do that.”
Asked what would happen if Abbas fails to get Security Council support for statehood but tries to use UN bodies to pursue legal remedies against Israel, Gold replied: “The whole purpose of the peace process was to resolve the conflict. Abbas’ mention of going to the International Criminal Court reveals that he sees current diplomacy serving no purpose.”