Abbas's man – part-time technocrat with right connections is new PM

June 10, 2013
Sarah Benton

First, Amira Hass describes the character of the ’empire Hamdallah built; second, BBC reporters put the appointment of Hamdallah in context; third, the Guardian asks what this means for the reconciliation process.

Rami Hamdallah, new PA Prime Minister: ‘Mr. Abbas “chose him because he is a technocrat, and he is one of the president’s men. And he doesn’t have any ambitions of a political program,” said Hani Masri, a political analyst close to Fatah. “He will implement what the president wants. We can call this the president’s government.” ‘ Wall Street Journal. Mr Hamdallah will retain his position as president of an-Najah National University, the largest Palestinian university with 20,000 students.It has four campus sites in and around Nablus

The empire Hamdallah built

The man appointed Palestinian prime minister helped turn An-Najah University into a flourishing and influential body. On the Nablus campus, students and faculty describe Rami Hamdallah and the institution he shaped.

By Amira Hass. Ha’aretz
June 09, 2013

te our president on his appointment as prime minister,” said a student at An-Najah National University in Nablus a few days after it was announced that university president Prof. Rami Hamdallah would replace Dr. Salam Fayyad. “But I ask myself why he should leave the successful empire he has built, for a weak and poor entity like the Palestinian government,” said the second-year student of liberal arts. Her girlfriends agreed and then signalled that the discussion was over; they were sick of politics and wanted to head off to a birthday party.

The young woman was apparently not exaggerating when she described the university that Hamadallah has headed for the last 15 years as an “empire.”

It has four campuses – three in Nablus and one in Tulkarm (the faculties of agriculture and veterinary medicine ) – which together straddle an area of 178 dunams, as well as a university hospital that opened a month ago and a local radio station that permits itself to take a stand in the disputes among various politicians. The largest university on the West Bank, An-Najah has about 22,000 students and 1,800 employees (including 848 teachers as of 2011 ). One of the teachers, a former student and now the father of students, says that this university has tremendous economic and social influence on life in Nablus and the northern West Bank, if not beyond.

An-Najah (“success” ) developed from a high school established in 1918, became a college in 1941, evolved into a teachers’ seminary which also granted academic degrees in 1965, and then, in 1977, was declared the national university. In Nablus they say that during Hamdallah’s tenure, over the past 15 years, the university has flourished in terms of the number of teachers and students, academic variety, the quantity of faculties and departments, research plans and academic conferences, ties with foreign universities, etc. That’s why we can wonder about Hamdallah’s consent to enter the sickbed that is the Ramallah government. On the other hand, it’s not surprising that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chose him of all people for the position of PM.

Although Hamdallah was sworn in as prime minister on Thursday evening along with his ministers (seven of them new appointees ), he continues to serve as the university president. As prime minister he has been given two deputies, so that he will be able to continue to take care of university affairs as well. Officially, Hamdallah is to head a transition government until August 14: That is the final date (as of now ) set for establishing a national unity government of Hamas and Fatah. Few people believe that this will actually happen, but in the meantime the university doesn’t have to appoint a new president.

It turns out that it was not only Hamdallah’s proven administrative abilities that led to his appointment as head of a transitional government. This week, foreign correspondents asked whether he was “a member of Fatah.” After all, Fatah members’ resentment of outgoing Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was a major factor in his decision to resign. The official answer is no, Hamdallah is not known to be a Fatah member. But observers note that his close relationship with two of the strongmen in Fatah and in the coterie of the late PA Chairman Yasser Arafat played an important role in his appointment both as the university’s president and as PM. One is Tayeb Abdul Rahim, the secretary general of the government headed by Arafat, and today the secretary general of Abbas’ bureau (and also a native of Anbata, like Hamdallah ). The other is Tawfik Tirawi who, at the time of the establishment of the PA, was the chief of Palestinian intelligence on the West Bank, and who maintains his power in the Fatah movement as Abbas’ security adviser.

Despite Hamdallah’s close ties with Fatah leaders, faculty say that at the university those identified with Hamas teach without interference. On the contrary, some think that Hamdallah should have reined them in, says a faculty member who is politically opposed to both movements. But at the same time, faculty members admit that they exercise caution during class lessons when speaking about PA politics and certain leading figures. As in all the Palestinian universities, at An-Najah there are students who work for the Palestinian security services, or are informers for them. Just the thought of their presence serves as a censor.

After 2007, when the Palestinian political entity split into the two rival governments of Hamas and Fatah, the PA security services in the West Bank worked without interference to remove and silence students identified with Hamas. That was not a decision of the university president, and it is doubtful whether he could have prevented that development, given the atmosphere of civil war that prevailed at the time.

The security guards who stand today at the entrance of the university and check those who enter, and also mingle among the students, are salaried university employees. Their job is accepted with understanding. Thousands of people wander around the various campuses, and nobody wants to see fights breaking out. But it turns out that the security guards also remark to female students that they are not allowed to wear clothes that are too tight (most of the female students, incidentally, wear a head covering ). The security guards also make comments to male and female students who instead of sitting on the steps or the benches sprawl out on them in a kind of reclining position. The female students who mentioned the security guards’ involvement in matters of dress code seemed to think it was normal. The astonishment of one of the students’ parents, present in the room, led them to question the policy. This also attests to the way that overt or covert security guards have become part of the social culture.

In the 1980s and even the 1990s An-Najah National University was called “the poor man’s university,” as recalled this week by two former students, whose daughters are now studying there. The administration and the board of trustees, which is composed of representatives of the city’s wealthy and influential families, managed to raise enough money to charge a lower tuition than the other universities (at the time in Bethlehem, Hebron and Birzeit, north of Ramallah ) and to also grant scholarships and loans on convenient terms. Above all, they remember it with pride as the university which in the 1980s and the early 1990s was the starting point for demonstrations against the Israeli occupation, and whose student movement gave rise to leaders of Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s left-wing organizations and the Hamas movement as well.

One of the veteran faculty members also recalls that “the students of those days were older” than today’s student body. They had spent several years in Israeli prisons and, upon their release, registered immediately for the university and made the lessons lively and interesting. In the late 1990s, and continuing into the years of the second intifada during Hamdallah’s presidency, the student slate identified with Hamas received a majority in the student council – in a university that was thought to belong to Fatah.

There was no attempt to prevent demonstrations of support for the armed members of the various organizations (and for suicide attacks ). Such protests seemed normal amidst military attacks, bereavement and a desire for revenge. On the other hand, students recall that the siege of Nablus and the stringent restrictions on movement were not considered a valid excuse to be absent from or late for classes. Lessons and exams continued even then, as much as possible.

Elections for the student council in Nablus were held in late April this year. The slate identified with Hamas ran for the first time since 2008. It received 33 seats, while Fatah’s slate received 43. A female student who didn’t vote says that in contrast to Fatah, Hamas activists ran a well-organized and pragmatic campaign. Nevertheless Fatah won. Hamas’ charm seems to be on the wane.

The party division is misleading, say both faculty and students. The disagreements and the rivalry are about power and positions, not about ideology and vision. Most of the students – the product of the PA school system – are apolitical, say faculty and parents. Their knowledge of Palestinian history and geography is deficient. “Twenty and 30 years ago they told us that education is part of our battle against the occupation,” complains one faculty member. “But today the studies lack any national identity. They are part of consumption, not of culture, and they are designed to serve the technocratic desire to build institutions for a state that doesn’t exist.”

That isn’t criticism of Hamdallah, but of the conceptions that guide the government that he will be heading.

Mahmoud Abbas appoints new Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah

Rami Hamdallah has not previously had a high-profile role in Palestinian politics

BBC News online
June 03, 2013

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has appointed a new prime minister following the resignation of Salam Fayyad.

Rami Hamdallah, a British-educated academic and political independent, will take over.

He replaces Mr Fayyad who stepped down in April following a long-running and bitter dispute with the president.

The move comes as the US tries to revive the long-stalled peace process with Israel.

Mr Hamdallah, 54, now has the job of forming a new government in Ramallah, the administrative centre of the Palestinian Authority.

He is currently president of al-Najah National University in the West Bank and seen as close to Mr Abbas’ Fatah party. He has not previously had a high-profile role in Palestinian politics.

Mr Hamdallah will be expected to act as a caretaker prime minister while the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas, continue drawn-out reconciliation talks.

The two sides split violently in 2007 with Fatah taking control in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Last month officials on both sides announced plans to form a unity government by August that would then prepare for new elections.

However, Hamas has described the appointment of Mr Hamdallah as “illegal”.

“This isn’t a unity government because it didn’t come as part of the reconciliation agreement [reached in Cairo],” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

“It’s not a professional government and it is not legal or legitimate because it didn’t come with the approval of the parliament.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the prime minister’s selection.

“His appointment comes at a moment of challenge, which is also an important moment of opportunity,” he said in a statement.

Mr Fayyad, 61, was prime minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007. A former International Monetary Fund official, he was widely respected among international organisations and donors but clashed with Mr Abbas over economic policy.

While the appointment is making the front pages of Palestinian newspapers, the BBC’s Yolande Knell in the West Bank says response on the street is muted.

Many shoppers in central Ramallah said they had not heard of Mr Hamdallah or only knew of him because of his 15-year-tenure as head of the al-Najah National University.

“I know he’s a leading academic but I don’t know him as a politician so it’s hard to say if he’ll succeed,” Abu Khaled told the BBC.

“He will suffer a lot because there’s so much disagreement among the Palestinian people.”

However, Raja Bassir said: “I don’t know him personally but why not give him a chance? The most important thing is that the new government should prioritise the interests of the people.”

Some experts see the appointment of Mr Hamdallah as a sign that Palestinians are unlikely to head to elections in the near future.

“This is supposedly an interim measure but most likely it will last for a while,” says George Giacaman, a political science professor at Birzeit University.

“Hamas has no real interest in elections as they are in government in Gaza. If they win there will be another international boycott and if they lose it will be bad. For Mahmoud Abbas it will be a risk to go for elections when he has nothing to show for it.”

Israel has not yet given an official response to the announcement.

Commentary in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz described Mr Hamdallah as “moderate” and “pragmatic with all that has to do with Israel”.


Yolande Knell, BBC News, Ramallah
The selection of Mr Hamdallah ends a period of political uncertainty after Salam Fayyad resigned as prime minister in April.

Mr Hamdallah studied for his PhD in linguistics in the UK and has had a long academic career.

However, he has never before held a high-profile political position.

In the immediate future the biggest challenge facing him will be dealing with the financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Shortfalls in its budget have prevented public workers’ salaries from being paid and led to strikes by teachers and doctors.

Several countries, particularly in the Gulf, have failed to keep their donation pledges.

The US recently announced a $4bn development plan to revitalise the Palestinian economy but has not yet announced details of how the money will be raised through private investment.

New Palestinian prime minister named as Rami Hamdallah

British-educated linguistics professor is installed as Mahmoud Abbas’s new PM, but Hamas label the appointment ‘illegal’

By Reuters in Ramallah/
June 02, 2013

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas named British-educated political independent Rami Hamdallah as his new prime minister on Sunday, a move that was immediately condemned by Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Abbas and the militant Islamist group agreed in principle last month to form a unity government for the divided Palestinian territories, and a Hamas spokesman said Hamdallah’s appointment threw that into doubt.

Fawzi Barhoum told Reuters: “Abbas should have implemented the reconciliation [deal]” achieved in Cairo last month, rather than name his own independent candidate as prime minister. The group called Hamdallah’s appointment “illegal”.

But the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, said that in naming Hamdallah, Abbas, who has sought to end abuse of the Islamist group’s activists by security forces in the West Bank, had “stressed his commitment to reconciliation” with Hamas.

A little-known figure outside the Palestinian territories, Hamdallah is a professor of linguistics who has been president of An Najah National University in the West Bank’s largest city since 1998.

He will replace the western-favoured economist Salam Fayyad, who quit in April and formally leaves office this month.

“President Abbas has designated Rami Hamdallah to form a new cabinet,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. Palestinian and Israeli media also reported the appointment.

Led by the secular Fatah party, Abbas’s western-backed Palestinian Authority has pursued surveillance, firings, arrests and torture to bar its Islamist rivals from public life in the West Bank, since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip enclave in 2007. Political attempts to heal the rift have foundered in the past, largely on differences over policy toward Israel.

Hamas rejects any recognition of the Jewish state, while Abbas’s Fatah party signed an interim deal with Israel in 1993 and is a party to US-brokered efforts to revive peace talks that broke down in a dispute over Jewish settlements in 2010.

US secretary of state John Kerry’s efforts to renew peace talks have met with little success. The Palestinians want a settlement construction freeze, while Israel insists that talks should be held without preconditions.

Hamdallah also pledged his commitment to Abbas’s agenda of returning to the table with a goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the WAFA agency said.

Under Palestinian law, he has up to six weeks to form a government.

Fayyad, a former World Bank official credited with building Palestinian institutions needed to gain independence from Israel, resigned over an economic crisis caused by cuts in western funds and Israeli freezes on money transfers. His departure was seen as a major blow to the Palestinians’ western backers.

Media reports have quoted Fayyad as saying that he would have stayed on had he thought Kerry’s initiative would succeed. The absence of Fayyad, a trusted gatekeeper of western aid, may bring renewed scrutiny of Palestinian accounts and accusations of corruption.

The US and parts of Europe reduced funding for the Palestinians late last year in protest at Abbas won de facto United Nations statehood recognition, which Washington objected to as an attempt to bypass direct talks with Israel.
Kerry has promised $4bn in aid but given few details.

Notes and links
Rami Hamdallah may have chosen the University of Lancaster for his PhD in linguistics because it enjoys high ranking (10th in the world according to the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) global ranking system.
Gaza Factions Denounce Hamdallah Appointment Al Monitor, June 5th.

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