1) Daoud Kuttab on setting up the new Palestinian government and Netanyahu’s failure to isolate it; 2) Chemi Shalev on why the US government dismissed Netanyahu’s attack. Inset on Palestinian PM Hamdallah.
Working together for some years: Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, left, shakes hands with Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz after a press conference regarding a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee at UN headquarters, Sept. 25, 2013. Photo by Jason DeCrow / AP
The Palestinian unity government has been recognized by international capitals, including Washington, proving another setback for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
By Daoud Kuttab, Al Monitor
June 05, 2014
In the end, it was quite easy. The new Palestinian unity government won international recognition and validation despite Israel’s attempts to put a spoke in the wheel. Its failure to derail the unity government exposed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who suddenly has had his bluff called off. Even the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby issued a weak statement calling on Congress simply to “ensure that US law is followed.”
The Israeli leader, who lived in the United States for some time and regularly boasts to friends that he knows the country as well as any Israeli, appears to have overreached. Instead of isolating the new Palestinian government headed by Rami Hamdallah, he has himself been isolated.
To justify the demand that the world community not recognize the newly established Palestinian government, Netanyahu had to jump a few political hoops. Unable to attack the cabinet for its membership, Netanyahu launched a direct attack against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for creating a cabinet that is backed by Hamas. This was followed by a barrage of information about how bad Hamas is, and that it is declared a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe.
Netanyahu’s claim was either based on wrong information, or simply yet another case of overreach and hope that loud words in Israel will find traction in Washington.
Initially, it was suggested by Hamas that the new unity government would be presented to a group session of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) for a vote of confidence. Abbas and his negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad never agreed to this Hamas request. After all, the 2006 Palestinian legislature has a majority from the pro-Hamas Change and Reform bloc headed by senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The former speaker of the PLC, Abdel Aziz Dweik, a Hamas supporter, would also, in theory, have to retake his position. According to the Palestinian basic law, the PLC speaker would be next in line if something were to befall Abbas. Neither the president nor the Fatah movement were interested in that.
The reduced 16-member cabinet — minus three members not allowed by Israel to travel from the Gaza Strip — were sworn in before Abbas on June 2. In his public comments, the Palestinian president said that the “dark page” of the split was over.
It might be too early to predict whether the reconciliation represents the total surrender of Hamas, or whether we are seeing a more pragmatic Hamas that will follow the Hezbollah example of combining ballots and bullets.
The attempts by the right-wing Israeli leader to change the goal posts have failed to gain traction. In the end, the Netanyahu balloon was burst when a State Department official stated clearly that Washington will work with the new Palestinian government. Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf was very direct in explaining why the United States will cooperate with the new order in Ramallah. “It is not a government backed by Hamas. There are no members of Hamas in the government,” she said.
What transpired in the few weeks leading to the swearing in of the second Hamdallah government debunks the myth that Israel has so much clout in Washington. Sure, a few Republican members of Congress will try to block aid to the new Palestinian government, but it will be hard to justify such a call with a Palestinian government that is committed to the two-state solution and is not much different from the one that existed before June 2.
Not only is the new Palestinian cabinet headed by the same prime minister, who is also interior minister, but it also has the same foreign minister in Riyad al-Malki and the same finance minister in Shukri Bishara. In fact, of the 16-member cabinet, only three low-level independent Palestinians were suggested by Hamas.
Netanyahu’s failure to stop the formation of the new government can be credited to Abbas succeeding in getting his way while denying almost all Hamas requests. It is clear that Abbas has presented to the world a truly independent government that no one can claim has the smell of Hamas in it. But this was known to Israel. They also must have known that Washington as well as the United Nations, the European Union and others would publicly endorse it. Has Netanyahu become a victim to his previous successes to the degree that he is blinded to what he can and cannot do?
This is not the first time in recent months that the Israeli leader has swung with all his might and badly missed. He had previously made a big scene about the talks with Iran only to have Washington and Europe refuse to play along, as the talks about Iran’s nuclear program have continued uninterrupted.
Netanyahu’s repeated attempts at crying wolf have fallen on deaf ears, sharply reducing his influence in major Western capitals.
Rami Hamdallah, an interim Palestinian PM who lasted
AFP, June 2nd 2014
Prime minister Rami Hamdallah [L. above, with President Abbas], who stays on in his current post to head the first Palestinian unity government in seven years, is a respected academic who is little-known abroad. Hamdallah was first appointed to the position of premier in June 2013 after his predecessor Salam Fayyad resigned.
Although he submitted his resignation over a cabinet power struggle, he stayed on in the job and has now taken over the reins of the first Palestinian government of national unity since 2007.
Pan-Arab daily Al-Quds al-Arabi has described him as a “solid, upright man with patriotic principles” who had been dropped into “the jungle of the Muqataa (the president’s headquarters) among the lions and hyenas.”
But the university professor has managed to impose himself upon the volatile Palestinian political scene, despite initial predictions by the Israeli media that he was on a “suicide mission”.
A political independent, but known to be close to the Fatah movement of president Mahmud Abbas, Hamdallah is hailed as a moderate pragmatist, although he lacks Fayyad’s international recognition.
Born in 1958 in Anabta, near the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem, Hamdallah has been president of Al-Najah University of Nablus, the largest in the territories, since August 1998.
The 55-year-old has won plaudits for his management of the university of nearly 20,000 students, and also enjoys great respect with the public as well as in official Palestinian circles.
And he has been accepted by both Fatah and the rival Hamas movement, which governs Gaza, as the head of the new unity government.
Stung by criticism by ‘some Israeli officials,’ White House says Israel transferred over 500 million shekels to Palestinians on same day new Palestinian cabinet created – ‘and this was no accident.’
By Chemi Shalev, Haaretz
June 05, 2014
The White House reacted harshly last night to Israeli criticism of its decision to maintain contacts with the new Palestinian government. “It is unclear to us why some in the Israeli political leadership are staking out such a hard line public position that is fundamentally at odds with their own actions,” a senior White House official told Haaretz.
The official said that while it is criticizing Washington, Israel has maintained its “robust coordination” with Palestinian security forces. The official said that on Monday, the same day that the new and “technocratic” Palestinian government was established, Israel transferred over 500 million shekels in regular tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.
“This was no accident and reflects the Israeli establishment’s clear interest in maintaining a functioning and stable PA that can effectively administer Palestinian areas,” the official said. “Israel has no interest in seeing the PA collapse and their actions this week reinforce this clear-eyed understanding, despite what some Israeli officials are saying publicly,” he added.
“We have been open and transparent about this with the Israeli government,” the official said, responding to claims being made in Israel that Washington had misled Israel about its reaction to the new Palestinian cabinet. “Our position has consistently been that the threshold for working with a PA government is that it recognize the Quartet principles and doesn’t include or share power with Hamas. It is against our interest – and Israel’s interests – to cut ties with and funding to such a PA government. A functioning, stable PA serves our interests, Palestinian interests, and Israeli interests.”
The official reiterated the positions spelled out in recent days by Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki: “We have determined after careful review that we will continue our engagement with the interim technocratic government of the Palestinian Authority (PA), consistent with our laws and longstanding policy. This determination is based on the fact that President Abbas has formed an interim technocratic government that does not include any Ministers affiliated with Hamas and in which Hamas plays no role.
“President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah have made clear privately and publicly that the new government – made up of independent technocrats – will uphold Abbas’ political program, including strict adherence the Quartet principles (recognition of Israel, adherence to past agreements, and commitment to non-violence). The Palestinians understand that this is a core expectation of ours and our international partners, including in the Quartet and the EU.”
The official added that Washington “has no illusions about Hamas” which is “a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and we treat it as such. We do not provide it assistance. Per longstanding U.S. policy, we do not have any contact with Hamas. Moving forward, we will judge this interim technocratic government by its composition, its policies, and its actions to ensure it adheres to these principles”
The official said that the administration would “work closely with Congress to make sure that our assistance can continue consistent with our legal obligations and in furtherance of our shared interest.”
For full list of PUG ministers:
Swearing In of the Palestinian Unity Government
June 2, 2014, by Brian Fitzsimmons, Intern, Foundation for Middle East Peace