The Palestinian PM resigned but Gaza isn’t ready for a new Palestinian government

Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh's resignation is Abbas' first step toward an American-backed 'revitalized' PA, whose Gaza rule is forced on Israel - but getting there will depend on a cease-fire, a hostage deal, and most importantly, on Washington forcing Jerusalem's hand

Shtayyeh handing his letter of resignation to Abbas, in Ramallah, on 27 February 2024

Zvi Bar’el writes in Haaretz on 27 February 2024:

The official resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh is the first step towards President Mahmoud Abbas’ response to heavy American pressure to produce a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority.

A summary of the new structure was reached more than two months ago, when Abbas visited Qatar’s capital, Doha, and presented Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with the option of establishing a technocratic government, which was later shown to Hamas’ external leadership.

It is believed that, by the end of the week, Abbas will assemble a new government headed by Palestine Investment Fund chairman Mohammed Mustafa, who reportedly has already received Washington’s blessing.

The idea to establish a technocratic government unaffiliated with a party or political movement was raised by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in December, who proposed that it be a provisional government whose job will be to administer the civilian mechanisms in Gaza after the war and prepare parliamentary elections.

The proposal was pulled within days following Abbas’ sharp reaction, who feared that it was mainly designed to oust him or greatly diminish his standing as executive president.

But in the two months that followed, American pressure on Abbas to undertake reforms in the Palestinian Authority increased, the most important of which was supposed to be reducing Abbas’ powers and transferring a large part of them to a deputy or a new prime minister, whom Abbas would appoint under his constitutional authority.

If Mustafa is indeed appointed prime minister, and even if he assembles a government which could be defined as technocratic, it is still not clear what its authority will be, and to what extent it will be able to act independently, away from the source of that power, the PLO, or the instructions of Abbas himself.

In other words, it remains unclear whether the new cabinet will be able to meet the criteria set by the American administration, so that it will be able to present the Palestinian government as an acceptable party to administer the West Bank and Gaza, win the administration’s support, benefit from economic aid, and, most of all, a government that the U.S. will be able to impose on Israel.

Conversely, the Hamas leadership, which in December still strongly objected to the establishment of a technocratic government – as it would mean giving up its civilian power in Gaza – announced last Friday that it had reached understandings with the other Palestinian factions on the establishment of a technocratic government.

Before the announcement, Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk announced, “Hamas does not seek to rule Gaza as an end in itself. For a long time, we have been asking the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its duties in the Gaza Strip, but we have one demand – do not waive the rights of the Palestinian people.”

But the announcement by Hamas spokesman in Beirut, Osama Hamdan, about these alleged understandings on the establishment of a technocratic government, lit a fire under Fatah.

A Fatah spokesman said, “No Palestinian government will be assembled outside the sponsorship of the PLO as the source of constitutional authority of the Palestinians.”

On Sunday, when it was already clear that the days of the Palestinian government were numbered, Al-Arabiya network quoted a Hamas source who said, “we don’t care what Abbas is doing. Mohammed Shtayyeh will leave, and Mahmoud Abbas will replace him with someone even more corrupt.”

Walid Kilani, media spokesperson for Hamas in Lebanon, told Arab World Press that replacing the prime minister is “the Palestinian Authority acquiescing to the American demand. This does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people and will not help them achieve their rights.”

Indeed, the establishment of a new Palestinian government will be a real problem for Hamas if it receives Washington’s blessing. It would neutralize Hamas’ policymaking role in the Palestinian arena, and postpone internal reconciliation discussions – delaying Hamas joining the PLO, the last remaining move for Hamas leadership to save itself a seat in shaping the future of Palestine.

This move also creates difficulty for Abbas’ opponents within the PLO, especially for the group of senior independents, such as Nasser al-Kidwa and Mohammed Dahlan, who seek to remove Abbas from office and establish a new PLO in which Hamas and other Palestinian factions will be members.

Though a new government will only have a temporary mandate which, if agreed on, would enable it to start running Gaza and then prepare parliamentary and presidential elections, the Palestinian leadership has already learned that nothing is more permanent than the temporary.

It is not only Washington that must be convinced of the acceptability of a new Palestinian government. The ‘Arab support belt’ made up of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan is also supposed to give this government its stamp of approval so that it will not look like an illegitimate American creation, but as one that is agreed upon by the relevant Arab forces.

An Arab-American agreement is also essential in order to force Israel to accept a Palestinian government’s rule in Gaza. However, the significance for Israel is that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be managed by one authority, eliminating the Netanyahu-created strategy which cultivated the principle of “two states for one Palestinian people,” successfully separating Gaza from the West Bank.

This strategy was essential to establishing the Israeli claim that there is no point in negotiating a political settlement with the Palestinian Authority, since not only does it not represent the entire Palestinian people, it also does not control all the territory of the future Palestinian state.

Thwarting the control of an agreed Palestinian government in Gaza is a necessary condition for this strategy’s continued operation, and for blocking the American and Arab political effort to advance measures for a comprehensive political solution.

Despite Netanyahu’s panic-mongering when he initiated the vote to reject the “unilateral” recognition of a Palestinian state, the American administration does not intend to coerce a political solution on Israel.

But the Israeli concern is the new political lexicon that Washington is adopting. Airing out the term “two-state solution” and laying it on the table as a practical vision; The U.S. Secretary of State’s claim that the settlements violate international law; the American opposition to Israeli occupation in Gaza; and the U.S.’ push for a Palestinian alternative to Gaza’s management – these make Israel’s opposition to a “revitalized” Palestinian authority that will run Gaza into a strategic plan of action, regardless of who will lead it and who will be its members.

In the meantime, Israel can rely on the brakes the Palestinian Authority has inflicted on itself on its road to Gaza. In his many statements, Abbas made it clear that he was willing to assume responsibility for managing Gaza, but only as part of a comprehensive move aimed at achieving a political solution for Palestinians. The question yet to be answered is what the minimum political conditions will be that will satisfy this demand.

Will an international conference like the Madrid Conference satisfy Abbas, at least as a first stage? Will he demand recognition of the Palestinian state before negotiating its borders? And what does the demand voiced by both Abbas and Saudi Arabia for an “irreversible commitment” to the establishment of a Palestinian state, mean?

The other self-inflicted brake concerns developments in Gaza, and a Palestinian government’s ability – and no less importantly, its will – to fulfill its role while the war in Gaza is still ongoing.

Currently, Hamas has the ability to thwart civil activity even if it does not control the mechanisms of civil management. These are not impassable obstacles, but their removal depends, firstly, on a cease-fire, an agreed-upon hostage deal, and most importantly, on Washington forcing Jerusalem’s hand.

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