A Win-Win for Hamdallah & A Lose-Lose for Abbas

Today, Dr. Rami Hamdallah resigned as Palestinian Prime Minister after only two short weeks in the position. According to media reports, Hamdallah tendered his resignation over the appointment of two deputies – Mohammed Mustafa and Ziad Abu Amar – as deputies by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The appointment of Mustafa & Abu Amar, two Abbas loyalists, was widely seen as a move designed to limit Hamdallah’s power and avoid the difficulties and challenges Abbas experienced during the premiership of Salam Fayyad. While Hamdallah’s resignation is not official, nor has it been accepted by Abbas at the time of this piece, the move itself calls for an assessment winners and losers. Regardless whether Hamdallah actually leaves the government or is coaxed back to the position by Abbas, Hamdallah has been strengthened and Abbas has been weakened.

Rami Hamdallah’s Win-Win

The decision to resign by Hamdallah has left him in a classic “win-win” position. If he comes back to the government, he likely comes back much stronger. He will probably be unsaddled with at least one of his deputies, have more control over Palestinian economic matters and/or internal political decision-making and gain stature domestically and internationally for having maintained his integrity. It is highly unlikely that Hamdallah will return to the government without some guarantee of greater independence and power from Abbas. Resultantly, a resumption of the premiership under these circumstances can only be seen as a win for Hamdallah.

If Hamdallah choses to remain resolute with his resignation, he leaves the government with his integrity not only intact, but strengthened.  While any increase of his profile among international audiences will be limited due to his short tenure as PM, Hamdallah will certainly improve his stature within Palestinian politics as someone who is principled, stalwart and non-partisan; qualities in short supply among many Palestinian politicians. Should Hamdallah choose, at some later point in time, to reenter the political sphere, he will be well positioned to capitalize on the goodwill generated by the stand he took today.

Finally, if Hamdallah does indeed leave the government, he will return to his beloved an-Najah University where he as served as President since 1998. It is widely acknowledged that Hamdallah did not enter the political arena by choice but out of a sense of duty and responsibility. If the poisonous bureaucracy of the Palestinian Authority does not provide Hamdallah the platform to improve the lives of Palestinians, he will happily return to an-Najah and continue his truly laudatory work there.

Mahmoud Abbas’ Lose-Lose

Regardless whether Hamdallah stays or goes, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been weakened. Large segments of the Palestinian population see Abbas and his Fatah party as corrupt, incompetent and self-serving. Hamdallah’s resignation after only two weeks on the job reinforces these views. Combined with the tumultuous relationship between Abbas and Hamdallah’s predecessor Fayyad, Hamdallah’s departure paints a picture of a more dictatorial Abbas who seeks to maintain the appearance of shared governance to placate American and European governments, yet in reality is increasingly wielding more and more authority without the support or sanction of the Palestinian people.

To the point, for the past few years, there have been murmurs and rumblings among increasing numbers of Palestinians that Abbas needs to be replaced because he cares more about global geo-politics and maintaining his power rather than improving the lives of Palestinians. Should Hamdallah leave the government, this will only reinforce the indictment of Abbas as seeking to maintain the dominance of Fatah in the West Bank.

If Abbas manages to soothe Hamdallah and convince him to return to the government, he will likely be forced to offer concessions. As mentioned earlier, it is likely that Abbas would need to reel in the powers of one, if not both, of Hamdallah’s deputies in order to entice him to return. In the zero-sum game of Palestinian politics, such a move would clearly strengthen Hamdallah and weaken Abbas.

The Path Forward

At the time of this writing, Mahmoud Abbas and Rami Hamdallah are scheduled to meet in a few hours to discuss the resignation. While this meeting may produce some definitive result concerning Hamdallah’s premiership, the reality is that, unless Hamdallah simply folds and accepts the status quo, Hamdallah has already won and Abbas has already lost.


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