The notion that a little-known Palestinian linguistics professor with no political support base of his own could be appointed Palestinian prime minister and somehow strengthen the West Bank's Palestinian Authority (PA), setting the stage for an eventual peace with Israel, was at best a little whimsical.
But Rami Hamdallah's attempted resignation after just two weeks on the job should demonstrate that such hopes, expressed by the US and Israel, were more folly than whimsy.
Agence France-Presse reports, citing a "PA official," that Mr. Hamdallah submitted a written resignation today "following disagreements with his two deputies."
While it's not clear yet whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will accept his resignation, it hardly matters. Mr. Hamdallah's technocratic predecessor Salam Fayyad tried to quit multiple times before it finally stuck. The fact will remain that whoever is given responsibility for day-to-day management of the PA will be hamstrung by a lack of political legitimacy, real control over the government's finances, and the absence of anything resembling a workable peace process.
Mr. Fayyad, who held his post for six years, in some ways jumped before he was pushed. He introduced changes into how the PA is governed that threatened the entrenched Fatah party that Mr. Abbas leads and for years had been at odds with Abbas, who also worried that Fayyad was building a power base of his own. Hamdallah is seen as both a less politically dynamic and less experienced politician than Fayyad, but had vowed to tread the same path while in power.
Clearly, he's been finding that rough going. The PA hasn't had a parliament since 2007, when Hamas swept PA elections and Abbas's Fatah party refused to concede power or defeat. A brief civil war split the Palestinian territories in two, with Hamas ruling Gaza and Fatah's central committee, with Abbas at its head, running the West Bank in the name of the PA.
The splintering of at least nominal Palestinian unity since 2007 has weakened the PA's standing with its own people and in potential negotiations with Israel, which has dramatically expanded settlements in the West Bank in the interim. There have been no elections since and while there have been occasional gestures toward political reunification, neither Hamas nor Fatah have been willing to compromise, and the US and Israel have been staunchly opposed, since those two nations consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.
Whether Hamdallah stays or goes is irrelevant to the more important reailty: The dream of foreigners that a technocratic, apolitical Palestinian Authority largely disinterested in confrontation with Israel – which The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman amusingly called Fayyadism – is pretty much dead.
There is an aging group of Palestinian Liberation Organization and Fatah leaders around Abbas, who have failed to deliver the Palestinian state that the creation of the PA was all about. In the West Bank, there is no current political alternative to them. And Israel has grown very comfortable with the status quo, since the building of the separation wall has dramatically heightened their own security and the pro-settlement bloc in Israeli politics has gone from strength to strength.
While US Secretary of State John Kerry has been making vague promises of West Bank economic development and a restarted peace process, the position of the PA, reliant on external funding and taxes that Israel collects – and sometimes withholds – on its behalf, continues to deteriorate.
His weakness appears to be the very reason Hamdallah was attractive to Abbas in the first place.
"He’s a gray figure," Gershon Baskin, an Israeli activist and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, told Monitor reporter Joshua Mitnick earlier this month. "I think that Abbas was looking for someone who is an administrator and not a politician, while retaining the confidence of the international community that the PA would not become corrupt."
Gray figures aren't really going to cut it anymore. And while the average Palestinian doesn't like official corruption anymore than the "international community" does, mollifying the international community isn't what they - or any public - want out of their leaders, elected or appointed.
Meanwhile, as the situation grows tenser, Israelis fear a third intifada could be in the offing, and the prospects that the Palestinian Authority can accomplish what it was created to do continue to dim.