Palestinian PM announces full cabinet overhaul

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced the dissolution of the cabinet Monday, ceding to demands for reform in what may be an effort to stave off protests.

Thaer Ganaim/PPO/Handout/Reuters
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (L) hands his government's resignation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah in this February 14 handout picture released by the Palestinian Press Office (PPO). The Palestinian cabinet resigned on Monday and Fayyad will select new ministers at the request of Abbas, officials said.

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The Palestinian Authority cabinet was dissolved Monday ahead of long-overdue elections to be held by September. The move appears to be a bid to placate Palestinians and avoid the protests that are occurring across the Arab world, although political rivals of the PA express doubt that a cabinet changeover will bring real reform.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whose government holds power in the West Bank, announced the dissolution of the 24-member cabinet and is expected to replace the ministers within six weeks, according to the Associated Press.

The cabinet reshuffling has long been demanded by Mr. Fayyad and others in the Fatah movement. Only 16 of the 24 ministerial positions were actually staffed, with Reuters reporting it was "a cabinet regarded by many as dysfunctional."

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The elections for the presidency and the parliament promised by September would be the first since 2006, which preceded the Fatah-Hamas split, according to Bloomberg. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has already said it won’t take part in elections and that the two factions should settle their differences before elections are held.

“The Palestinian Authority is trying, in a pre-emptive decision, to contain any future protest in the West Bank,” Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, told Bloomberg. “It is trying to say, we welcome any elections, we want elections, and it is Hamas that will not cooperate.”

Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and refuses to recognize Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate leader because his term was set to expire in 2009. His presidency was extended indefinitely to avoid a political vacuum while waiting for new elections. Hamas’s refusal to participate in polling last year “torpedoed” plans to hold general elections then, the Agence France-Presse notes.

Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum called the cabinet shuffle "silly theater" and said Mr. Abbas was only pretending that genuine reform was in the works, according to the Associated Press.

The cabinet dissolution follows the resignation of top Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has been widely criticized since Qatar-based Al Jazeera news agency leaked the so-called “Palestinian Papers” last month. The documents, which come from years of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, show the Palestinians offering surprisingly large concessions to Israelis, including allowing settlements in East Jerusalem to remain and limiting the return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel. The Palestinian Authority did not publicly concede those issues.

"I can't advocate accountability and transparency all my life and then comes the biggest breach in Palestinian national security – the stealing of the documents from my office – and let it be business as usual,'' Mr. Erekat told the Christian Science Monitor. ''What I want to do is plant the seeds for the future of Palestinian officials. When officials make mistakes, they are out.''

The BBC writes that the call for elections seem to be an effort from Palestinian leaders to show they are responding to popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. But it adds that Hamas has already spurned the elections by saying that Abbas does not have legitimacy and that the polling is an attempt to divert attention from revelations in the "Palestinian Papers."

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