On April 13, 2019, Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh announced the formation of his new Palestinian Authority government. The announcement followed earlier reports he was going to ask President Mahmoud Abbas to give him an extension to complete his task of government formation.
Why did he want an extension, and why did he go ahead and announce the government?
The reason for the extension was that he wanted to meet the challenge of defining the government as a broad, Palestinian “PLO government” as pre-announced. He also wanted to include personalities from the diaspora who had been invited to Ramallah.
However, the leading factions of the PLO – the Democratic Front and the Popular Front – are allied with Hamas, and they refused to participate. The Fatah faction in the West Bank rejected the “outsiders.” They wanted all of the portfolios to be kept in local Fatah’s hands – except for a few, such as Riad Malki, a PFLP associate.
For this reason, Shtayyeh’s administration is not a “PLO government” as pre-designed, but only “just” a government. In practical terms, compared to the former government of Rami Hamdallah, it is no longer a broad-based government that includes Gaza, but a West Bank government that does not even have any real participation from Jerusalem.
When the “Accord Government” of Hamdallah was established, Hamas halted its semi-autonomous “Gaza Committee.” However, since the new, separate government for the West Bank was established with no consultation with Hamas, the door is open to Hamas to resume the “Gaza Committee” and cut itself off from Ramallah, the political center for the PA.
In the end, Shtayyeh did not ask for another extension. It was clear to him that he could not place a PLO umbrella over the government, and he could not include figures from the diaspora. Furthermore, political paralysis in Ramallah would push Egypt and Gaza closer together.
Hebron vs. Ramallah, the North against the South
It is important to note that a special effort was made to include the Hebronites in the government. This is due to two interconnected reasons – Hebron, more than any other district, is linked to Jordan. Hebronites who moved north are also the majority in east Jerusalem, and they control the Waqf administration for which the PLO and Jordan are competing. Therefore, the focus on the Hebronites is double-edged – first of all, to regain the support of Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, but more importantly, to shift the Hebron-dominated Waqf from its current pro-Jordan stance to the side of Ramallah.
There are two reasons driving this strategy: The minister for Jerusalem affairs is Fadi al-Hidmi, who does not represent the old aristocratic families of Jerusalem, as did his predecessor, Adnan al-Husseini. Rather, he is from the merchant sector of Hebronites in the Old City of Jerusalem. He is the director of the Jerusalem Bureau of Commerce, which was closed by Israel because it organized strikes in the Old City in the past. It is highly likely that his main mission today will be to revive the spirit of popular resistance, which essentially means strikes.
While al-Hidmi is not a Hebronite himself and comes from the northern countryside, he has replaced the aristocratic families in favor of merchants of Hebronite origin.
Previously, under Adnan al-Husseini, the Jerusalem ministry encouraged the merchants to strike by promising them compensation for any losses incurred as a result.
It is apparent that Hebron is being promoted as part of the fight over the control of the Waqf and east Jerusalem.
This is important to mention because it appears the position of prime minister will continue to be reserved for a Nablus citizen. Muhammad Shtayyeh is the third prime minister from Nablus in a row — after Salam Fayyad and Rami Hamdallah.
There are serious complications between Ramallah and Nablus, and keeping the position of the prime minister for Nablus involves keeping Nablus tied to Ramallah, rather than it drifting away as did Hebron and Jenin. But in practical terms, this did not help much. Immediately after the new government’s swearing-in ceremony, there was a shoot-out in the middle of Nablus between the local Tanzim (Fatah forces) and PA security forces.1
The participation of Jenin in the government is negligible – if at all.
What is the government’s program? It is economic in nature, but also involves the “resistance,” meaning the intention is to enable the cutoff of the PA economy from Israel. We shall deal with this in a separate piece.
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