Abbas's manoeuvres to stave off political death are impressing few, says Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has deferred discussion for the formation of a new government until Abbas returns from a tour that will take him to Jordan, Syria and Russia. These plans have been delayed due to undisclosed differences with his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Earlier in the week, Abbas announced that a new government, to be headed by Fayyad, would be formed "in the next few hours". Reliable Palestinian sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that Abbas and Fayyad were at odds over the choice of proposed cabinet ministers.
The Fatah movement had nominated a number of its leaders from the West Bank for key positions in the new cabinet. However, Fayyad reportedly rejected most of nominees, calling them "non-conformists" and arguing that their inclusion in his government would cause "dysfunction and paralysis".
Ghassan Al-Khatib, a former minister of labour, told the Weekly that it was likely that Abbas would ask Fayyad to form a government before 28 May, the date Abbas will travel to Washington for talks with United States President Barack Obama over the future of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"There is a growing opposition within Fatah to Fayyad remaining as prime minister. But I think the president will keep Fayyad due to international considerations," said Khatib, alluding to the international, especially American, backing of Fayyad.
On Tuesday, the Fatah parliamentary bloc demanded that Abbas replace Fayyad as prime minister. Fatah also reportedly asked Abbas to delay the formation of the new government until after the upcoming round of national reconciliation talks with Hamas in Cairo on 26 May.
Palestinian officials in Ramallah failed to cite convincing reasons justifying the need for a new government. Hassan Khreisha, an outspoken independent lawmaker, labelled the planned new government a "theatrical public relations feat".
"I can't really think of any logical justification for a new government. In my opinion, the president is just interested in taking something with him to Washington to impress President Obama. "But I think this a wrong and untimely move."
Khreisha said he thought Abbas should give the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah more time to succeed. He also accused Fayyad and Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee Yasser Abed Rabo of "opposing and dreading a Hamas-Fatah concordance."
"We are talking about a prime minister with a single seat in the Palestinian parliament and a secretary-general of the PLO who has no followers in the Palestinian street. These two people feel they will lose if Fatah and Hamas succeed in ending their differences."
Earlier this week, Fatah official Nabil Shaath was quoted as saying that Hamas had accepted all Fatah's conditions with the exception of the clause pertaining to recognising Israel.
Hamas strongly criticised plans to form a new government in Ramallah, labelling such plans as "divisive" and "reflecting ill will" and "a lack in sincerity about national dialogue".
"We were expecting genuine efforts to overcome the remaining obstacles, not landmines planted in the path of national reconciliation," Ismail Haniyeh, the Gaza-based Palestinian prime minister was quoted as saying.
Hamas is not the only faction critical of the proposed new government. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said it wouldn't join the new government which it said would deepen and exacerbate the national rift between Fatah and Hamas. The PFLP is an important member-faction of the PLO.
President Abbas is facing serious opposition within Fatah over failed peace talks with Israel. Fatah leaders at home and abroad have lambasted Abbas for trying to impose his supporters on the long overdue sixth Fatah congress. The convening of the congress has been postponed numerous times due to the absence of unity within the top Fatah hierarchy.
This week, Abbas abruptly dissolved the Preparation Committee in Amman after the latter refused to endorse a list of candidates submitted by Abbas but viewed by the "Arafatists" (followers of the late PA leader Yasser Arafat) as "compromisers and collaborators with Israel".
The dissolution by Abbas of the Preparatory Committee is already deepening the rift between the Palestinian leader's camp (often referred to as the Abbas-Dahlan camp) and veteran Fatah figures such as Farouk Qadoumi, Ahmed Qurei and Nasr Youssef.
The main contentious issue between Abbas and his opponents is over the number of delegates who should be allowed to participate in the conference. Abbas is reportedly insisting that the number be kept as low as possible, ostensibly to ensure his re-election as leader of Fatah and to preclude the election of "radical elements" that might complicate the pursuit of peace talks with Israel.
Opponents, who have the numbers but lack the influence, insist that all members of Fatah be granted the opportunity to have their say as to who will stand at the helm of the large movement and who will occupy key positions in the various Fatah institutions such as the movement's executive committee and its influential revolutionary council.
Abbas said the sixth congress would be held this coming July. However, very few within Fatah believe that Abbas will keep his promise.