Middle East

Rami Hamdallah: Palestinian PM for just 18 days

In this Tuesday, June 11, 2013 file photo, New Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah attends his first meeting of the new government cabinet in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

NABLUS, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian premier Rami Hamdallah, whose resignation was accepted on Sunday, is a respected academic who survived just two weeks in the tumultuous world of Ramallah politics before throwing in the towel.

A political independent but known to be close to the Fatah movement of president Mahmud Abbas, Hamdallah was named on June 2 as the successor to Salam Fayyad.

Hailed as a moderate pragmatist, not unlike his predecessor, the 54-year-old pieced together a government which was sworn in on June 6.

But after just two weeks on the job, the British-educated linguist fell victim to the internal power struggles which have beset Palestinian politics.

His resignation was the second by a Palestinian prime minister in just 10 weeks.

It was a prestigious appointment for an academic with no political experience but who has done a skilled job as president of the largest Palestinian university, Al-Najah, in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

Born in 1958 in Anabta, near the northern city of Tulkarem, Hamdallah has won plaudits for his management of an institution of nearly 20,000 students, where he has held the top job since August 1998.

He enjoys great respect with the public, and in official Palestinian circles. His name circulated for several weeks as a candidate to replace Fayyad and he has previously declined an offer to become premier.

Bespectacled, with short hair and neatly trimmed moustache, Hamdallah has a master's degree in linguistics from Britain's Manchester University and a Ph.D from Lancaster University.

He began teaching at Al-Najah's English department in 1982 and also served as dean of the arts faculty.

Nearly 20 years later, just after the millennium, Hamdallah suffered a personal tragedy when his son and two of his daughters were killed in a collision with an Israeli lorry, and his wife, who was driving, was seriously injured.

His career was not purely academic though, with Hamdallah gaining some valuable grounding in economic issues during a stint as chief executive of the Palestinian Stock Exchange from 2008.

And he also serves as the Secretary General of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission.

But the tortuous nature of the Palestinian political system and the internal power struggles inherent within it proved to be a step too far.

After he was named to the post, he pledged to keep the cabinet largely unchanged and made clear he would quickly step aside in the summer after the planned formation of a government of national unity.

That government is the centrepiece of an as-yet unfulfilled unity agreement between Abbas's Fatah movement and its Islamist rival Hamas, which rules Gaza.

But the problems began just days later with Abbas's decision to appoint not one but two deputy prime ministers to work under him in a move which incensed Hamdallah and ultimately brought about his decision to quit, sources close the premier told AFP.

One source said Hamdallah had been "upset" at the way his two deputies, Ziad Abu Amr and Mohammed Mustafa, had treated him and by their attempts "to gain powers not assigned to them."

Abbas met with him three times in the space of 48 hours to try to resolve the issue, with Hamdallah telling him he wanted "clear and defined powers as prime minister," the source said.

The issue was not resolved and on Sunday morning, Abbas formally accepted his resignation.

Deputy parliament speaker Hassan Khreishe hailed Hamdallah as "brave" for standing up for his rights.

"Hamdallah was brave to demand his rights under the Basic Law and he resigned after he discovered he has no authority, because he has a deputy for political issues and a deputy for economic issues, so what does he have if both of these are taken from him?

Salam Fayyad, who submitted his resignation in mid-April, also quit over a power struggle with Abbas, in his case over the finance portfolio which he had long held himself.

 

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