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Palestinian govt crisis looms as Abbas to meet PM

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday weighed his response to a resignation offer from independent prime minister Rami Hamdallah that has thrown the West Bank-based government into disarray just two weeks after it took the oath.

Hamdallah presented his resignation on Thursday, only two weeks after taking office, in the latest crisis for the Palestinian Authority, as government sources and media say he wants to quit over a power struggle.

Abbas is due to meet Hamdallah at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) at the president's headquarters in Ramallah and he will "try to convince him to withdraw his resignation," an official close to the prime minister told AFP on condition of anonymity.

On Thursday night a delegation dispatched by Abbas travelled to Hamdallah's home in Tulkarem, in the northern West Bank, to try to persuade him to go back on his decision, but failed.

Hamdallah has been incensed by a decision by Abbas to appoint two deputy premiers in the government formed on June 6, after the resignation of former prime minister Salam Fayyad, a Western-backed economist who quit after a spat with the Palestinian president.

Hamdallah was "upset over his treatment by his two deputy prime ministers, Ziad Abu Amr and Mohammed Mustafa, and their attempts to gain powers not assigned to them," the official said.

"Mustafa was authorised by Abbas to sign all economic agreements, particularly those with the World Bank, without the consent of Hamdallah," he said.

Hamdallah objected saying these were prime ministerial powers, the official added.

Mustafa, who heads the Palestine Investment Fund and was handed the role of economic adviser, was initially tipped as a possible successor to Fayyad.

Mustafa, not Hamdallah, gave the first news conference after the new 25-member cabinet held its first meeting on June 11, raising a few eyebrows.

A government source, meanwhile, told AFP that initial cabinet meetings were plagued with bickering over trivial issues such as who was allowed to sit in which seat, and whether people could smoke or not.

Commentators viewed Hamdallah's resignation as inevitable.

Abdel Majid Sweilam, a Palestinian political analyst, said Hamdallah had "not looked forward to being prime minister. He accepted the position only on a temporary basis, proved by the fact he didn't resign from his job as head of Al-Najah University in Nablus."

Hamdallah "cannot be an effective prime minister in light of the encroachment on his powers -- two deputies to him were appointed directly by the president," said Sweilam.

Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi said "Hamdallah wants to be a prime minister in fact, and to have the final say on prime ministerial issues, but the Palestinian Authority wants him to be just a puppet.

"The clash was inevitable and the resignation assured." it said.

"What pushed Hamdallah to go was interference and overstepping (of authority) by Mustafa," the newspaper added.

Hamdallah, an independent considered close to Abbas's ruling Fatah faction who was also secretary general of the Central Election Commission, pledged after his nomination to follow a similar path to Fayyad and said he would leave the government line-up largely unchanged.

He made clear he would quickly step aside in the summer after the planned formation of a government of national unity comprising Fatah and its Islamist rival, Hamas.

Fayyad resigned mid-April after months of difficult relations with Abbas which culminated over the resignation of finance minister Nabil Qassis, which the premier accepted but the president did not.

Fayyad was widely respected by the international community for building a sound institutional framework for the Palestinian Authority, and his resignation sparked concern over who would take up his mantle.

But Washington and Europe welcomed the appointment of Hamdallah, who was seen even by Israeli media as a "moderate and pragmatist."

na-he-jad/hkb

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130621/palestinian-govt-crisis-looms-abbas-meet-pm