No one envies Rami Hamdallah. The 54-year-old linguistics professor and president of An-Najah National University was appointed on Sunday as the new Palestinian prime minister, and in doing so assumed overnight the most ungrateful job in the West Bank. His chances of success are so low that some would say agreeing to take the post is akin to taking a suicide mission.
The headaches and troubles will start haunting Hamdallah immediately. He will quickly discover that he is more or less alone in his mission; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas isn't interested in the daily business of running the Palestinian Authority. While Hamdallah will be forced to handle a new crisis every morning, the Palestinian president will continue flying to all corners of the earth, walking on red carpets and shaking hands with world leaders.
Hamdallah is receiving a Palestinian Authority in the midst of a severe economic crisis. It will be impossibly hard for him to follow Salam Fayyad's act. His first mission will be to safeguard the fragile budget of the Palestinian Authority and to ensure that thousands of clerks and security personnel receive their salaries.
In order to do so, Hamdallah wil have to persuade the United States and the other donor states that he is a serious, honest, corruption-free partner, at least as much as Fayyad was. Hamdallah does not enjoy the international status of his predecessor, and is relatively unknown in Washington and in European capitals. If the West senses that there is no responsible adult safeguarding the Palestinian coffer, the donations that keep the Palestinian Authority alive will soon be halted.
Hamdallah's only advantage over Fayyad is that Abbas trusts him. At least his first days in office will be free from the tension that colored relations between the Palestinian president and the prime minster in recent years. Furthermore, despite terming himself a political independent, many Fatah leaders consider him "one of their own," unlike Fayyad, who was despised and continually subjected to attempts of sabotage. Hamdallah will probably receive the support of Fatah members.
Hamdallah will also have to deal with a deep inner crisis as a result of the lack of progress in the reconciliation talks with Hamas. Formally, he is supposed to head a transition government that will serve until the elections, but even the most optimistic scenarios do not envision these elections happening in the foreseeable future.
The new prime minister enters office two weeks before Abbas is due to decide whether he is headed toward resuming peace talks and warming relations with Israel, or opting for the continuation of one-sided moves at the United Nations, together with a face-off with the U.S. and Israeli administrations. At present, it seems that Abbas will choose the latter.
Hamdallah is considered moderate and pragmatic as far as Israel and the peace process goes, but it is doubtful that he will have any influence in the foreseeable future. A political crisis that will follow a failure of Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to renew negotiations could easily erupt and become a security crisis in the form of a new Intifada in the West Bank.
Hamdallah is familiar with crises. A decade ago, he experienced a personal tragedy when his wife and three daughters were killed in a car accident. He managed to overcome the blow and continue his work at An-Najah and the central elections committee. Now he will need to leave the comforts of the academic world and dirty his hands with Palestinian politics. We wish him success.
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