Hamdallah Returns to Form Palestinian Cabinet, Two Months After Resigning as PM

Abbas has given Rami Hamdallah five weeks to form cabinet; appointment entrenches political division between Fatah and Hamas.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday to form a new government just two months after accepting his resignation in a dispute over his powers.

Hamdallah has accepted, suggesting the two men had patched up their differences, and will have five weeks to form a cabinet, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

The move shores up stability in Abbas' administration in the West Bank as it returns to U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel after a three-year hiatus.

But it also drives another nail in the coffin of efforts to overcome political divisions that have split the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway, and the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

Hamas and Fatah agreed earlier this year to form a unity government made up of technocrats by Aug. 14, so Hamdallah's new mandate further undermined the goal of reconciliation and a common strategy toward Israel.

Hamas, which rejects a negotiated solution to the conflict with Israel, branded Hamdallah's original appointment as "illegal."

Abbas asked Hamdallah, a political independent and linguistics professor, to form a government on June 2, but he handed in his resignation less than three weeks later due to disputes with his two deputies appointed by the president.

Western donor countries which help keep the Palestinian government in the West Bank afloat regard the prime minister's office as a conduit for their aid money, and are keen to see it steered by transparent, uncorrupt hands.

A senior Palestinian official told Reuters that Hamdallah would probably be granted full authority to choose his cabinet and that his decision to return may reflect a deal with Abbas that he would be given more leeway to govern. Hamdallah had remained in office in a caretaker role after quitting.

Since a brief civil war in 2007 between Hamas and the Western-backed secular Fatah party headed by Abbas, Palestinians have had no functioning parliament or national elections.