New Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, Offers Resignation, Officials Say

Unclear as yet whether President Mahmoud Abbas has accepted resignation; sources say the PM, appointed only 18 days ago, wants to quit because of differences of opinion over allocation of duties.

Newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has offered his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas, a government source said on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear whether Abbas accepted the resignation or why Hamdallah, who was sworn in on June 6, and whose cabinet only met for the first time last week, had decided to quit.

A government source said Hamdallah, an academic and political independent, made the abrupt, unexpected move because of a dispute over the allocation of duties.

A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that Hamdallah accepted the position with good intentions, but that his associates knew he lacked political clout and experience given his background in academia, not politics.

"In the past few days there were talks aimed at strengthening his standing in the international arena, and just yesterday (Wednesday) a meeting was devoted to the topic," said the source, who added that Hamdallah's resignation "comes as a complete surprise, appears to be a development of the past hours.''

Sources close to Hamdallah said over the past days that there were no indications of his intention to resign. ''He sounded ambitious and spoke about the need to strengthn the Palestinian Authority economically, and about his efforts to promote a series of internal issues."

Hamdallah recently held a meeting with the European Union's foreign minister mostly devoted to economic issues.

Hamdallah's cabinet consists overwhelmingly of members of the Fatah party led by Abbas, and political commentators immediately questioned how much room he would have to manoeuvre.

Upon taking the post on June 6, Hamdallah was appointed two deputies, Dr. Mohammed Mustafa, the head of the Palestinian Investment Fund, and Ziad Abu Amar. Both men also served as close advisors to Abbas, a fact that was seen as signaling the president's intention to hold sway over the prime minister's office.

Hamdallah's predecessor, American-educated economist Salam Fayyad, resigned in April after six years in power, a period defined by tough economic challenges and rivalries with Fatah politicians, who were eager to get their hands on the levers of power. Fayyad conducted his office in an independant fashion which led to a rift with Abbas and the Fatah party establishment.

Since being sworn in, Hamdallah held no more than two ministerial meetings. In what was seen as setting a precedent, he visiting the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a visit taken as a sign of his intention to strengthen the Palestinian Authority's presence in the city.

It is yet to be seen whether Abbas will accept Hamdallah's resignation, thereby releasing him of his post, or reject the prime minister's request and attempt, instead, to reach an understanding with him, as he managed to do on several occasions with his predecessor, Fayyad.

Hamdallah, 54, was a well-known figure within Palestinian intellectual circles before he was appointed to the post of prime minister. He is considered an independent figure, not a member of the Fatah party.

Hamdallah was born in Tul-Karem, and over the past fifteen years served as the head of An-Najah University. He holds a doctorate in applicable linguistics, and has held various positions within Palestinian academia.

A member of the Palestinian constitutional committee, Hamdallah was made chief secretary of the Palestinian central elections committee in 2002, a position he still holds. The committee organized the presidential elections in 2004 and 2006.

The Palestinians have had no functioning parliament or national elections since a brief civil war in 2007 between the Western-backed secular Fatah party and the Islamist group Hamas.

Abbas exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank while Hamas, which won 2006 legislative polls, has its own prime minister in the Gaza Strip.