PA Cabinet Resigns en Masse Ahead of Fresh Elections

Leaked documents, protests across Arab world said to be behind move.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas accepted yesterday the resignation of the cabinet of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Abbas assigned Fayyad the task of forming a new cabinet. At least seven new ministers are expected to be in the new government, according to the Palestinian News Agency.

The move by the Palestinian prime minister is believed to be in part motivated by the recent leaks of documents by Al Jazeera on the negotiations between Israel and the PA, and developments in Egypt. Since Abbas is considered to have been one of Hosni Mubarak's closest allies, the reshuffling of the Palestinian cabinet is seen as a way to bolster the PA politically in a sensitive time.

Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad AP 10.9.2010

Yesterday Abbas dismissed the negotiating team headed by Saeb Erekat. The chief Palestinian negotiator resigned over the weekend following reports that his staff was involved in the leaked documents to Al Jazeera. Erekat said he took full responsibility for the leaks. It is still unclear whether Abbas will accept Erekat's resignation.

Abbas said yesterday that he congratulated the Egyptian people but warned that "one cannot know who is next."

The Palestinian leader said the new cabinet should focus on "strengthening the preparedness of the national institutions for the establishment of the state of independent Palestine."

During the weekend, the PA said it would call for parliamentary and presidential elections by September. The new cabinet will be charged with preparing for elections, and will also be expected to boost the government's profile as it seeks international backing in its standoff with Israel. Hamas, which has sour relations with Abbas, says it will not take part in the ballot or recognize the results - a decision that will make it hard for Abbas to stage a credible vote.

The latest reshuffle had been demanded by Fayyad, who has spearheaded efforts to create institutions for a Palestinian state.

"The cabinet resigned today and the formation of a new cabinet will take place as soon as possible," Ali Jarbawi, Minister of Planning, said yesterday.

Abbas's credibility has been sapped by stalled talks with Israel on a deal to establish an independent state, and the Palestinians have increasingly looked to build international consensus to try to pressure Israel into making concessions.

Hamas, which rejects permanent coexistence with Israel, said the reshuffle was motivated by Abbas's fears that the Palestinians would follow the lead of angry Egyptians. "Unless Mahmoud Abbas carries out serious security and political reforms, his authority will be subject to the wrath of the Palestinian people," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas, 75, has faced public criticism over the functioning of his government. Of the 24 posts in the outgoing administration, only 16 were staffed. Two ministers resigned, while six are marooned in Gaza.

"There will be massive change in the composition of the government," an unnamed Palestinian political source said of the reshuffle.

A new government is expected within two weeks, and Palestinian sources say it will include members of parties in the PLO and persons who originate from the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as academics and members of social organizations.