Abbas to appoint PM to lead new government ‘within days,’ Fatah official says
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Abbas to appoint PM to lead new government ‘within days,’ Fatah official says

Hussein al-Sheikh says priority will be to put forward ‘a contingency plan to confront’ Israel’s recent move to withhold Palestinian tax funds

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) chairs a reconciliation government cabinet meeting in Gaza City on October 3, 2017. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) chairs a reconciliation government cabinet meeting in Gaza City on October 3, 2017. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will appoint a prime minister in the coming days to lead a new Ramallah-based government, Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Fatah official and close confidant of the Palestinian leader, said on Thursday.

PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and his fellow government ministers tendered their resignations on January 29.

Abbas subsequently accepted their resignations and assigned them the task of maintaining the government’s operations until the formation of a new one.

“The consultations to form a Palestinian government are ongoing and have made significant progress,” Sheikh wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “President Mahmoud Abbas will appoint a prime minister for a new government within days.”

Fatah Central Committee Member Azzam al-Ahmad said late last month that the Palestinians intended to establish a new government in response to Hamas’s refusal to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to the PA.

“We plan to form a new government of factions soon in response to Hamas’s failure to undertake its national responsibility in handing over the Gaza Strip to the legitimate PA,” Ahmad told The Times of Israel at the time.

Hamas, a terror group, has strongly opposed Ramallah’s efforts to form a new government. The Palestinians formed the current PA government in 2014 with the support of Fatah and Hamas. Since its establishment, however, Abbas has carried out at least two cabinet reshuffles without Hamas’s consent.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum has warned of the establishment of “a new separatist government” that serves Abbas and his Fatah party’s interests.

In the first several weeks of February, a group of senior Fatah officials, including Ahmad, consulted with leaders of the various Palestine Liberation Organization factions, as well as several independents about establishing a new government.

Some factions expressed interest in participating in a new government, while others, including the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) did not. The PFLP is designated a terror group by Israel, the US, European Union and others.

In announcing they would not participate in a new government, both the DFLP and PFLP affirmed the need to advance reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Fatah and Hamas have been in dispute since 2007, when the terror group forcibly ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from Gaza.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking on Palestine TV, the official PA channel. (Screenshot: Palestine TV)

The two rival parties have signed multiple agreements to advance reconciliation and bring Gaza and the West Bank under one government, but they have not implemented them.

While Sheikh did not mention Hamas in his tweet, he said that the top priority of the new government would be to put forward “a contingency plan to confront” Israel’s recent move to withhold Palestinian tax funds.

Israel’s security cabinet decided last week to approve withholding NIS 500 million ($138 million) of tax revenues from the PA. The security cabinet made the decision in an effort to start implementing a new law that permits Israel to withhold taxes from Ramallah over payments it makes to security prisoners and the families of dead terrorists

Israel collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinians every month, and transfers them to the PA’s coffers.

Abbas has said the Palestinians will not accept any of the taxes Israel gathers for the PA if it does not transfer the full amount to Ramallah.

If the PA follows through, it could place itself in dire financial straits, as it would be turning down its largest source of income.

Citing the Israeli Finance Ministry, Reuters has reported that Israel currently collects some NIS 700 million ($193 million) in total taxes for the PA every month and transfers it NIS 600 million ($166 million) after deducting for electricity, water, sewage and healthcare bills.

Avi Dichter, the chair of the Knesset Defense Committee, has said Israel would spread out the withholding of the $138 million in tax money over 12 months, meaning less than seven percent of each month’s transfers would be withheld.

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