“I presented the resignation of the government to Mr. President (Mahmoud Abbas) on February 20 and I am submitting it in writing today.”

Here is what the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) solemnly declared on Monday morning, February 26, when presenting the resignation of the Palestinian executive.

Mohammed Shtayyeh specified that this decision came in particular taking into account the war in the Gaza Strip and the situation in the occupied West Bank.

“The next step requires new governmental and political measures that take into account the new reality in the Gaza Strip (...), an urgent need for an inter-Palestinian consensus,” he said. Mahmoud Abbas agreed late Monday, tasking Mohammed Shtayyeh with ensuring the transition until the formation of a new government.

Since the 2006 parliamentary elections won by Hamas and clashes with Fatah in June 2007, the Palestinian leadership has been divided between the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited power in the West Bank – territory occupied by Israel since 1967 – while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.

This resignation might seem unexpected in the context of the war between Israel and Hamas – which has been going on for almost five months – but internal tensions seem to have gotten the better of the government.

“Palestinians inside – in the West Bank and Gaza – have criticized the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of inertia and powerlessness to protect them, particularly in the face of the large number of arrests in the West Bank (often under the form of administrative detentions, Editor’s note)”, explains Hasni Abidi, director of the Center for Studies and Research on the Arab and Mediterranean World (Cermam) and author of “The Middle East according to Joe Biden” (Ed. Erick Bonnier, 2021).

Also read: Day after in Gaza: “The Palestinian Authority currently does not have the power to govern Gaza”

The Palestinian executive has, in fact, been strongly criticized for several months to the point of seeing its popularity decline, while Hamas seems to be gaining increasing support from the population at the same time.

The Palestinian Islamist movement is supported by 42% of the population of Gaza (+4 points compared to before the war) and 44% of the population in the occupied West Bank (+32 points), according to a poll carried out at the end of 2023 by the Palestinian Center Policy and Survey Research (PSR).

And some 88% of respondents in total (+10 points) want Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

The image of the Palestinian Authority has also been damaged for years by accusations of corruption within it, to the point that a Palestinian activist – Nizar Banat – who forcefully denounced it died under blows from members of the forces. Palestinian security officers who came to arrest him at his home in June 2021.

Real or aesthetic reform of the Palestinian Authority?

Added to this are the external criticisms that the Palestinian government must also face.

Arab countries including Qatar, Western powers as well as opponents of Mahmoud Abbas are pleading for a reformed Palestinian Authority ultimately responsible for the West Bank and Gaza under the banner of an independent Palestinian state – a solution that Israel refuses.

“From this point of view, the resignation of the Palestinian government is a small step in the right direction,” notes the political scientist specializing in the Arab world.

Same story for Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib, who told AFP that with this decision, "Mahmoud Abbas wants to show the mediator that he is also ready to go down this path" of reform of the 'AP.

This reform had already been at the center of discussions between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, during his visit to Ramallah on January 10.

During this meeting, the head of diplomacy said he had spoken with Mahmoud Abbas about "the importance of reforming the Palestinian Authority, its policies and its governance, so that it can effectively assume responsibility for Gaza , and that Gaza and the West Bank can be reunified under Palestinian leadership.

Also read: Israel-Hamas war: what role can the Palestinian Authority play?

Mahmoud Abbas then initiated multiple reforms at the end of January, such as changes in the recruitment of Palestinian security forces, a restructuring of the health sector and the appointment of new magistrates to the Palestinian Supreme Administrative Court.

But several experts interviewed by The Times of Israel newspaper saw them as “cosmetic measures aimed at appeasing the American administration and the international community.”

This is also how the resignation of the Palestinian Authority government by Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Politics and Polling Research (PCPSR), an independent institute in Ramallah, is perceived.

“Mahmoud Abbas wants to show the world that he is ready to make changes (...) but the only real reform would be for him to return home,” he told AFP, stressing that whoever succeeds to the current executive "will be forced to be loyal" to the Palestinian president because the latter runs "like a one-man show".

“The Palestinian Authority does not want to be excluded from post-Gaza (war) plans”

This upcoming government reshuffle could, however, materialize the opening of the Palestinian executive to tendencies other than those of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah.

According to Ghassan Khatib, the new Palestinian leadership could include political elements from both the PA and Hamas.

The Palestinian Islamist movement does not seem insensitive to this prospect, as one of its leaders, Sami Abou Zouhri, declared to Reuters: “The resignation of the Shtayyeh government only makes sense if it occurs in the context of “a national consensus on arrangements for the next phase.”

For Hasni Abidi, it would also seem logical that the Palestinian Authority should open up a little more: “Gaza has been governed since 2007 by Hamas, so it is not normal that the Palestinian Authority does not expand.

Afterwards we will have to see the road map decided so that there is a political change.” 

Ultimately, it is indeed the day after in Gaza that we are talking about with the resignation of the Palestinian executive.

Washington seems to be the only strong ally of Israel able to put forward – subject to change – the Palestinian Authority for future governance of the Gaza Strip, despite the firm opposition of the Jewish state.

The name of the future Prime Minister mentioned to succeed Mohammed Shtayyeh could also satisfy the United States: it is Mohammad Mustafa, an economist graduated from Georgetown University in Washington who also worked for fifteen years at the World Bank.

The 69-year-old is currently director of the Palestinian Investment Fund and senior advisor to Mahmoud Abbas on economic affairs.

“A 'reassuring' profile for Americans”, according to Les Échos.

The United States, which declined to comment directly on the resignation of the Palestinian government, welcomed Monday evening "the steps taken by the Palestinian Authority to reform and revitalize itself."

"These measures are positive (...), they constitute an important step towards the reunification of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under the aegis of (the PA)", added the spokesperson for the department of State, Matthew Miller.

“The Palestinian Authority is planning because it does not want to be excluded from post-(war in) Gaza plans,” concludes Hasni Abidi.

“But today, the priority of the Palestinians is to have a ceasefire, a certain security, to try to stay alive and to eat their fill.

Once peace returns, we can talk about reforms and also general elections.”

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