Global Politics

Palestinian parliament resigns

Palestinian leaders have responded to the political earthquake in Egypt with promises of change. But the political shifts are sending mixed signals to Palestinians.

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First, the Palestinian leadership announced it would hold long overdue elections, for new lawmakers and for a new president. Then, the Prime Minister's cabinet called it quits.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas immediately reappointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister and ordered him to select new members for his cabinet.

Some people in Ramallah seem pleased with the call for new faces in Palestinian politics. Falafel maker Mohammed Jaber is among them.

"We need everything to be new," says Jaber, "because the old leadership is making fools out of us. Everything they do is under the table. We want things to be direct and honest. We need elections."

Diana Alzier, who works at a Peugeot car showroom in Ramallah, is also ready to say good-bye to some of the old guard politicians. "They've done their work, had their chances," she says. "Now is the chance for others to take lead."
Enacting reforms

A new cabinet has been a long time coming. There are a number of cabinet posts that have remained unfilled for a while. But Palestinian Authority government spokesman Ghassan Khatib says the toppling of the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia influenced leaders here to enact reform a bit more quickly. He also says President Abbas is preparing his government for "very special challenges and tasks" ahead.

That's an understatement. Khatib says the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is still set on building all the necessary government institutions to run an independent Palestinian state. And they're set on doing all of this by September.

"This plan is the plan of previous government, not the new one," says Palestinian politician Hana Amiri. "Really it's a complicated thing and I don't understand it."

Amiri suspects the reshuffling is only meant to appease Palestinians inspired by the toppling of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and may want to see new leaders at home too. "Maybe it will only be changing faces," says Amiri, comparing the move to reshuffling a deck of cards.
WikiLeaks

But sometimes symbolic change is important, says Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat. He resigned recently as chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel. Erekat is at the center of a kind of WikiLeaks scandal.

Al Jazeera published leaked transcripts of meetings Erekat held with Condoleezza Rice and Israeli peace negotiators. Those transcripts showed that Erekat and his team were willing to let Israel keep a large number of disputed neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Erekat says his resignation is about setting a record of transparency in the West Bank. "There were very sensitive documents stolen from my office," he explains. "I said from day one. If some documents are stolen from my office, I will bear responsibility for this. The ethical and courageous thing to do is not to seek excuses. It's to say, it's my mistake, sorry for what pain I brought to my people."

Many Palestinians were furious at Erekat for offering so much territory to the Israelis in secret negotiations. But he says that's not why he's resigning. President Abbas has also disbanded a group of Palestinian experts who advised Erekat in the peace negotiations. But Erekat says his advisors will have new roles to play in future rounds of negotiations.

That's left a sour taste for some Palestinians. It's another reshuffling of the same deck, says political analyst Khalil Shaheen.

"Erekat resigned because papers leaked, not because negotiations reached dead end. He still believes he can reach results. That's why Palestinians are not satisfied. The main conclusion now is that there is no main partner in the Israeli government that you can negotiate with."
Hamas refusal

So, to sum up: the Prime Minister dissolved his cabinet, but then he was reappointed to build it again. Palestinian leaders say they'll hold presidential and legislative elections to provide fair representation to Palestinians, but Hamas, the rival party in Gaza, refuses to cooperate.

The Palestinian chief peace negotiator says he's calling it quits, but peace talks with the Israeli government will continue. There's lots of talk about change, but some Palestinians fear it may be more of the same.