The 18 days that Rami Hamdallah spent as prime minister of the PA before he decided to resign last week were a perfect illustration of the surreal situation facing the Palestinian Government.
Unelected by the Palestinian people and unrecognised by significant parts of its political structure, he at least thought that he would be allowed to get on with his job pushing through bureaucratic reform and implementing economic programmes. But even in the “Ramallah bubble” — so-called by its detractors because its occupants allegedly ignore the daily hardships of the rest of Palestinians — factionalism rules at every level.
Professor Hamdallah’s main advantages, his professionalism and lack of allegiance to any faction — just like his predecessor, Salam Fayyad — were also his chief weakness. He felt that Mr Abbas had saddled him with a deputy whose job it was to look out for the interests of the ruling party, Fatah, and he was not going to go along with that. Those close to him say that he was not going to be just “window-dressing” for the PA and, when he realised that was what was expected from him, he promptly resigned.
There are two possible conclusions. The first is that if Professor Hamdallah had not realised that part of his job was to maintain a semblance of government in public while dealing with the warring Fatah factions in private, then perhaps he was not cut out for the job.
A second, much more worrying conclusion, could be that all of this has been part of a wider strategy by Mr Abbas to cover for his unwillingness or inability to return to peace talks according to the framework set out by US State Secretary John Kerry.
With Mr Kerry set to return seeking answers to his proposals on talks and a $4 bn economic programme on offer to the PA, much rides on Mr Abbas’s next choice for prime minister. His identity and level of authority will indicate whether the Palestinian leadership is serious about going ahead with the peace process.