What’s behind Hamas’ lastest Cabinet reshuffle in Gaza?

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (C) shakes hands with a man as he arrives to lead Eid al-Adha prayer in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip September 24, 2015. Muslims across the world celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha or the Feast of the Sacrifice, which marks the end of the annual haj pilgrimage, by slaughtering goats, sheep, cows and camels in commemoration of the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa - RTX1S6G2

The Government Media Office in the Gaza Strip announced Oct. 17 that the Supreme Administrative Committee, which is in charge of the conduct of Gaza’s ministries, had taken a decision to carry out a Cabinet reshuffle in active ministries and change the positions of 16 deputy ministers and directors general in government institutions.

The most important reshuffles carried out by Hamas, which oversees the committee, included transferring Ibrahim Radwan from the Land Authority to the Ministry of Public Works; Ibrahim Jaber from the Ministry of Planning to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities; Kamel Madi from the Ministry of Interior to the Land Authority; Anwar al-Buraawi from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Culture; Ihab al-Ghusain from the State Media to the Ministry of Transport; Samir Mtayyar from the Ministry of Culture to the Energy Authority; Emad al-Baz from the Ministry of Economy to the Court of Fatwa; and Bashir Abu al-Naja from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Youth.

Oussama Saad, the deputy secretary-general of the Cabinet in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The administrative reshuffling of the high-ranking staff in Gaza’s ministries aims at improving the quality of work, transferring expertise from one place to another and developing new visions for advanced government positions. This is a positive reshuffle that will involve deputy ministers and directors general in the majority of active ministries in Gaza. It is a legal action because it is executed by a committee set up by the PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] to manage Gaza’s ministries until the consensus government takes over.”

The Supreme Administrative Committee was in charge of the Cabinet reshuffle after the committee was approved by the PLC in the Gaza Strip and the majority of Hamas PLC members in June to organize the affairs of ministries and government institutions.

On Oct. 18, Hamas PLC members stressed the importance of this committee to develop the structure of ministries in Gaza and organize, supervise and follow up on their work. This committee is also authorized to change the positions of high-ranking employees without informing the minister in charge of their duties and who is affiliated with the Ramallah government. This could pave the way for the return of Ismail Haniyeh’s government in Gaza, which had resigned in June 2014 following the signing of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas in April of that year.

However, some legal experts believe the Supreme Administrative Committee is not legitimate because it conflicted with the 2003 Palestinian Basic Law. For their part, some Palestinian human rights bodies, such as the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity – Aman, said Oct. 18 that the formation of this committee was a declaration of a new government in the Gaza Strip.

On the same day, Prime Minister of the consensus government Rami Hamdallah said that Hamas’ Cabinet reshuffle is proof that it is a de facto government that is impeding the legitimate government from performing its functions by refusing to hand over government ministries and allow employees to return to their workplace.

Hamas was not the first to make ministerial changes; in July 2015, the consensus government carried out a Cabinet reshuffle in the West Bank without consulting with Hamas. This step may be used by the movement as an argument to initiate ministerial changes without reference to the Ramallah government, even though such actions from both sides deepen the division between Gaza and Ramallah ongoing since 2007.

Salem Salama, a Hamas member of the PLC’s political committee, told Al-Monitor, “The Cabinet reshuffle is a legal and legitimate action because it aims to serve the people of the Gaza Strip and pump new blood into its ministries as the Ramallah government is ignoring Gaza and its needs. Such a policy reflects President Mahmoud Abbas’ neglect of Gazans, as he does not consider them as part of the Palestinian people.”

For his part, Youssef Mahmoud, the spokesman for the consensus government, said Oct. 20 that every action made in Gaza without the consensus government’s approval is illegitimate and not recognized by the Ramallah government, which allocates half its budget to Gaza, valued at 440 million shekels (about $114 million) a month.

Mazen Noureddine, the dean of the Faculty of Law at Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Administrative reshuffling of high-ranking government employees requires a decision issued by President Abbas as stipulated in the Basic Law. However, the authorities in control of the Gaza Strip have perhaps exploited legal loopholes to pass such reshuffles without the president’s approval, in an attempt to fill the legal vacuum in Gaza.”

Hamas’ reshuffle coincided with the movement’s announcement Oct. 19 of the legal expiration of the consensus government that was formed following the Beach Refugee Camp Agreement in April 2014, but failed to complete its tasks. In addition, Hamas accused the consensus government of depending on factional Fatah decisions instead of national consensual ones, thus becoming a government with double standards that discriminates between Gaza and the West Bank.

In this context, Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu Eita told Al-Monitor, “Hamas has to give the consensus government the opportunity to work in the Gaza Strip without any obstacles.”

Hamas’ Cabinet reshuffle did not include the Ministry of Finance, which may indicate the movement’s desire not to disrupt the work of the ministry that provides the movement the necessary financial resources to manage Gaza’s affairs. It also kept the position of the undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior and Security vacant, although it might be a risky move since this ministry is in charge of security in Gaza and preserving the internal Palestinian front in the event of any possible Israeli attack. Perhaps it did not want to rush into appointing any candidate, given the ministry’s importance in maintaining Gaza’s security.

In the context of Cabinet reshuffles, Hamas also dissolved the Ministry of Planning and transferred its employees to other ministries. These employees found out about the decision only one day before it was officially announced, and thus held a protest at the PLC’s courtyard in Gaza Oct. 16.

A former employee at the Ministry of Planning who has been transferred to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Those responsible for dissolving this vital ministry neither informed us in advance nor did they consult us about moving us to other ministries. Perhaps they do not appreciate the importance of the ministry, although it represents the backbone of the government.”

For his part, Abdel Sattar Qassem, a political science professor at An-Najah University in Nablus, told Al-Monitor, “The Cabinet reshuffle in Gaza has an administrative objective in regard to those who remained in their positions for long years after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. A proper management requires a reshuffle in order to pump new blood into the ministries. However, such decisions have political connotations that will deepen the gap between Fatah and Hamas, and show that the latter is the decision-maker in Gaza in the absence of a consensus government that does not offer much for Gaza.”

It may seem a bit early to predict the political and administrative consequences of Hamas’ Cabinet reshuffle, but it is clear that it may decrease the chances of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and give Hamas more space to manage Gaza, despite the administrative burdens it might have to endure in light of the financial crisis plaguing the movement.

Although this Cabinet reshuffle carried out by Hamas might not have a direct impact on the Palestinians’ living and economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, Hamas seeks to pump new blood into the ministries, which could convince the Palestinians that the movement is indeed in control of Gaza both politically and administratively and there is no real influence on the ground to the consensus government in Gaza.

Authored by Adnan Abu Amer (Translated by Cynthia Milan) Courtesy: Al-Monitor


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