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memri
August 7, 1998 No.
2

Reshuffling in the Palestinian Authority Cabinet

By: Yigal Carmon and Yotam Feldner*

On August 5, 1998, Arafat declared the makeup of the new Palestinian Cabinet. The Ministerial changes came at the end of a process that started in January 1998 with a negative report on the functioning of the cabinet, published by a special comptrollers committee of the Legislative Council which was chaired by Member of the Council Sa'adi Al-Karnaz. The report included sharp criticism of the majority of the Palestinian cabinet, especially Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Nabil Sha'ath, and Minister of Civil Affairs Jamil Al-Tarifi. In the seven months since the publication of the Comptrollers' report, many members of the Legislative Council have repeatedly demanded the dismissal of the ministers who were corrupt and that a new cabinet be formed. In the course of the current ministerial changes, ten ministers have been added to the existing cabinet, one minister was dismissed, and four ministers were transferred to other ministries.

The new cabinet still needs the Legislative Council's vote of confidence and several council members have already declared their intention of voting against it. Although the cabinet is likely to achieve the Legislative Council's confidence, criticism of its function and demands for the dismissal of Ministers Sha'ath and Al-Tarifi are expected to continue.

Analysis and Evaluation

Increased Centralization:

Although the cabinet was considerably expanded, centralization of power has increased:

•Arafat has taken under his own responsibility three important Ministries: Education, whose former minister, Yasser 'Amru, has been dismissed; the Ministry of Religious Endowments, whose former minister, Sheik Hassan Tahbub, died and has not been replaced; and the Ministry for Youth and Sport Affairs, whose minister, Sheik Talal Sidr, who is affiliated with HAMAS, was demoted to a Minister without portfolio. Arafat also continues to hold the Interior portfolio.

•The status of Arafat's organization, the Fatah, was strengthened. All the new ministers are members of the Fatah. The ministers who were demoted belonged to other organizations. The former Minister of Education, Yasser 'Amru, who was dismissed, belongs to the Al-Sa'iqa organization, which is a Palestinian faction of the Syrian Ba'ath party. The former Minister of Agriculture, 'Abd Al-Jawwad Saleh, who was demoted to a Minister without Portfolio, belongs to the FIDA party of the Hawatmeh faction of the DFLP. The former Minister of Youth and Sports Affairs, Talal Sidr, who was demoted to Minister without Portfolio, is affiliated with HAMAS. In addition, former Minister of Commerce, Bashir Al-Barghuthi, a member of the Communist People Party who left office due to health problems, was replaced by Fatah member Sa'adi Al-Karnaz. Former Minister of Labor, Samir Ghoseh, leader of the 'Popular Struggle Front' who resigned during the year, was replaced by Fatah member Rafiq Al-Natsheh.

•Seven out of ten new ministers are members of the Legislative Council and by appointing them to the Executive Branch, Arafat increases his control over the Legislative Council.

Ignoring the Demand to Fight Corruption:

Ministers Sha'ath and Al-Tarifi, who were accused of corruption, were not demoted. Nevertheless, the main anti-corruption activist, the Chairman of the Comptrollers Committee whose action resulted in the demand to make ministerial changes, won an important position - Minister of Industry.

The Political Implications: Abandoning the Hope of Opposition Participation in the Government in Preparation for May 1999:

After the opposition groups rejected Arafat's proposal of the last few weeks to join the Legislative Council, it seems that Arafat gave up on their participation altogether and decided to strengthen the status of his own organization, the Fatah, and his control over it.

The ministerial changes were presented, both by Arafat and by the official information organs, as a move toward the declaration of an independent Palestinian state in May 1999. The series of appointments will help Arafat to deal with the opposition to the declaration of an independent Palestinian state, which is already being voiced among the opposition groups.

Ethnicity:

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, who was transferred from the Ministry of Higher Education to the Ministry of Tourism and Archeology, resigned immediately. So did the former Minister of Agriculture, 'Abd Al-Jawwad Saleh, who declined to accept the position of Minister without portfolio. After Ashrawi's resignation, the Christians are not represented in the new cabinet. The former cabinet had two Christian members, Elyas Freij, former Minister of Tourism, and Dr. Ashrawi.

Reactions to the Palestinian Cabinet Changes:

Many members of the Legislative Council expressed their disappointment when the composition of the new cabinet was announced. The members of the Council complained that the inflated cabinet would increase significantly government expenses and harm the Palestinian economy. Several members of the Council were of the opinion that having 24 ministers in the cabinet who are at the same time members of the Legislative Council would neutralize or weaken the strength of the legislative arm vis-à-vis the executive. The chairman of the Oversight and Human Rights Committee, Dr. Kamal Al-Sharafi, for example, claimed that in the Comptroller's report of the Legislative Council, it was determined that a number of ministers would have to be prosecuted, and that the cabinet changes are "turning their back on all the recommendations of the legislative council.[1]"

A member of the Executive Committee of the PLO and Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Legislative Council, Abbas Zaki, called upon council members not to grant confidence to the new cabinet and to stick to the Council's decisions.[2] Zaki complained about the expected growth in cabinet expenses, and said, "the number of ministers is larger than that of the government of China.[3]"

New and old cabinet members alike also expressed their disapproval of the new changes. Salah Al-Ta'mari, who was appointed Minister without portfolio, said that he hesitates to accept the position.[4] The new Minister of Agriculture, Hikmat Zeid, said that the change is merely an addition of ministers, and expressed the hope that Arafat would carry out fundamental changes in the next few days.[5] Incoming Minister of Industry, Dr. Sa'adi Al-Karnaz, and incoming Environmental Minister, Yusuf Abu Safiyya, said that the new cabinet does not fulfill the desires of the Legislative Council, which wanted to make fundamental changes above and beyond the addition of ministers[6].

In an editorial of the HAMAS's mouthpiece, Al-Risala, it was said: "We are sure that the cabinet changes cause a media turmoil whose goal is to create a sense of change among the Palestinian public, which is dissatisfied with the overall standstill. This media turmoil will soon subside, and everything will continue to be as it was before, or perhaps worse.[7]" The PFLP and DFLP criticized the new cabinet as well. In the mouthpiece of the 'Palestinian Islamic Jihad' organization, a political cartoon appeared depicting a donkey that reads about the cabinet changes in the paper and bursts into laughter.[8]

The New Cabinet
Old Ministers:
Nabil Sha'ath, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation
Yasser Abd Rabbo, Minister of Culture and Information
Jamil Al-Tarifi, Minister of Civil Affairs
Saib 'Ariqat, Minister of Local Government
Hanan Ashrawi, Minister of Tourism and Archeology (resigned)
Abd Al-Rahman Hammad, Minister of Housing
Muhammad Zuhdi Al-Nashashibi, Minister of Finance
Abd Al-Aziz Shahin, Minister of Supplies
Riyad Al-Za'anun, Minister of Health
'Imad Al-Faluji, Minister of Communication
Azzam Al-Ahmad, Minister of Public Works
Maher Al-Masri, Minister of Commerce and Economics
Intisar Al-Wazir, Minister of Social Affairs
Ali Al-Qawasme, Minister of Transportation
Freih Abu Midein, Minister of Justice
Abd Al-Jawad Saleh, Minister without Portfolio (resigned)
Talal Sidr, Minister without Portfolio
Abd Al-Aziz Al-Haj Ahmad, Minister without Portfolio
Abd Al-Hafiz Al-Ashhab, Minister without Portfolio
Al-Tayyib Abd Al-Rahim, General Secretary of the Presidency
Ahmad Abd Al-Rahmam, General Secretary of the Government

New Ministers:
Hikmat Zeid, Minister of Agriculture
Rafiq Al-Natsheh, Minister of Labor
Sa'adi Al-Karnaz, Minister of Industry
Yusuf Abu Safiyeh, Minister of Environment
Munzir Salah, Minister of Higher Education
Nabil 'Amru, Minister of Parliament Affairs
Hisham Abd Al-Razeq, Minister of Prisoners Affairs
Salah Al-Ta'amri, Minister without Portfolio
Ziyad Abu Ziyad, Minister without Portfolio
Hassan Asfur, Minister without Portfolio

* Yigal Carmon is the President of MEMRI. Yotam Feldner is a Research Associate with MEMRI.

 

[1] Al-Quds, August 6, 1998.

[2] Al-Quds, August 8, 1998. Ten members of the council called upon the others not to grant confidence to the new cabinet.

[3] Al-Ayyam, August 8, 1998.

[4] Al-Quds, August 6, 1998.

[5] Al-Ayyam, August 6, 1998.

[6] Al-Ayyam, August 7, 1998.

[7] Al-Risala, August 6, 1998.

[8] Al-Istiqlal, August 7, 1998.