RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian prime minister dissolved his Cabinet on Monday, in what appeared to be a new gesture inspired by unrest rocking the Arab world.
The internationally backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has been trying to show that it's responsive to demands for reform, following the mass protests that have toppled the autocratic leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. Over the weekend, the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced it will hold long-overdue elections by September.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad now has six weeks to name a new Cabinet. Although Fayyad is a political independent, he is expected to replace a Cabinet currently dominated by technocrats with supporters of Abbas' Fatah party in preparation for the elections, an aide said.
Abbas' political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, dismissed the promise of elections and the Cabinet shakeup as empty gestures. Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, after seizing the territory – sought by the Palestinians along with the West Bank for their state – from Abbas' forces in 2007. Hamas has said it will not participate in elections, but said it has its own Cabinet reshuffle in the works.
Also Monday, the Palestinian representative to the Arab League said the Palestinians will present a resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, seeking a condemnation of Israeli settlement construction. Barakat al-Farra said 14 members of the council support the resolution but that he fears the United States – one of five permanent members with veto powers – will vote against it.
Israel's continued construction of Jewish settlements on lands sought for a Palestinian state are a key obstacle to resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The U.S. has been unable to get Israel to halt construction, and Palestinians say they won't resume negotiations without a building freeze. Israel says such a precondition is unprecedented.
On Monday the Jerusalem municipality took a step toward approval of 120 new apartments in a Jewish enclave in east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. A city official said the municipal planning authority discussed the project and will open it to public comment. The apartments would be added to Ramot, already home to about 50,000 Israelis.
Monday's Palestinian Cabinet shuffle followed an announcement that general elections will be held by September.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official, said the long-dominant party would nominate "professional faces" for the Cabinet. "We are not sending any of our senior officials to the Cabinet. We prefer to send new faces, professionals to these portfolios," he said.
A statement carried on the official Wafa news agency said the new Cabinet would help to carry out Fayyad's ongoing plan to build Palestinian institutions in preparation for eventual independence, and to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.
Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib said the reshuffle had been in the works for weeks and was not linked to the unrest in the region.
Analyst Hani al-Masri said the Palestinian government is trying to stave off an eruption of unrest over the failure of peace talks to yield a Palestinian state.
"There is concern among Arab leaders from the anger of their streets. And the Palestinian Authority has its own reasons to be afraid. The negotiations have halted and they fear the collapse of their political structure," al-Masri said.
Hamas, which seized Gaza from Abbas' forces in 2007, says it will not allow elections to take place in Gaza without reconciliation with Fatah. The Iranian-backed militant group dismissed the West Bank Cabinet shuffle as a stunt to give the illusion of change.
"This is silly theater," said Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum.