By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 14, 2011; 7:14 PM
JERUSALEM - The Palestinian Authority cabinet in the West Bank resigned on Monday after ministerial reshuffles in Tunisia and Egypt that failed to quell public discontent or prevent the ouster of those countries' presidents.
Shortly after the cabinet convened Monday morning and decided to collectively resign, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad submitted the resignations to President Mahmoud Abbas, who immediately reappointed Fayyad premier and directed him to form a new cabinet.
The West Bank has seen strong economic growth accompanied by new investment in recent months. But some Palestinians have been unhappy about the lack of progress on the peace process with Israel or with steps Abbas has taken to curtail criticism of his leadership. Palestinian police prevented some protests that were meant to show solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt.
Palestinian government officials did not deny that the regional turmoil that swept Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power had probably expedited the cabinet reshuffle. But they noted that eight of the 24 cabinet slots were vacant and that Fayyad had been contemplating making a change for some time.
Fayyad has presided over a cabinet in the West Bank made up primarily of members of Abbas's Fatah party. The idea, officials said, is to offer posts to other Palestinian factions to try to broaden Abbas's support ahead of possible new legislative and presidential elections, slated for September.
"They have been talking about it for the weeks, if not months," Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said of the cabinet reshuffle. "I'm not trying to deny any [regional] influence; probably these developments encouraged the leadership to move faster on it. But these were changes agreed to before the developments in the region."
Khatib said that Abbas sees a "new, fresh and capable cabinet" as essential to steering the Palestinians toward September, when Abbas hopes not only to hold overdue elections but could perhaps declare statehood.
Fayyad is the architect of a two-year plan, which began in 2009, to build up Palestinian institutions as a preparatory step toward a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood if peace talks with Israel on the contours of a future Palestinian state fail.
September will also be the anniversary of President Obama's one-year suggested deadline for completing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, a target few think is achievable in the absence of any meaningful peace process.
"After September, it's not going to be similar to before September," Khatib said. "So the president believes this is an important phase that would require a new and fresh beginning."
Special correspondent Sufian Taha in Jerusalem contributed to this report.