Palestinian President Taps Academic as New PA Prime Minister

Abbas asks Rami Hamdallah, political independent and university head, to replace Western-favored economist Salam Fayyad.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to appoint Rami Hamdallah as the next prime minister. The 55-year-old head of the Nablus-based An-Najah University, who is considered a pragmatic, replaces Salam Fayyad, who resigned from the post a month and a half ago. Hamdallah is a PLO member, but does not belong to Fatah.

Hamdallah, who was appointed head of An-Najah in 1998, has always kept his distance from inner political struggles of the Palestinian Authority and has served in various positions in Arab and Palestinian academic forums. In 2002 he was the general secretary of the elections committee which oversaw the 2004 presidential elections and the 2006 parliamentary elections which resulted in a Hamas victory.

Hamdallah published a short written statement Sunday night, thanking Abbas for his trust, and pledging to do his best for the national Palestinian struggle and for the Palestinian people and an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Hamdallah further noted that he would respect and follow President Abbas’ political plan for the solution of the conflict.

Abbas published a short statement saying that he was committed to the Cairo reconciliation agreements with Hamas, and would do his best to implement them in the established timeline. According to these agreements, Hamdallah’s government will serve three months, and its main objective will be overseeing preparations for the presidential elections and the legislative council in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources close to Abbas believe there will be no substantial changes in the new government, apart from some personnel changes in certain ministries, including the Welfare Ministry, and the Academic Studies Ministry.

According to the sources, Hamdallah was a comfortable choice for several reasons. Since he is not a member of Fatah, his selection prevented conflicts and bitterness among rival Fatah members. Abbas has room to maneuver in his efforts to implement the reconciliation agreement with Hamas in the next three months. But at the same time, he has not angered the Americans by setting up a Hamas unity government, which would have foiled Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Hamdallah is considered an affable person, well accepted both among Palestinians and the international community. Since he was never too close to the leadership, he was never suspected of corruption, giving the donor states no reason to withhold financial assistance from the Palestinian Authority - a fear voiced immediately after Fayyad’s resignation.

Fayyad, who was well accepted by the United States and the European Union, announced that he would continue to be involved in Palestinian politics and might even present his candidacy in the next presidential elections, or run in the parliamentary elections on the slate of his Third Way party.

Israeli sources consider Hamdallah “pragmatic” when it comes to the negotiations with Israel. Over the years he has developed professional contacts with many Israelis. He is also considered close to the Nablus multimillionaire, Munib al-Masri.

Israeli defense sources believe that Hamdallah’s policies will be similar to Fayyad’s and that he will receive Western backing and support, just as Fayyad did. Still, in contrast to Fayyad, Hamdallah enjoys good connections with Fatah, even though he is not a member of the movement. A Palestinian source close to Abbas’ office told Haaretz on Sunday that Hamdallah will work under Abbas’ instructions and, unlike Fayyad, will not attempt to develop an independent political identity that could threaten Abbas or any other senior Palestinian Authority official. Also, in contrast to Fayyad, the source says that Hamdallah will refrain from declarations concerning the peace process.

In the wake of Fayyad’s resignation, Haaretz reported the leading candidates to replace him were Hamdallah and Mohammad Mustafa, head of the national investment fund. Sources close to Abbas told Haaretz Sunday night that Mustafa would probably be appointed Hamdallah’s deputy.

It was believed that Abbas preferred Mustafa over Hamdallah, but that the donor states, especially, the United States and the European Union, had reservations about Mustafa.

Abbas has decided to appoint Ziad Abu Omar as a second deputy prime minister: “These two are considered very close to Abbas, as well as being senior advisors, and the significance of the move is that Hamdallah will be surrounded by Abbas’ closest associates in the next three months. This is undoubtedly a very presidential appointment,” said the source close to Abbas’ office.

One critic of Hamdallah told Haaretz that he is completely lacking in charisma: “He is considered an academic who will do whatever Abbas demands of him. I’m positive Abbas received a green light from the U.S., and maybe even from Israel, before appointing Hamdallah.”

According to Palestinian press reports, Shukri Bashara, who has filled several senior posts in large banks, will be appointed finance minister. That position was a source of conflict between Abbas and Fayyad, who served as both prime minister and finance minister. Following Fatah pressure he was forced to appoint Nabil Kasis as finance minister, but Kasis resigned after a short while, deepening the crisis between Abbas and Fayyad.

An-Najah National University