Abbas Taps New Prime Minister to Lead Palestinian Government

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Mohammad Shtayeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, March 10, 2019
Mohammad Shtayeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, March 10, 2019Credit: Reuters

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked Mohammad Shtayeh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, to form the new Palestinian government on Sunday.

Efforts to form a new government were triggered after the last prime minister, Rami Al-Hamdallah, tendered his resignation and that of his unity government to Abbas in January, at the time dealing a blow to faltering reconciliation efforts with Hamas.

Tasking Shtayeh is seen as a step toward finding a successor to 83-year-old Abbas, given his uncertain health. Since a new prime minister would likely become the effective new president, the intention is to name someone from Fatah who represents the movement’s middle generation.

Hamdallah, a little-known academic, headed the national unity government formed in 2014 and led the West Bank-based Fatah’s reconciliation efforts with Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007.

The two groups signed a reconciliation deal two years ago which set in motion a plan for Abbas’s Palestinian Authority to resume governing in Gaza and take up control of the coastal enclave’s crossing points into Egypt and Israel.

An Abbas loyalist

The 61-year-old Shtayeh is considered quite hawkish in his position against reconciliation with Hamas, yet the Fatah has said that, in the end, he will adopt the position of the movement and President Abbas.

The discussions surrounding the formation of the new government do not include representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, rather smaller factions within the PLO, ensuring that control will stay in the hands of Abbas and the Fatah.

A former adviser of Abbas, Shtayeh was born in Nablus and joined Fatah while he was still a student at Birzeit University. He was elected head of the Fatah central council in 2009, and again in 2016.

Shtayeh holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Sussex in England, and has employed his economic expertise as head of the Palestinian Economic Council for development and Reconstruction. He has also served as finance minister and labor minister of the PA.

At the political level, Shtayeh was a member of the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid Conference 1991; however he did not hold a senior position within the delegation.

He came to the attention of the Israeli and international public during U.S. President Barack Obama's term as a member of the Palestinian delegation for negotiations with Israel. At a certain point, Shtayeh voiced his dissatisfaction with the negotiation proceedings, disagreeing with the policies of then Secretary of State John Kerry, and left his position. The former head of Palestinian intelligence, Majid Faraj, was appointed in his place.

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