A new Palestinian government was sworn in Saturday in Ramallah, with Dr. Mohammad Shtayeh at its helm.
The new government includes 16 new ministers as well as five veterans. Ministers considered close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will retain their position, such as Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh and Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr.
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Shtayeh, an economic expert from Nablus, is replacing Rami Hamdallah, who manned the position for the past six years.
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.
Efforts to form the new government were triggered after 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.
Upon presenting the new government to Abbas, Shtayeh said that he will act to promote Palestinian unity and help prepare for parliament elections. He also pledged to support the families of slain Palestinians as well as those of prisoners.
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Shtayeh further vowed to protect Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and strengthen Palestinian economy.
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations' special representative to the Middle East, released an official statement in which he congratulated Shtayeh and noted that he looks forward to "continue to work closely with him and his team on improving the economic, humanitarian and social situation of the Palestinian people."
Mladenov also stated that the UN "remains fully committed to working with the Palestinian leadership and people in ending the occupation and advancing their legitimate national aspirations for statehood based on UN resolutions."
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.
Noa Landau contributed to this report.