Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah survived an assassination attempt as he entered the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning. It is a rare instance in which the academic-turned-politician has made the headlines during his four-year stint heading the Ramallah government.
Hamdallah, 60 this year, became Palestinian prime minister in June 2013, following the resignation of previous incumbent Salam Fayyad after six years in office. He has long been seen as a moderate in Palestinian politics.
In a 2013 Haaretz profile, Barak Ravid noted that Hamdallah's appointment as prime minister was akin to a suicide mission, describing the post as "the most ungrateful job in the West Bank." Ravid also noted that Hamdallah is familiar with crises. “A decade ago, in 2000, he experienced a personal tragedy when his three children were killed in a car accident,” Ravid wrote. “He managed to overcome the blow and continue his work at An-Najah.”
One of Hamdallah’s first steps was to offer his resignation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just two weeks after taking office, citing a lack of authority. It took three months of political turmoil before Abbas asked Hamdallah to form a new Palestinian government, which he accepted.
Before becoming prime minister, Hamdallah was the linguistics professor and president of An-Najah National University. He was born in Anabta, in the northern West Bank, in 1958.
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He attended the University of Jordan in 1980 and went to Britain to continue his studies. He received his MA from the University of Manchester in 1982 and a PhD in linguistics at Lancaster University six years later.
Hamdallah is known in the Arab world as Abu Walid, after his deceased son.
An-Najah (“success”) was declared the Palestinians’ national university in 1977 and Hamdallah was credited for its success. Writing in Haaretz in 2013, Amira Hass said: “In Nablus, they say that during Hamdallah’s tenure, over the past 15 years, the university has flourished in terms of the number of teachers and students, academic variety, the quantity of faculties and departments, research plans and academic conferences, ties with foreign universities, etc.”
In a 2013 New York Times profile, Kerie Rassas, An-Najah’s deputy president for international affairs, told the daily that Hamdallah "always said, and I quote him, 'Palestinians, they only have one investment they should invest in – higher education. We don’t have natural resources. We don’t have oil or petrol. All we have is our brains, and the only way is through higher education. We should educate as many as possible,'” Hamdallah was quoted as saying.
Although Hamdallah was not a member of Abbas’ Fatah party and is a political independent, Hass noted in 2013 that his “close relationship with two of the strongmen in Fatah and in the coterie of the late PA Chairman Yasser Arafat played an important role in his appointment both as the university’s president and as PM. One is Tayeb Abdul Rahim, the secretary general of the government headed by Arafat, and today the secretary general of Abbas’ bureau (and also a native of Anabta, like Hamdallah). The other is Tawfik Tirawi, who, at the time of the establishment of the PA, was the chief of Palestinian intelligence in the West Bank, and who maintains his power in the Fatah movement as Abbas’ security adviser.”
When the PA and Hamas stepped up their reconciliation efforts in Gaza last year, Hamdallah traveled to the Gaza Strip in October for talks with the Islamist ruling party in Gaza.
“We return to Gaza in order to ... end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick,” said Hamdallah at the time.
The health of Abbas has been the source of much speculation in recent weeks, with Hamdallah seen as one of a dozen Palestinian politicians and security officials who are potential successors to the president.
Haaretz’ defense correspondent Amos Harel wrote last month: “As Abbas’ health gets worse, the battle among the many contenders hoping to succeed him will intensify. ... Israel is concerned about the instability that could ensue the closer the end of Abbas’ tenure seems – and is concerned that the internal tension will impact the degree to which the PA security services will work to prevent attacks on the IDF and Israeli civilians in the West Bank.”