Who is Palestine's new prime minister?

  • 11 Mar 2019

Mohammad Shtayyeh took the post of prime minister after the former prime minister resigned six weeks ago. The post comes with a tough mandate at a time when Palestinians have been completely sidelined.

Senior Fatah official Mohammad Shtayyeh receives a designation letter from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a new Palestinian government, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in this handout picture released March 10, 2019. ( Reuters )

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on Sunday appointed Mohammed Shtayyeh as the prime minister, six weeks after Rami al Hamdallah tendered his resignation from the post and the resignation of his unity government.

"I am honoured to accept your designation of me to be the Prime Minister of your government, which I hope to form through consulting everyone who is relevant such as the factions of the PLO [the Palestine Liberation Organization], the people in power, national, civil, and social parties and to present it to you for approval,” he told to Abbas during the ceremony in Ramallah.

Shtayyeh did not mention Hamas - the de facto governing force in Gaza.

Shtayyeh takes the post at a time when a unified Palestine is as critical as it has ever been as the US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move followed by several other countries. 

But who is Shtayyeh and can he make a difference for the Palestinian cause?

Who is Shtayyeh?

Mohammed Shtayyeh was born in 1958 in a village near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

He served as a minister of public works and housing between 2005-2006 and 2008-2010 and head of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction. 

He was part of US-brokered negotiations with Israel in 1991 and again in 2013-14, led by US secretary of state John Kerry.

A political moderate, he is a strong supporter of the two-state solution, meaning the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Shtayeh holds a doctorate in economic development from the University of Sussex, UK, and worked as a professor and dean at Birzeit University.

He spent much of his life working alongside Abbass cultivating a close relationship to the Palestinian leader.

Can he impact politics?

Shtayeh is not expected to drive any significant shifts in policy, whether on Palestinians' relations with Israel, the United States or other areas.

This is because Palestinian governments have long been seen as subservient to Abbas and the executive committee of the PLO.

Abbas’s office admitted this, saying Abbas would still steer the overall direction of policy.

"The government has never been the policymaker here. The PLO is the only side that has to take decisions," Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said.

Abbas’ presidential term ended long ago in 2009, since then he has maintained leadership without elections and through political manoeuvring. 

Hope of unification with Hamas?

A senior official from Hamas, Ismail Rudwan, announced the dissatisfaction of the group.

He said the creation of "a separatist government ... will prolong Palestinian division."

But Abbas's spokesman Rudeinah said last month that the collapse in reconciliation talks had led to the new government.

"If Hamas is not willing for reconciliation, if Hamas is not willing for elections, if Hamas is still wanting with others to form a mini-state in Gaza for the Muslim Brotherhood - if this is their strategy we have to end this relationship. That's why we have to form a new government," he told journalists.

The West Bank-based Fatah argued that the move was taken over "intransigence" of its rival group Hamas, governing Gaza since a 2006 election victory,  and "its refusal to deal with the national reconciliation government."

Since 2006, several efforts to reconcile the two groups have failed with two agreements reached, but the sides withdrew from the deals due to disagreements. 

The latest fail, with Egyptian support, came in 2017 after the two groups signed a reconciliation deal, setting 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.

But disputes over power-sharing and disagreements over policy towards Israel have hampered the deal's implementation. 

As a result, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al Hamdallah has tendered his resignation and that of his unity government to Mahmud Abbas, who then picked Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister.