Abbas swears in new PA government led by his Fatah ally, Mohammad Shtayyeh

Veteran peace negotiator and ex-minister takes over as PM in move seen as further sidelining Hamas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) shakes hands with the prime minister-designate Mohammad Shtayyeh in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on April 13, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) shakes hands with the prime minister-designate Mohammad Shtayyeh in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on April 13, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

A new Palestinian Authority government was sworn in by PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, a month after he tapped longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member of his Fatah party, as the next premier.

The 61-year-old Shtayyeh is replacing Rami Hamdallah, who served as prime minister of the Palestinian government since 2013. He is seen as being critical of the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers, as well as a proponent of continuing peace talks with Israel.

The new 21-member cabinet includes some fresh faces, but senior officials, such as Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki and Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, are keeping their positions.

Novelist Atef Abu Seif of Gaza, who was recently badly beaten during Hamas’s crackdown on protesters in the Strip, will become culture minister.

Shtayyeh’s government replaces a technocratic administration, which had the nominal backing of Hamas and all other Palestinian factions.

The government includes many of Abbas’s longtime allies and is mostly comprised of members of Fatah, though several smaller factions are also represented. It does not include anyone from Hamas, the terror group that has been at loggerheads with Fatah since it took over Gaza from the PA in a near civil war in 2007.

Palestinian politics have been effectively frozen since, and multiple reconciliation attempts have faltered.

Other parties, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, refused to take part in the new government, calling for a unity government of all factions, including Hamas.

Analysts say 83-year-old Abbas, in power since 2005, retains the real decision-making authority.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (6th-right) walks away after posing for a group photograph with members of the new Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 13, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations envoy for Middle East peace, congratulated Shtayyeh and said he looked forward to working with his government.

“At a time of significant financial and political challenges to the Palestinian national project, all must support the government’s efforts and work to overcome internal divisions. Unity is essential to advancing the goal of a lasting peace,” he said in a statement.

Mladenov said “elections, conducted in line with national laws and established international democratic standards,” could contribute toward reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

“The United Nations 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,” he added.

Since returning from Britain in the 1980s after completing a PhD, Shtayyeh has spent much of his time working alongside Abbas, with whom he has a close relationship. He was part of the Palestinian team in US-brokered negotiations with Israel in 1991, and again in 2013-14.

Shtayyeh, a political moderate, is a strong supporter of the two-state solution, which advocates the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Incoming Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh walks to the podium to deliver a speech in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on April 13, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

He has served as a minister twice in previous Palestinian governments, and has held major roles in economic development initiatives, including the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction.

Unlike his two predecessors, Hamdallah and Salam Fayyad, who were ostensibly politically independent, Shtayyeh comes from Fatah.

Analysts see the new government as being more homogeneous because it is dominated by Fatah, while its predecessor drew support from all parties.

In particular, its formation will further sideline Hamas. The group has criticized the formation of the new government, accusing Fatah of a power grab.

Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the new administration appeared to be “a continuation, rather than a radical break, from the outgoing Hamdallah government.”

“Despite the inclusion of technocrats and political figures from smaller left-wing factions, the new Palestinian government remains heavily stacked with supporters of President Abbas,” he said.

That raises questions about how much power and independence Shtayyeh will have, he added.

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