Inside storyDiplomat: We couldn't veto pick after offering little to Abbas

Abbas to appoint economist Mohammad Mustafa as next PA prime minister — officials

Appointment of technocratic government seen as necessary step for reform in Ramallah, but choice of close ally to PA president dampens hopes of move’s chances for success

Jacob Magid

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

FILE: Palestinian Authority deputy prime minister Mohammad Mustafa in Ramallah on Wednesday, June 12, 2013. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
FILE: Palestinian Authority deputy prime minister Mohammad Mustafa in Ramallah on Wednesday, June 12, 2013. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is slated in the coming days to announce his appointment of economist and former senior government official Mohammad Mustafa as the next prime minister of the PA, three officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

The move is part of an effort by Abbas to reform the PA, creating a technocratic government in the West Bank, which will be better prepared to eventually return to governing Gaza as well after Israel’s war against Hamas concludes.

Mustafa will have several weeks to assemble a cabinet, during which outgoing PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh will remain at the helm, a Palestinian official, a senior European diplomat and a US official said.

Mustafa, 69, has been holding consultations with prospective cabinet members in recent weeks and members are expected to be a group of technocrats unaffiliated with Abbas’s Fatah party — many of whom were educated in the West — the officials say.

Mustafa is respected by many international stakeholders, holding a doctorate in economics from George Washington University and having worked for 15 years at the World Bank.

He has served as deputy prime minister, economy minister and as Abbas’s economic adviser. Mustafa has also sat on the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee since 2022 and has served as the chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund since 2005.

This handout picture provided by the Palestinian Authority’s Press Office (PPO) shows PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (L) presenting the resignation of his government to Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah on February 26, 2024. (Thaer GHANEM / PPO / AFP)

But he is also a longtime Abbas confidant, leading to tapered expectations in Brussels that the new technocratic government will indeed be able to implement necessary reforms to the PA, which has long faced allegations of corruption, the European diplomat said.

One of the main reform demands that international stakeholders have made of Abbas in recent months is for him to transfer some of his powers to the prime minister. Even if Abbas does take this step, its significance would be questioned given his close relationship to the man he’d be handing over those powers to, the diplomat speculated.

“We’re swallowing this cosmetic reform because we don’t have anything to offer Abbas,” the senior European diplomat said, adding that the US, the EU and Arab donor countries might have been able to coax Abbas to tap a more independent premier had they been more successful at pushing Israel to cooperate with efforts to revitalize the PA.

Once the technocratic government is in place, regional stakeholders will be able to move forward with plans to establish an interim committee in Gaza responsible for providing civil services and internal security in the enclave.

The US would like this committee to be linked to Arab allies as well as Ramallah so as to ready the PA for fully taking over governance in Gaza. Major donor countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have stressed that they will not contribute to the post-war management of Gaza unless it is in tandem with the creation of a pathway to a two-state solution.

Abbas’s top aide, PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh, will be holding high-level meetings on Wednesday in the UAE. Ramallah seeks to coordinate with Arab allies on the steps it’s taking to maintain their support.

Palestinians walk past stalls set up in a street in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on March 10, 2024, as Muslims prepare for the holy month of Ramadan. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

As for countries such as Turkey and Qatar, which host Hamas’s leaders, it is unclear whether the choice of Mustafa will satisfy either of them. They each hosted Abbas earlier this month for consultations regarding the installation of a technocratic government and planning for the management of Gaza after the war.

Abbas brought his son Yasser to high-level meetings in both countries, raising eyebrows of participants, given that the businessman has no official role in the PA government and that he spends much of his time outside the West Bank, according to three officials familiar with the matter. Abbas’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

The younger Abbas was also part of a PA delegation to Riyadh last year for talks with top Saudi officials regarding a potential normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two sources told The Times of Israel at the time.

Qatar and Turkey are more concerned, though, over whether the composition of the new government in Ramallah — one which could eventually govern in Gaza as well — has received a nod of approval from Hamas officials abroad, a senior Arab official explained.

Displaced Palestinians carry their belongings through a street in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 6, 2024. (AFP)

Though regional stakeholders believe Israel may be able to dismantle Hamas’s political and military infrastructure in Gaza, they still think the terror group will succeed in maintaining a residual presence in the Strip — one whose support will be necessary so that it doesn’t play a spoiler role, the official said.

The slated appointment of Mustafa comes less than a month since Shtayyeh tendered his resignation along with the rest of the PA cabinet.

While Abbas had wanted to wait until there was at least a temporary ceasefire in Gaza to establish a new government in the West Bank, truce talks have dragged into Ramadan with no breakthrough.

However, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday that significant progress was made over the last 24 hours and that there is renewed hope for a six-week ceasefire that would see some 40 female, sick and wounded hostages released.

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