Hamas further sidelined by appointment of new PA premier Shtayyeh
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Hamas further sidelined by appointment of new PA premier Shtayyeh

With Abbas calling the shots, new government does not herald significant shifts in Palestinian policy toward Israel or the US

Newly-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, at his office in Ramallah, March 10, 2019. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Newly-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, at his office in Ramallah, March 10, 2019. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

RAMALLAH (AFP) — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday named veteran politician Mohammad Shtayyeh to be his new prime minister.

Born in Nablus in the northern West Bank in 1958, Shtayyeh was 9-years-old when Israel captured the territory during the Six Day War.

He studied at Birzeit University near Ramallah where he later became a lecturer. He completed a PhD in economic development at Sussex University in Britain before returning to the Palestinian territories in the late 1980s.

Since then he has spent much of his time working alongside Abbas, with whom he has a close relationship. He was part of Palestinian team in US-brokered negotiations with Israel in 1991, and again in 2013-14, led by former US secretary of State John Kerry.

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

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

What’s new?

Shtayyeh replaces Rami Hamdallah, who had been prime minister since 2014.

Unlike his two predecessors, Hamdallah and Salam Fayyad, who were ostensibly politically independent, Shtayyeh comes from Fatah, Abbas’s political party.

Former Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, in Istanbul, May 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

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

In particular, its formation will further sideline Islamist Hamas, the other major Palestinian faction that rules the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since the Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip in a 2007 brief but bloody civil war, a year after it won parliamentary elections.

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

Hamdallah’s government was formed when reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah appeared possible and it had the backing of Hamas and other factions. Abbas’s close aide, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, admitted last month that the collapse in reconciliation talks had forced led to the end of the old government and the need to form a new administration.

“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.

Hugh Lovatt, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said critics would see the move as a “naked power grab by Fatah.”

“There was a desire to replace the previous government — which was seen to be under-performing — with a more political government, but it will also fully shut Hamas out of the decision-making process and further undermine Palestinian democracy,” he told AFP.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, February 20, 2019. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

In theory, new parliamentary elections are meant to be held in May, although analysts say the chances of them taking place are slim.

Elections have not been held since 2006, when Hamas scored its surprise victory. Israel, the United States, the European Union and others consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Who will be a member?

The new government will theoretically be made up of the factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It is led by Fatah, but it includes a number of other parties. Hamas is not part of the PLO.

It is not clear, however, how many of the other factions will accept the offer to join Shtayyeh’s government. In particular, two large left-wing factions have voiced their opposition to the new government and are not expected to join.

What will its policies be?

Don’t expect major shifts in policy, whether on the Palestinians’ relations with Israel, the United States or other areas.

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

Abu Rudeineh admitted as much, saying the direction would still be steered by Abbas.

“The government has never been the policymaker here. The PLO is the only side that has to make decisions,” he said.

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