Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a new government that excludes his rival Hamas and puts his long-time ally Mohammad Shtayyeh in the role of prime minister at a moment of
intensifying pressure on the Palestinians.
Benjamin Netanyahu now looks likely to serve a fifth term as Israeli prime minister. Just before Israelis went to the polls, Netanyahu declared he would extend sovereignty over at least parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as part of a future state.
Palestinians are also preparing to fight a long-awaited US peace plan they see as probably biased towards Israel.
Shtayyeh will replace Rami Hamdallah, an independent who submitted his government’s resignation in January. Abbas adviser Nabil Shaath said that the Palestinians wouldn’t reject any US plan out of hand, but didn’t expect it would be acceptable to them. “Our mission is to defend our holy sites and our lands, especially amid Israeli threats to annex the West Bank,” said Ibrahim Melhem, the new government spokesman. He promised Abbas would not sign any peace agreement that’s not in line with the Arab peace initiative, a proposal first endorsed by the Arab League in 2002.
Palestinians have called Netanyahu’s statements on annexation a blow to Palestinian dreams that bodes poorly for their reception of the US plan.
Hamas, which governs the coastal Gaza Strip, said the new government only further divided Palestinians.
“The Shtayyeh government has no Palestinian national consensus and no legal backup. It is illegitimate,” said Khalil al-Hayya, deputy chief of Hamas.
“This government was made to empower the internal Palestinian division and again proves that there is no return to real national unity.”
UN Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov congratulated Shtayyeh on the formation of the new government and said that he looked “forward to continuing to work closely with
him and his team on improving the economic, humanitarian and social situation of the Palestinian people.”
Of the 24 ministers in the government, five are incumbents: Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, Foreign Minister Riad Malki, Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amer, Tourism Minister Rula Maayah and Minister of Information Nabil Abu Rudeina. Five are members of Abbas’s Fatah party from the Gaza Strip.
Born in 1958, Shtayyeh is a member of Abbas’s Fatah party. The economist and academic served twice as a government minister and represented Palestinian territories during meetings with donors at annual World Bank. His experience with Palestinian-Israeli negotiations spans two decades, including the most recent talks initiated by former US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Hamdallah’s administration was formed in 2014 in a bid to reconcile governments in the West Bank ruled by Abbas, and the Gaza Strip, governed by the militant group Hamas, that seized Gaza in 2007. While Hamdallah’s government included representatives agreed on by both Fatah and Hamas, reconciliation efforts stalled and it never extended its authority over Gaza.
Mustafa al-Sawaf, a Gaza-based political analyst, said the new government “will be unable to resolve the various mounting Palestinian crises, including economy and security.”