President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas is to choose an old friend and ally from within the Fatah party to become the new Palestinian prime minister.
Abbas is expected to choose Mohammad Shtayyeh for the role, after the central committee of Fatah – the faction which dominates the PA – approved the decision earlier this week. The appointment will officially be made "in the next few days," the Times of Israel reported.
The choice of Shtayyeh, who is a long-time friend and ally of Abbas, will likely be seen as an effort to tighten the president and Fatah's hold on the PA. This comes in the context of Fatah's ongoing feud with Hamas, which has governed the besieged Gaza Strip since it won the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in 2006.
Shtayyeh will replace Rami Hamdallah, who has served as the PA's prime minister since 2013. Though Hamdallah is affiliated with Fatah, he does not hold an official position in the organisation and has generally been seen as politically neutral. Hamdallah resigned in January as part of Abbas' efforts to form a new Palestinian government, saying "we put our government at the disposal of President Mahmoud Abbas and we welcome the recommendations of the Fatah Central Committee to form a new government".
Abbas' efforts raised eyebrows when the president announced that any new government would only be comprised of members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), a symbolic umbrella organisation made up of a number of Palestinian factions. However, since Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not part of the PLO, they will not be included in the new government.
Hamas slammed its exclusion, with the movement's spokesman Fawzi Barhoum saying: "Fatah's call for forming a new government consisting of PLO factions will solidify the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip." Another Hamas spokesman, Hazem Qassem, called the move a "severe blow to efforts to achieve Palestinian national unity". Other Palestinian factions, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), refused to take part in the new government in protest.
In an unprecedented revelation, in February it emerged that a number of Arab countries had been intervening in the consultations to form a new government. In exclusive statements to Al-Khaleej Online, high-level Palestinian sources in the occupied West Bank revealed that "Egypt and Saudi Arabia [had] been directly intervening in the consultations and suggesting ideas on the new government's ministers" in the hope that the new government would "satisfy all the external parties".
The sources also revealed that Egypt and Saudi Arabia had extensive say over the choice of Shtayyeh, explaining: "There is consensus on some political personalities. However, according to most indicators and consultations with the Arab countries, the Prime Minister will be Mohammed [Shtayyeh], member of Fatah's Central Committee whose name was recommended by several Arab countries, and has the acceptance of Israel and the US."
Such intervention will be seen as evidence of the influence the two countries wield over the Palestinian factions and Israel respectively. Egypt has played an important role in trying to bring Fatah and Hamas to the discussion table and has been a key broker in efforts to reach a truce between Hamas and Israel in the wake of the Great March of Return and repeated Israeli bombardments of the Strip.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has increasingly positioned itself as a key Israeli ally and encouraged other Arab and Muslim countries to normalise relations with Israel. The extent of Saudi-Israeli ties was exposed following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, shortly after which it emerged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had lobbied the US to protect Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman (MBS) from the controversial affair's fallout.