Abbas picks loyalist Shtayyeh as Palestinian prime minister
11 Mar 2019
A Palestinian fisherman moves a boat along the sandy beach in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Agence France-Presse
Economist Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the West Bank’s dominant Fatah party, was named Palestinian prime minister on Sunday in what the rival Hamas group that runs Gaza called a blow to unity efforts.
The appointment was announced six weeks after Rami al-Hamdallah tendered his resignation from the post and the resignation of his unity government to President Mahmoud Abbas, underscoring the failure of Hamas and Fatah to implement a power-sharing deal.
Speaking to Palestine Television, Shtayyeh said he would immediately begin consultations with factions belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which Abbas heads, on forming a new cabinet.
Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since seizing the enclave from Fatah in 2007, is not a member of the PLO. Ismail Rudwan, a senior official in the hardliner group, said the creation of “a separatist government... will prolong Palestinian division”.
Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal in November 2017 calling for Abbas’ West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) to resume governing in Gaza and take control of its crossing points into Egypt and Israel.
However, disputes quickly arose on how to implement the agreement. Another sticking point has been policy towards Israel, which has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war and maintained tight control of Gaza’s borders since withdrawing settlers and troops from the area in 2005.
Shtayyeh’s immediate challenge is to shore up the cash-strapped PA, which exercises limited self-rule under interim peace accords with Israel.
The PA has been squeezed by steep US aid cuts, with the cash crisis exacerbated by a dispute with Israel over the withholding of some 5 per cent of the monthly tax revenues it transfers to the Authority.
Israel said the money it is holding back is used by the PA to pay stipends to families of militants killed or jailed by Israel. The PA has refused to accept any tax transfers until those funds are restored.
Shtayyeh, seen largely as a technocrat, most recently headed the Palestinian Economic Council for Research and Development, a donor coordination and advocacy body established by the PLO in 1993. Israeli aircraft struck Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early on Sunday after a rocket from the Palestinian enclave hit the Jewish state, the army said.
“Fighter jets and aircraft struck several military targets in a Hamas compound in the northern Gaza Strip in addition to two Hamas vessels,” a statement from the army said.
The attacks were in response to a rocket fired from Gaza late Saturday that “in addition to the continued violence emanating from the Gaza Strip,” the army said.
The rocket hit an open field in Israel’s Eshkol region, causing no casualties or damages.
Gazans have been launching balloons carrying explosive devices at Israel and stepping up attempts to damage the border fence on a daily basis for more than 10 day, prompting Israeli retaliation.
Israeli forces said Saturday they had launched several strikes against Hamas sites in Gaza in response to a projectile launched from the coastal enclave the night before.
At least 253 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 2018, the majority shot during weekly border protests and others hit by tank fire or air strikes in response to violence from Gaza.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.
Israel and Hamas, which has controlled the blockaded Gaza Strip for over a decade, have fought three wars since 2008.
The United States accused the Palestinians of manufacturing a crisis by rejecting the first 2019 monthly tax transfer from Israel because it slashed a portion designated for financial support to families of militants jailed in Israel.
The United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss the issue at the request of Kuwait and Indonesia. U.S President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt represented Washington at the meeting.
“It is entirely inappropriate to focus on Israel as the source of this crisis. It is the Palestinian Authority that has chosen to manufacture the current crisis,” Greenblatt told the 15-member council, according to UN diplomats in attendance.