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Palestinian PM Shtayyeh resigns, paving way for technocratic government

Arabic media reports said Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the board of the Palestine Investment Fund, is likely to be appointed by Abbas as the new prime minister.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh chairs a cabinet meeting amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Ramallah, West Bank, Feb. 20, 2024.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh submitted his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, amid reports that a new government made up of technocrats will be formed to oversee the Gaza Strip after the Israeli war in the enclave ends.

Speaking at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah, Shtayyeh said he had informed Abbas last Tuesday of his intention to resign and that he officially handed in the written resignation on Monday.

“This decision comes in light of the political, security and economic developments related to the aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip, and the unprecedented escalation in the West Bank, including the city of Jerusalem,” he said in his address, according to the official WAFA news agency.

Shtayyeh referred to the unprecedented attempts at displacing the Palestinian people in Gaza, settlement expansion in the West Bank and attempts to liquidate the United Nations refugee agency (UNRWA), among other developments.

He said his resignation will pave the way for a new government formation and political arrangement that would take into account the new reality imposed in the Gaza Strip and the need to achieve Palestinian reconciliation, all the while extending the Palestinian Authority's (PA) rule over all of the Palestinian territories.

Shtayyeh stressed that the PA will continue to fight the Israeli occupation and seek the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Is a technocratic government in the works?

Monday's move comes as Abbas is reportedly mulling the formation of a nonpartisan government made up of independent figures who are not affiliated with any Palestinian faction in order to oversee post-war Gaza and its reconstruction, as well as reforming the PA’s institutions.

An unnamed Palestinian official told Sky News Arabia on Sunday that Abbas is expected to nominate Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the board of the Palestine Investment Fund, as the new prime minister.

The source said that a technocratic government may be formed by the end of the week and will be composed of independent officials and experts to lead the upcoming transitional period.

Shtayyeh’s resignation comes amid growing US pressure to overhaul the PA and form a new government capable of running post-war Gaza.

US President Joe Biden has been seeking a revitalized PA to administer both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after the war.

However, the Biden administration is reportedly concerned about reports that the PA is on the brink of insolvency, which would jeopardize its plan to have an efficient PA running Gaza, The Washington Post reported last week.

The PA has been facing a debilitating economic crisis over the past years due to US and foreign funding cuts, worsened by Israel withholding funds earmarked for the PA.

Mustafa, who is also a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, holds extensive experience and wide-range expertise in economic affairs. He has served as Abbas’ senior economic adviser since 2005 and held the position of minister of national economy in 2013-14.

Mustafa was an economic reform adviser to Kuwait in 2000, and between 1997 and 1998, he served as the lead adviser on privatization and public-private partnerships for the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Another challenge facing the US plan is the PA’s declining popularity. According to a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 92% of Palestinians in the West Bank want Abbas to resign, while support for Hamas in the West Bank has reached 44%, compared to 12% three months prior, before the war erupted.

Many in the West Bank have criticized the PA’s security coordination with Israel for the increase of Israeli army raids and settler attacks in the West Bank in the past years, which could explain the emergence of armed groups across the territory.

Hamas’ position

Hamas, which has been controlling the Gaza Strip since 2007 after expelling PA and Fatah officials following violent infighting, has reportedly backed the idea of a technocratic government running the enclave after the war.

Qatar reportedly informed Abbas during his visit to the Gulf state earlier this month that Hamas approved the formation of a technocratic government whose mission would be to rebuild Gaza and restore security after the war, according to a Ramallah-based Palestinian official who spoke to Sky News Arabia on Feb. 13.

Commenting on Shtayyeh’s resignation on Monday, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters that such a move must be followed by a broader deal on governance for the Palestinians.

“The resignation of Shtayyeh's government only makes sense if it comes within the context of national consensus on arrangements for the next phase,” Abu Zuhri said.

The Palestinian factions are due to meet in Moscow later this week. According to a statement by Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to the Russian state news agency TASS, representatives from 12-14 Palestinian organizations — including Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad — will convene for talks on the Israel-Hamas war and the Palestinian reconciliation.

Fatah member Ayman al-Raqab told TASS last week that the factions' meeting in Moscow is expected to reach an agreement on the formation of a unified Palestinian government of technocrats.

In parallel to the behind-the-scenes negotiations on a government formation, mediation talks on a Gaza cease-fire are ongoing amid mounting pressure on Israel as the death toll in the Gaza Strip has reached nearly 30,000.

At least 29,782 Palestinians, the majority of whom are women and children, have been killed and more than 70,043 injured in the Israeli offensive on Gaza, according to the latest figures issued by the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military launched its air and ground campaign in retaliation to Hamas’ surprise cross-border attack Oct. 7, during which militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 others hostage.

The Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators are scrambling to bridge the differences between Hamas and Israel and reach a cease-fire that would see the release of the remaining hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts March 10.

Israel believes 136 hostages remain inside Gaza, including at least 32 who have been killed since the offensive began. A total of 110 hostages, and 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails were freed during a brief seven-day truce last November.

Talks between experts from Egypt, Qatar, the United States and Israel resumed in Doha on Sunday, according to Egyptian media.