Mohammad Mustafa appointed Palestinian Prime Minister

Adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas seen as economic expert but may lack influence with key factions

Mohammad Mustafa, CEO of the Palestine Investment Fund, smiles at a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Friday, January 27, 2006.  Photographer:  Adam Berry/Bloomberg News
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Mohammad Mustafa, a technocrat who is considered close to President Mahmoud Abbas, has been appointed the new Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank.

Mr Abbas, known widely as Abu Mazen, has been under pressure from the US and others to reform the Palestinian Authority so it can be involved in a postwar settlement that could lead to it administering Gaza, where Hamas has ruled since 2007.

The resignation of Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh paved the way for a new government, with the appointment of Mr Mustafa on Thursday.

However, Palestinian officials and experts say that Mr Mustafa is too close to Mr Abbas to signal genuine reform, and could instead represent an attempt by the aged President to cling on to power.

“[Mr Mustafa] doesn't have his own constituency and he has been seen as being too close to Abu Mazen,” said Ghaith Al Omari, a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team.

“So ultimately, what's going to happen is, Abu Mazen will try to maintain the key authorities with himself, which is security and finance.”

The US welcomed the appointment and hopes a reform cabinet will be formed soon, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement issued by the White House.

"A reformed Palestinian Authority is essential to delivering results for the Palestinian people and establishing the conditions for stability in both the West Bank and Gaza," the statement added.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron shared his hope for lasting peace in the region with Mr Mustafa's appointment, saying on X: "I welcome the appointment of Mohammad Mustafa as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority.

"The formation of a new Palestinian government for the West Bank and Gaza, accompanied by an international support package, is one of the vital elements for a lasting peace."

Who is Mohammad Mustafa?

Mr Mustafa has served as a senior economic adviser to Mr Abbas for almost two decades and is seen as a financial specialist.

Born in 1954 in the village of Saffarin near Tulkarm in the occupied West Bank, Mr Mustafa received his education in Iraq and the US before a long career in finance and business.

He has led the Palestine Investment Fund since 2009. The fund was established by the PA in 2003 to promote the growth of infrastructure, real estate and telecoms in the Palestinian territories.

Mr Mustafa founded the Palestine Telecommunications Company (PalTel), alongside other businesses including Wataniya Mobile / Ooredoo Palestine.

He was deputy prime minister from 2013 to 2014 and is an independent member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's Executive Committee.

Despite serving as deputy prime minister, Mr Mustafa is seen as having no close links to the main political factions in Palestinian politics: Fatah, the most important party in the PLO, or its rival Hamas, which is now the target of Israel's war on the enclave.

Fatah's Central Committee reportedly favoured a member of its party over Mr Mustafa.

Hamas is open to a national consensus government and is prepared to accept not having members of its group officially in the government to make it palatable to the international community, as long as it has a say in appointing key ministers.

The group condemned Mr Abbas for the "unilateral" appointment of Mr Mustafa. "Making individual decisions and engaging in superficial and empty steps such as forming a new government without national consensus only reinforces a policy of unilateralism and deepens division," Hamas said in a statement.

Mr Mustafa's lack of factional connections could work against him, as he lacks the political base of other figures such as the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, who is widely seen as the most unifying candidate within the Palestinian territories, or Mohammed Dahlan, the former Fatah security commander living in exile.

“He's not a known figure. He's maybe a known name but he's not a known figure. And he has no political agenda, he is a political independent. So he doesn't have a political base,” said Mr Al Omari.

Too close to Abbas?

Mr Mustafa's lack of a political base and close relations with Mr Abbas mean his appointment has been seen as an attempt by the President to maintain power under the guise of reforms.

“I think Abu Mazen appoints people who he feels comfortable with and he's looking for somebody who is going to be able to serve as prime minister who is not going to be a challenge or as precedent – it's as simple as that. And Mohammad Mustafa is that person,” said Diana Buttu, former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team.

“The donors and Israel have been pushing for the complete decimation of Palestinian political parties and Palestinian political movements.

"This is why all you've heard for all of these past few years is technocratic government, technocratic government, technocratic government.

“What's behind the idea of a technocratic government it’s to not have a political movement.

“What is the role? We don't know exactly, what we do know is that Abu Mazen is going to want to continue to hold on to all of those political matters and that he doesn't want to have any political leadership that is embodied on the ground.”

Other experts have suggested the appointment is “performative” and part of Washington's plans for postwar Gaza and the West Bank.

“I don’t think most people are under the impression that Abu Mazen is committed to genuine reforms and so he is going through the motions with this impending appointment,” said Mairav Zonszein, senior analyst on Israel at the International Crisis Group.

“I think it’s part of the US effort to show that there is a restructured PA that can eventually take over the Gaza, but that is very very far away, and at this stage seems largely performative.”

Ms Zonszein added that Mr Mustafa's appointment is unlikely to make a difference in Israeli attitudes towards working with the PA.

“For those Israelis and the leadership who refuse to work with the PA, this probably will remain this way. And for those that think the PA is the only way to go, they will welcome the move,” she said.

International connections

Mr Mustafa is seen as having close relationships with the world of global finance and has studied and lived in the US.

One source described Mr Mustafa as “an expert with an international dimension and linked to the world of investment”.

After receiving his bachelor's degree at the University of Baghdad, he attended George Washington University in the US capital, where he earned a doctorate.

He has also served as a visiting professor at the American university, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He held prominent positions within the World Bank for about 15 years, and has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a gathering of the global political and financial elite.

Mr Mustafa has also worked in advisory roles for the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments.

In Saudi Arabia, he served as an adviser to the Public Investment Fund, one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds and a driving force behind the kingdom's domestic transformation.

Updated: March 15, 2024, 4:56 PM