New Palestinian PM is walking into a bear pit

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 7, 2013

Professor Rami Hamdallah, the man appointed this week as the Palestinian Authority's new prime minister, is virtually unknown outside Palestinian circles.

That does not necessarily matter. He is a respected linguist, a skilled administrator and a successful fundraiser who, over the past 15 years, has been at the helm of the largest university in the West Bank. Under his management, A-Najah University in Nablus has been transformed into a thriving establishment.

His considerable skills, however, may not be enough for him to deal with the challenging legacy left to him by Salam Fayyad.

It took Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas nearly two months to select a successor to Mr Fayyad who, while nearly universally popular outside Palestinian circles, continuously fought internal rivals and finally resigned when he felt that he had lost Mr Abbas's confidence.

During his years as prime minister, Mr Fayyad was credited with putting the PA's finances in order and helping create, with significant American support, a stable security apparatus that co-operated with Israel in establishing relative calm and stability in the West Bank.

Fayyad has left Hamdallah a challenging legacy

Prof Hamdallah will find him a difficult act to follow, especially since, officially, he will head a temporary government, one that is supposed to last until Fatah and Hamas finally agree on a formula for Palestinian unity.

That unity seemed further away than ever on Sunday when Hamas declared his appointment "illegal".

While trying to manoeuvre between his unreliable boss, a fractious Fatah and a hostile Hamas, the professor's main task will be to continue paying salaries to civil servants and security personnel and keep the fragile Palestinian economy afloat.

The US has put together a $4bn economic development package but it will take months, perhaps years, before it benefits the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the new prime minister will also have to decide whether to back Mr Abbas in his stance on potential peace talks. Whatever he decides will be unpopular with some of the parties.

While the Americans, the Europeans and at least part of the Israeli government are praying for him to succeed, many at home are waiting for him to fail.

Last updated: 1:45pm, June 7 2013