NEWSMAKER-Who is Mohammad Mustafa - the man who could be next Palestinian PM?

Credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta

CAIRO/RAMALLAH, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Mohammad Mustafa, who is expected to become prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, is one of the leading Palestinian business figures and a rare ally of PA head Mahmoud Abbas who has overseen Gaza reconstruction under Hamas Islamist rule.

A U.S.-educated economist, he once ran the Palestinian telecoms company Paltel and more recently the PA's public Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), with nearly $1 billion in assets funding projects across the Palestinian territories.

He was tapped a decade ago to help lead reconstruction efforts in Gaza after an earlier war between Israel and Islamist militant group Hamas.

Palestinian leaders may hope he could now emerge as a unifying figure if asked to rebuild the enclave after nearly five months of Israeli bombardment since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

The internationally recognised PA, which exercises limited self rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank but lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007, aims to reunify governance of Palestinian lands after the Gaza war.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of Abbas's Fatah faction, stepped down this week to pave the way for a unity cabinet, and Fatah and Hamas are expected to meet in Moscow this week to discuss the future. Though close to Abbas, Mustafa is not a Fatah member, potentially making him less contentious.

It is not yet clear when Abbas might nominate him, and how long it could then take to form a government.

If appointed, Mustafa will face a huge task of management and diplomacy. Swathes of Gaza are now rubble and most of its 2.3 million people have been displaced and need aid. The West Bank, too, has seen the worst violence in decades.

In addition to overseeing billions in expected international aid, Mustafa will need both political buy-in from Hamas and its supporters and cooperation from Israel, which wants to eradicate Hamas.

Washington, which wants the PA to play a leading role in post-war governance of Gaza, has called for deep reforms in how it is run.

"Everyone is in crisis. Fatah is in crisis in the West Bank and Hamas is clearly in crisis in Gaza," Palestinian economist Mohammad Abu Jayyab said. Mustafa, 69, could represent the "way out" for both, he said.


Abbas appointed Mustafa as PIF chairman in 2015. He served as a deputy prime minister responsible for economic affairs from 2013 to 2014, when he led a committee tasked with rebuilding Gaza after the seven-week war in which more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed.

Speaking at Davos on Jan. 17, Mustafa said the "catastrophe and the humanitarian impact" of the war now was much greater than a decade ago.

Gaza health authorities say 30,000 people are confirmed killed, with thousands of others believed buried under rubble.

Israel says it will never cooperate with any Palestinian government that refuses to repudiate Hamas and its Oct. 7 attack, in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 abducted, according to Israeli tallies.

Mustafa, in his Davos remarks, described the Oct. 7 attack as "unfortunate for everybody".

"But it's also a symptom of a bigger problem ... that the Palestinian people have been suffering for 75 years non-stop," he said.

"Until today, we still believe that statehood for Palestinians is the way forward, so we hope that this time around we will be able to achieve that, so that all people in the region can live in security and peace," he said.

He is a member of the executive committee of the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which recognised Israel at the start of the peace process in 1993, hoping to establish a Palestinian state in territories captured by Israel in a 1967 war - the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

Biden administration officials have previously said they have urged Abbas to bring new blood, including technocrats and economic specialists, into a revamped PA to help govern post-war Gaza. But they have said they do not want to be seen pressuring for the approval or rejection of specific individuals.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions on whether it would support Mustafa’s appointment or had any concerns.


Mustafa has said the PA could do better "in terms of building better institutions, providing better governance so that ... we can reunite Gaza and the West Bank".

But "if we cannot remove occupation, no reformed government, no reformed institutions can actually build a good successful governing system, or develop a proper economy", he said.

Mustafa has a PhD in Business Administration and Economics from George Washington University, and has worked at the World Bank in Washington. He was born in the West Bank city of Tulkarm.

He said in his Jan. 17 remarks that $15 billion would be needed just to rebuild homes.

He said he would continue to focus on humanitarian efforts in the short and medium term, expressing hope that Gaza's borders would be opened and a reconstruction conference convened.

Asked what future role he saw for Hamas, Mustafa also said the "best way forward is to be as inclusive as possible", adding that he would like Palestinians to unite around the PLO agenda.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff and Timothy Heritage)

((; Reuters Messaging:

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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