The newly appointed Palestinian prime minister, respected academic Rami Hamdallah, said he would strive to continue the work of his predecessor and that he was ready to stand aside for a Fatah-Hamas unity government.
A day after being hand-picked by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Hamdallah’s appointment was on Monday hailed by the United States.
Israeli observers also welcomed the arrival of someone they described as a moderate pragmatist.
Hamdallah, a British-educated independent, told the official Voice of Palestine radio that he expected to be in office until mid-August, when a unity government is due to be created.
“The new government will be a continuation of the last government, most of the ministers will continue to serve in their positions,” he said, adding his cabinet was “part of the reconciliation efforts”.
“I hope that by August 14, president Abbas will form a new government according to the agreement between Hamas and Fatah.”
News of the nomination was made public late Sunday on the last day of a deadline to find a successor to Salam Fayyad, who resigned in mid-April following months of tension with Abbas.
“President Abbas has asked me to form a new government, and I have accepted,” Hamdallah told AFP.
Under Palestinian law, he now has an initial three weeks to form a government, which can then be extended for another two if necessary.
Hamdallah, considered close to Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, is the head of Al-Najah University and secretary general of the Central Election Commission.
The 54-year-old was born in Anabta village near the northern town of Tulkarem. He has a doctorate in applied linguistics from Lancaster University in England.
His appointment is seen as an interim measure until Abbas can piece together a long-promised unity government as laid out in a 2011 agreement between Fatah and its political rival, the Islamist Hamas movement.
At a meeting in Cairo on May 14, Fatah, which dominates the Ramallah-based government, and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, agreed on a three-month deadline for establishing a unity government and setting an elections date.
Under the deal, the two sides were to have set up an interim cabinet of technocrats to prepare for elections, before establishing a unity government.
But the deal stalled over persistent in-fighting over the make-up of the caretaker cabinet.
“Hamdallah is a national patriot and an independent and we hope that he can lead the government for three months to give us an opportunity to form a united government with Hamas,” said Amin Maqbul, head of the Fatah Revolutionary Council.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, deeply involved in efforts to revive the long-dormant peace process, said it came “at a moment of challenge, which is also an important moment of opportunity”.
On Monday, in a forum in Washington organised by the American Jewish Community lobbying group, he urged Israel to resume long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.
“We are running out of time. We’re running out of possibilities… If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance,” said Kerry.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Hamdallah was an unknown political quantity.
“We do not know the new prime minister as a statesman but as a professor and we shall see how things develop,” he said. “It is to be hoped that we shall find ourselves faced with pragmatic people.”
But Israeli pundits hailed his appointment.
“Israeli officials see Rami Hamdallah as a moderate and a pragmatist who will follow the same political line as his predecessor,” army radio said, calling him someone who “knows how to speak to the West”.
“Hamdallah is close to Mahmud Abbas, he won’t overshadow him. He is more of a manager and not really a political leader, whereas Salam Fayyad appeared more and more like a rival to Abbas,” it said.
Unnamed Israeli sources quoted by Haaretz newspaper said it was unlikely he would be able to shape the political map.
Barak Ravid, the paper’s diplomatic correspondent, said he had taken on a Sisyphean task, assuming overnight “the most ungrateful job in the West Bank.
“His chances of success are so low that some would say agreeing to take the post is akin to taking a suicide mission.”