On Thursday, March 14, Mohammed Moustafa was designated by Mahmoud Abbas as the new Palestinian Prime Minister. Behind the name lies a seasoned economist whose proximity to the Palestinian President can do him harm.

On Thursday, March 14, the name of the former prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh – who left office on Monday, February 26 – was revealed for the first time: Mohammed Moustafa. Moustafa is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and an economist recognized by the Palestinian Authority.

A World-Renowned Economic Expert

Mohammed Moustafa was born in the governorate of Tulkarm, West Bank. He studied engineering at the University of Baghdad, then obtained a PHD in economics from George Washington University in the United States.

Moustafa would then have a 15-year career (1991-2005) at the World Bank, where he held several positions linked to the Middle East, in the fields of private sector development, infrastructure, industry and energy, project financing, and information and communications technology.

Mohammed Moustafa also held other key positions, being the first CEO of the Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel, from 1995 to 1996. He was then hired as advisor at the Saudi public investment fund, from 1997 to 1998, before being named advisor for the government of Kuwait on economic matters in 2000.

Palestinian Authority service

Moustafa began collaborating with the Palestinian Authority in 2005, and was chosen to be director general of the Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF), which would allow him to work both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

He then became deputy Prime Minister of the three governments formed by former Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, from 2013 to 2015. Moustafa was deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs in the first government, and later became in charge of national economy in the second.

His mission remained the same in the third “national unity” government that was formed following the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in 2014. As such, he was in charge of the reconstruction of Gaza after Israel declared war there the same year.

However, this same dossier led him to resign in April 2015, as a reaction against the nascent power struggle between the two organizations, according to an anonymous Palestinian official interviewed by RFI the following day. Moustafa became President of the PIF again shortly thereafter.

Recognized expertise and network

Mohammed Moustafa’s long career and extensive experience with international institutions gave him recognition as a technical expert. As a result, he would be given power to restore a flailing economy, able as he is to attract foreign funds and formulate adequate economic policies.

Indeed, Mahmoud Abbas had facilitated corruption, with devastating effects for the PA’s economy. According to the Washington Institute, an American think tank, this was how 87% of Palestinians in the West Bank viewed it at the start of the current conflict, detractors accusing him of collusion with Israel notwithstanding.

Lastly, Mohammed Moustafa is perceived as politically independent. This neutrality of sorts could, among other things, facilitate the forming of a national unity government representing all of the Palestinian territories. His previous experience would prove particularly useful in that field.

A report published by the New York Times in January 2024 stated that talks between Arab, American, and Israeli officials over the post-war effort might include a transfer of power to the Prime Minister, leaving the Palestinian President with no prerogatives. If such a reform is put in place, Moustafa would become the main figure of the Palestinian Authority.

Not Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Mohammed Moustafa did raise some suspicion, however. Although considered as independent, it remains that he is a close advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, on economic matters mainly. Such proximity could not only come with a political price to pay, but is also liable to impact the his future cabinet.

That, and Dr. Moustafa is perceived as corrupt by some Palestinians and Western officials, as indicated by Foreign Policy in 2015. His name being mentioned in the Panama Papers does in no way help his reputation.

Interviewed by the Times of Israel on March 13, a European diplomat declared that the new cabinet is the result of “cosmetic” reforms, for lack of better initiatives. According to the same diplomat, the nomination of Dr. Moustafa happened for lack of cooperation with Israel.

Mohammed Moustafa is therefore a controversial figure of the Palestinian political and economic scene. While his technical contribution and experience on the international level are an added value, his past practices raise questions about his ability to operate efficiently. His potential as future Prime Minister will depend on his capacity to face these challenges and step outside the shadow of Mahmoud Abbas.