Who’s Who in the New PA Government

Last week, a new Palestinian Authority (PA) government was announced after a reconciliation agreement between the PLO and Hamas decided to establish a consensus government of independents and technocrats to pave the way for new elections. Obviously, the technocrat part was very important for various reasons. First, it allows the parties to side-step what would almost certainly be an impossible-to-overcome dispute over which party controls which ministries. Second, and this was of course most important to Abbas’ Fatah faction, keeping Hamas members out of the ministerial positions would help keep western donor dollars flowing smoothly. Third, putting specialists in charge of specialized ministries is not a bad idea.

But despite the fact that Hamas was explicitly not involved in the government, U.S. mainstream coverage of the new government focused on its involvement. Numerous outlets, including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times ran stories with headlines stating that Hamas was part of the government (even though several paragraphs into the article you would learn they are not). By and large, U.S. coverage echoed Israeli talking points about the government by overstating the role Hamas played in it (none) in an effort to label it a “terrorist” government. What supported this echo chamber in the coverage was the lack of any mention of who the actual members of the government were. Instead of actually telling readers who the ministers were and what their backgrounds and qualifications are, most journalists in the mainstream covering the government mainly presented it as a he said/he said, pitting the Israeli narrative about “terrorists in suits” with the Palestinian narrative about independents. We’ve pulled together some actual biographical information about the members of the new PA government in a effort to convey some of the information mainstream journalists thought was secondary in priority to blanket Israeli descriptions aimed at smearing Palestinians.

Rami Hamdallah- Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior

Rami Hamdallah was born in the West Bank village of Anabta to a well off political family. His father served as deputy mayor and his uncle served in the Jordanian Parliament. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Jordan, following up with master’s and PhD degrees at universities in the UK. He spent the majority of his professional career in academia, primarily at the al-Najah National University where he began as the chair of the English department in 1988 and eventually served as president from 1998 to 2013. As president of the university, Hamdallah secured USD $300 million in donations, mostly from expatriate Palestinians.

In 2013 Hamdallah was appointed to prime minister of the Palestinian Authority by President Mahmoud Abbas, where he threatened with resignation only two weeks in to office amid conflict with ministers. Due to his previous appointment by Abbas, his 2014 appointment to the same position in the unity government comes as a foreseen move. Hamas has endorsed Hamdallah as the prime minister of the new government. Hamdallah is also an attractive candidate for both Abbas and the United States as he has spent his career outside Palestinian politics and has little ties to political parties other than the West-aligned Fateh.

Ziad Abu Amr – Deputy Prime Minister of Political Affairs, Minister of Culture

Ziad Abu Amr was born in 1950 in Gaza City. He is currently married, with four children, and living in the West Bank. He grew up in Gaza but left to complete his higher education. He received his bachelor’s in English literature and language from Damascus University. He then attended Georgetown in the United States to receive his master’s and PhD in comparative politics.

His work experience has largely been a combination of academic and political positions. He was a professor of political science at Birzeit University in Ramallah from 1985 to 1996. He has authored several publications including the book Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad. In 1996, the year Hamas did not participate in PLC elections in protest, Abu Amr was elected to represent Gaza City as an independent. In 2003 he was appointed as the Minister of Culture in the PA. He is the president of the Palestinian Council of Foreign Relations and the Deputy Secretary-General of MIFTAH, a Palestinian civil rights organization.

In terms of political ideology, Abu Amr largely aligns with the young guard. He is a political ally of Mahmoud Abbas and has been quite vocal about the negative effect suicide bombings have had on international image. He also believes that a true Palestinian democracy rests on the inclusion of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the form of opposition groups. These views have likely made him an appealing choice for the new unity government.

Muhammad Mustafa – Deputy Prime Minister of Economic Affairs, Minister of National Economy

Muhammad Mustafa was born in 1954 in Palestine, but spent most of his young life outside of his home country. He completed his secondary education in Kuwait and then attended George Washington University in the United States. There he received his master’s and Phd in management and economics. Later he attended the University of Baghdad to complete a bachelors in electrical engineering.

After completing his studies, Mustafa continued to travel. He worked as a professor at George Washington University, and as a senior official in the World Bank for fifteen years. There, his focus was on the economic development of several countries. In addition, he was the economic reform adviser to the government of Kuwait and the lead adviser to the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 2005, Mustafa decided to return to Palestine to bring his expertise in economic development to his home country. He became the chairman and chief executive officer of the Palestine Investment Fund. His stated goals were to make Palestine less dependent on foreign aid and to create a more diversified and sustainable economy that could generate employment and opportunities for Palestinians. In terms of policy, Mustafa has expressed interest in increasing the role of private investment in the Palestinian market over donor packages. In a 2013 interview, he promoted the the use of private investment to reduce arrears and spoke specifically about the important role of government in implementing policy that will facilitate this strategy.

Ali Abu Diak – Secretary General of the Council of Ministers

Born in the northern West Bank city of Jenin in 1967, Abu Diak earned a law degree from the University of Jordan and he also completed a master’s degree from the Institute of Law at Birzeit University. Abu Diak served as legal adviser to the Legislative Council from 1996 to 2003, and then as Director General of Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Justice until 2007. He then served as assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice before becoming President of the Court of Fatwas and Legislation in 2012.

Shukri Bishara – Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning

A political “independent,” Bishara has spent his career in finance. He received his bachelor’s at the American University of Beirut and a master in economics at the University College in London. Professionally, Bishara has served as former vice chairman of the Palestine Electric Company, chairman at the Jordanian based financial advising company AIMS, head of the Arab Bank and as a member of the PA Cabinet since 2013.

Bishara has been outspoken about the financial crisis facing the PA since being appointed office in 2013. Bishara stated in 2013 that the PA is facing five billion dollars in budget deficits. The finance minister also claimed that the Arab donations that the PA relies on to fund their government, as well as pay the salaries of civil servants, can only cover around 50 percent of the current budget deficit. The IMF has called the state of the West Bank economy “increasingly precarious,” and blames Israel’s “restrictions on movement and access” for continuing to hamper growth in the occupied economy.

Bishara inherits an economy that recently experienced its first decline in growth in a decade last year. Reuters reported that both the West Bank and Gaza “saw annual economic growth of some 9 percent in the years 2008-2011. That slowed to just 1.9 percent year on year in the first six months of 2013, with West Bank GDP contracting.” Yet, even as the Palestinian GDP experienced growth in the early parts of the 21st century, conditions in the lives of Palestinians have not improved, as “unemployment and poverty have grown to affect around a quarter of Palestinians.”

Nayaf Abu Khalaf – Minister of Local Governance

Nayaf Abu Khalaf, the appointed local governance minister, has a largely academic background. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration from the University of Jordan, a master’s degree
in political science from Northeastern Illinois University Chicago and a PhD in peace studies from the School of Peace Studies at Bradford University.

After completing his education, Abu Khalaf began his career in academia at An-Najah University. He began as a lecturer on political science and later became chairman of the department of political science. He was soon promoted to the vice president of Cultural Affairs and University Relations and later became the co-director of the master’s program. He authored the book The European Community and the International Conference for Pace in the Middle East. Alongside his regular employment, Abu Khalaf was engaged in the An-Najah University employees union and the Al-Amiriyaa Housing Society.

Rula Maaya – Minister of Tourism and Antiquities

Rula Maaya will be keeping her position as tourism minister. She has spoken about Israeli efforts to hinder the growth of the Palestinian tourism sector. In 2013, the tourism sector in Palestine saw significant growth, but also had several major instances of Israeli intervention. In December of 2014, five tourism ministers from various Arab states attempting to enter the Bethlehem in order to attend Christmas celebrations were refused entry by Israel. This is just one example of a greater trend in Palestine and Israel, of a diminishing Christian presence. This issue has been of concern to Maaya considering the amount of tourism revenue provided by Christian tourists every year.

Haifa al-Agha – Minister of Women’s Affairs

Haifa al-Agha obtained her PhD in Educational Studies from Oklahoma State University in 1991. She stayed at OSU to work in the College of Education.

After returning to Palestine, she worked as a resident of the Faculty of Education and as a lecturer for the psychology department at al-Aqsa University in Gaza. Al-Agha served as the former director of internal control for the Ministry of Education in the previous Faaeh government, general director of the Internal Monitoring Department in the Ministry of Health and director general of the Palestinian Authority Education Ministry’s in Gaza. When Hamas came into control in Gaza in 2007, she assumed the position of director of the Ministry of Education in the Hamas government.

While serving as the director general of the Ministry of Education in Gaza, Al-Agha reported that student failure rates at schools run by the Palestinian Authority in Gaza were deliberately lowered in order to handle the situation of overcrowded classrooms, too few schools and limited educational funds.

Mamoun Abu Shahla – Minister of Labor

Mamoun Abu Shahla was born in Acre in 1943. He was educated in Gaza, Egypt and the United States, holds a British passport and has lived in Gaza since 2006. Abu Shahla has served on the director’s board of the Bank of Palestine, al-Azhar University, the Atta GazaSsociety, the Palestinian Trade Center and the Palestinian Telecommunications Company, which has privatized and monopolized telecommunications services in Gaza after the Oslo II agreement.

In 2006, Abu Shahla wrote an article for the online BBC about the strained status of the banks in Gaza. In the article, the minister addressed the banks’ problematic relationship with the Hamas government, as the banks were taking blame for the economic situation in Gaza. Abu Shahla responded to the accusations by claiming, “Everyone has to understand that banks are different; their role is not to save people. Our aim today was to explain to Ismail Haniyah that we have a limited part to play in solving the government’s problems. I believe we succeeded in that. We are under a mutual understanding with international banks to avoid dealing with the Hamas government.”

Mufeed Hasayneh – Minister of Public Works and Housing

One of the leaders of the political independents in the Gaza Strip, Hasayneh is also a prominent businessman and owns the company Al-Husayna Business. He received his PhD in engineering and project management in the United States and lived there for ten years before returning to the Gaza Strip.

Al-Hasayneh participated in the 2012 dialogues for Palestinian reconciliation in Cairo as a representative of political independents in the Gaza Strip. He currently is president of the Nadi Al-Mushtel Al-Riyadi in the Gaza Strip.

Mufeed Hasayneh lives in the Gaza Strip. He and two other Gaza ministers were prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip for the inauguration ceremonies. They were sworn into office by way of livestream video.

Yusef Adeis – Minister of Religion and Waqfs

Sheikh Adeis was born in 1960 in a small Bedouin village in the Jerusalem governorate. He received his bachelor’s degree in Da’wa and the origins of religion at Al-Quds University in 1983 and received a master’s in fiqh, legislation and its origins in 2008 at the same university.

He spoke voluntarily at mosques in the northwest of Jerusalem and was appointed as a judge of Shari’a in 1993 in a number of villages in the West Bank. He also headed a number of positions in the Shari’a court system and was appointed deputy to the Chief Justice in Palestine and deputy to the president of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Courts. He was additionally appointed as professor of Personal Status and Inheritance Matters at the College of Law at Birzeit University and the School of Law at the Modern University College in Ramallah. Sheikh Adeis served as president of the Higher Sharia Court Council and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Courts and was the acting Chief Justice of Palestine.

In 2013, on the 44th anniversary of the burning of al-Aqsa mosque, Adeis spoke out about the imminent physical collapse of the mosque. He targeted repeated raids of the site by members of the local, radical Jewish population as well as archeological excavations under and around the mosque for destabilizing al-Aqsa. The archeological digs have garnered criticism for intentionally speeding up the collapse of the sight, as they interfere with the land surrounding the 1300 year-old building.

Riyad al-Maliki – Minister of Foreign Affairs

Born in 1955, Dr. al-Maliki first received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Pontifical Xavierian University in 1978. He continued his studies at the American University and received his Ph.D. in civil engineering. He is a former professor at Birzeit University and worked at the university in the engineering department beginning in 1978, becoming head of the civil engineering department.

In July 2007, al-Maliki was named the Minister of Information of the Palestinian National Authority, as well as Foreign Minister. He also founded and headed Panorama, the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development.

Hamas has publicly taken a negative stance to Maliki’s nomination. Abu Zuhri, a spokesman from the party in Gaza, stated, “Al-Maliki is undesirable from a nationalistic point of view as he used to have very negative stances, especially towards the Gaza Strip.” Ma’an reported that despite Hamas’ reservations about Maliki’s appointment, they are willing to compromise and state that the unity government will, “move forward regardless and the government will be announced even if al-Maliki remains a cabinet minister.”

Salim al-Saqqa – Minister of Justice

Born in the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip in 1954, al-Saqqa received his primary and secondary education in his hometown. He graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Alexandria in 1978. He worked in the legal profession for 35 years and is a board member of several Palestinian NGOs.

Al-Saqqa was nominated for the presidency of the Council of the Judicial Institute of the Ministry of Justice in 2003. An advocate for Palestinian reconciliation throughout the past seven years, the new justice minister participated in many events, marches and sit-ins in the city of Khan Younis calling for the end of Palestinian division.

In 2008, he joined the debate regarding the Palestinian Authority presidential term, stating that it is difficult to handle due to the lack of legal recourse in the debate. Al-Saqqa maintained that both sides of the debate are politically motivated and therefore cannot be settled through legal justification. He called for committing to the general principles of the law in order to settle the ongoing crisis.

Khawla al-Shakhsheer – Minister of Education

Born in Nablus, Dr. al-Shakhsheer first received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, only to change paths and receive her diploma of education from the University of Ain Shams a little while later. She then traveled to the United States and received her master’s degree and PhD in curriculum and science education from the University of Northern Colorado. She was a professor of educational sciences in the Faculty of Education at Birzeit University. She has served as the dean of the Graduate Studies Faculty, the head of the education and psychology department as well as the Master of Education program and as director of the Teachers’ Training Program, all at Birzeit University.

Outside of Birzeit University, al-Shakhsheer has worked as a consultant for various education programs and institutions in Palestine, including UNDP, UNESCO, UNCTAD, UNRWA and Save the Children. She is a board member of the Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission (AQAC) in Palestine.

Allam Moussa – Minister of Transportation, Minister of Communication and Information Technology

Allam Moussa graduated from Eastern Mediterranean University with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, ranking first out of EEE graduates and second out of general university graduates. In 1992, he received a master’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering at EMU, and in 1996 he obtained a PhD in the same field.

Since 1990, Moussa has been involved in science education at institutes of higher education. He was a teaching and research assistant at EMU between 1990 and 1996, worked in the electronic and engineering department at Al-Quds University between 1996 and 2000 and he taught part-time at Al-Quds Open University in Nablus from 2000 to 2008. Since 2009, he has been promoted to the Directors of Quality Assurance Unit at An-Najah University and deputy president for Planning Development and Quality at the same university.

His experience also includes acting as chairman and co-founder of the Palestine subsection of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2012 as well as acting as counselor and co-founder of the student branch of IEEE at An-Najah University. He has traveled globally, presenting his research at conferences in Croatia and attending workshops in Germany, Bahrain, and India. Moussa’s research interests include quality assurance and planning for higher education as well as digital signal processing. Moussa speaks Arabic, English, and Turkish.

Shawqi al-Ayasa – Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Social Affairs, Minister of Prisoners

Born in Dheisheh camp in Bethlehem in 1962, Al-Ayasa received his master’s degree in international law at the Moscow State University in 1990. Afterwards, al-Ayasa worked as a visiting researcher for one year at Harvard University in 1999. He acted as one of the judges at the Supreme Court in 1998, focusing on Human Rights cases. Additionally, he has worked for several international organizations since 1990, focusing on the defense of human rights.

At a ceremony in Ramallah commemorating his appointment to Minister of Agriculture, al-Ayasa spoke boldly about the importance of his duties as minister, including, “confronting the [Israeli] settlements,” and, “defending the [Palestinian] farmers.”

Ma’an News Agency reported on 6 June 2014 that the new Minister of Prisoners would consider the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israel his top priority. “They won’t be left prey to the occupation’s savagery and grudges.”

Adnan al-Husseini – Minister of Jerusalem Affairs

Born in Jerusalem in 1947, al-Husseini attended al-Ibrahimieh School, graduating in 1965. He studied architecture at Ain Shams University in Egypt, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1970. He became the supervisor of Islamic waqfs and worked on several projects in the West Bank and Jerusalem, including the renovation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the arson attack in 1969. In the 1980s, he became a member of the sub-committee for the Restoration of Waqf Properties in the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1989 he became the Director General of the Islamic Waqf Administration and has retained the position since. He is also a member of the Committee for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Amman.

Al-Husseini has also worked with local educational institutions. Between the 1970s and 1990s he served as technical advisor for Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi School, contributing in renovating both the school building and its Palestinian Heritage Museum. Other activities and positions include his work as a member of the board of directors of Al-Rahmah Charitable Home for the Elderly as well as for the Palestinian Society for the Physically Impaired in Jerusalem. He served as head of the Palestinian Housing Council in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from 1999 to 2003 and has been a member of the advisory committee of the Higher Council for Tourism in Jerusalem since 1999. In 2008, al-Husseini became governor of Jerusalem and in 2012 he was named Minister for Jerusalem Affairs.

Jawad Awwad – Minister of Health

Born in the town of Sa’ir in the governorate of Hebron, Dr. Awwad studied medicine in the Republic of the Ukraine, specializing in dermatology. He later practiced dermatology in the Medical Army Services. In 2009, he was elected as Head of Physicians at the Jerusalem Center and re-elected for the position in 2011 and again in 2013. In June 2013, Awwad was sworn in as Minister of Health to serve in the 15th government under the leadership of Rami Hamdallah.