New Palestinian PM is academic star, diplomatic rookie

NABLUS, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - Incoming Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah is a respected academic mandarin in the Arab world but relatively unknown beyond it.

Close to the Palestinian nationalist Fatah movement of president Mahmud Abbas, he is said to be moderate and pragmatic, like his predecessor Salam Fayyad.

Born in 1958 in Anabta, near Tulkarem in the northern West Bank, the 54-year-old is president of the largest Palestinian university, Al-Najah, in the northern city of Nablus.

The British-educated Hamdallah is generally considered to have done a skilled job of running the institution of nearly 20,000 students since August 1998.

He had taught in Al-Najah's English department since 1982 and also served as dean of the arts faculty.

Hamdallah suffered a personal tragedy in 2000 when his son and two of his daughters were killed in a collision with an Israeli lorry and his wife, who was driving, was seriously injured.

Bespectacled, with short hair and neatly trimmed moustache, Hamdallah has a master's degree in linguistics from Britain's Manchester University and a PhD from nearby Lancaster University.

He is said to maintain many professional contacts with Israelis.

Hamdallah enjoys great respect with the public and in official Palestinian circles. His name circulated for several weeks as a candidate to replace Fayyad and he has previously declined an offer to become premier.

He said on Monday that he expected his tenure at the head of a largely unchanged interim cabinet to be brief and lead to the formation of a government of national unity of Abbas's Fatah party and its Islamist rival, Hamas.

Such a coalition was contained in an as-yet unfulfilled unity agreement signed in 2011.

"I hope that on August 14, president Abbas will form a new government, under the agreement between Hamas and Fatah," Hamdallah said.