Little-known academic is new Palestinian prime minister

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - The Palestinian president on Sunday picked a little-known academic as his new prime minister, according to the official government news agency, following the resignation of his chief rival.

Mr Mahmoud Abbas appointed Mr Rami Hamdallah to replace Mr Salam Fayyad, a respected US-educated economist.

Mr Fayyad frequently clashed with Mr Abbas and was seen as being too independent.

Appointing Mr Hamdallah is likely to shore up the president's power, because he is seen as being more pliant. The new prime minister was tasked with forming a new government of technocrats, not politicians.

Mr Hamdallah is a member of the Fatah Party led by Mr Abbas. He has no prior political or government experience.

Like Mr Fayyad, Mr Hamdallah is widely respected.

He is a British-educated English professor and has been dean of the Palestinian al-Najah University in the West Bank for the past 15 years. He has served as the secretary general of the Palestinian central elections commission since 2002. He has also held a series of prominent roles in university associations, according to his curriculum vitae, published on the al-Najah University website.

It was not clear how the move would affect the international standing of Mr Abbas. Mr Fayyad enjoyed wide support of the international community, particularly the United States, for moving to clean up the Palestinians' unwieldy bureaucracy and clamping down on corruption during his six years in power.

The move comes as the US tries to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Hamdallah in a statement on Sunday night and said that his appointment comes at a challenging time but that it created an opportunity.

"Together, we can choose the path of a negotiated two-state settlement that will allow Palestinians to fulfill their legitimate aspirations, and continue building the institutions of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state that will live in peace, security, and economic strength alongside Israel," the statement said.

Mr Kerry hopes to win Israeli approval for Palestinian economic projects in the West Bank. Mr Fayyad was considered key to overseeing the projects.

The appointment meant that Palestinians are unlikely to head to elections any time soon, keeping Mr Abbas in power as head of the Palestinian Authority, the Western-backed government has a measure of self-rule over Palestinians in the West Bank. His term was supposed to end in 2009.

Palestinians have faced political stagnation since the Islamic militant Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip five years ago. Efforts to heal the rift and hold elections in both territories have repeatedly failed.

Hamas officials swiftly condemned the appointment of a new prime minister without their consultation and said the move had no legal standing.

"This Cabinet does not represent the Palestinian people," said Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu. "The status of the new Cabinet is illegal."

Israel had no comment.

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