Written by: Akram Atallah

About two weeks ago, on the fourteenth of this month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appointed his economic advisor and member of the Executive Committee, Mohammad Mustafa, to form the 19th Palestinian government. This decision comes at a particularly challenging time for the Palestinian people, with the situation in Gaza being especially dire. The recent events in Gaza, including the destruction of homes and infrastructure, as well as the loss of life and displacement of many, have created an urgent need for reconstruction efforts. The new government faces significant challenges that surpass those of its predecessors, requiring it to bear a heavy burden that exceeds the capabilities of the Palestinian people. As the government begins its formation, it will need to prioritize the reconstruction of Gaza and address the pressing needs of its people. The task ahead is immense, but with the support of the Palestinian people and the international community, the government can work towards rebuilding Gaza and improving the lives of its residents.

Mustafa's government is facing extraordinary and challenging circumstances. The Palestinian issue gained international attention, but simultaneously encountered significant targeting by the occupation’s right-wing governments. These governments view the Palestinian Authority as an extension of an agreement signed by the "leftist" Labor Party. The Palestinian government's presence and political ambitions are seen as a threat to Israeli national security. The Israeli occupation government has continuously confiscated its funds, aiming to restrict it with various pretexts and justifications.

In the letter of assignment, tasks were specified in response to one of the most challenging moments in Palestinian history. According to the issued text, the government is mandated to lead, organize, and coordinate relief efforts in the Gaza Strip. It is also tasked with transitioning from relief efforts to economic recovery, unifying institutions across governorates, preparing for presidential and legislative elections, and implementing security, economic, and judicial reforms. These daunting tasks are compounded by two significant challenges. Firstly, the lack of resources and capabilities presents a major hurdle in meeting the urgent needs of Gaza, as outlined in the assignment. This underscores the necessity of external support for the government to successfully carry out its mission. Secondly, the assigned program directly conflicts with the agenda of the Israeli occupation government, particularly concerning Gaza. Israeli ministers have explicitly stated their opposition to extending authority and governance to the Strip. Additionally, holding elections faces considerable obstacles, as they are not permitted to take place in occupied Jerusalem. Palestinians argue that without Jerusalem's inclusion, elections cannot be considered legitimate.

The appointed Prime Minister brings a wealth of experience to his new role, having served as a former Deputy Prime Minister, worked at the World Bank, and previously managed the Gaza reconstructionissue. This background aligns well with the current challenges facing his government, which was formed under emergency-like circumstances without national consensus or understanding with the factions. Mustafa's mandate is primarily focused on economic, relief, and reconstruction efforts, given the complex crises awaiting his government. His most critical task, however, is to restore the Palestinian citizens' confidence in the government. This confidence has eroded over time, as reflected in public sentiment and opinion polls. It is evident that Mustafa's selection signals a shift towards addressing pressing economic and humanitarian issues, rather than engaging in purely political endeavors.

Reconstruction tasks may seem relatively straightforward as they primarily rely on external support. However, the real challenge lies in the government's ability to demonstrate its credibility, effectiveness, and capability to govern Gaza. This ability is called into question due to Israeli opposition, as explicitly stated by the head of the occupation government, who declared, "There is no return of authority to Gaza." Nevertheless, it is crucial to address the internal crisis of confidence and retreat, which poses a significant obstacle to the government's effectiveness.

The government is an integral part of a complex political system that appears to be afflicted with a range of issues requiring interventions to resolve them. However, the current climate raises questions about the feasibility of such interventions. As the Fatah Movement holds responsibility for the political system, the government inevitably feels the impact of Fatah's declining state, despite the new prime minister not being a member of its central committee, unlike his predecessor. One of the government's key challenges is its limited authority, which is further complicated by the multiplicity of existing authorities and the overlapping of powers resulting from the prolonged absence of elections. These factors significantly hamper the government's ability to perform effectively.

Given the judiciary's current weaknesses, envisioning the government's success becomes increasingly challenging. Without substantial improvements, the government risks replicating the shortcomings of its predecessors, further widening the gap with citizens and deepening the crisis of confidence. The government assumed office amidst internal trauma, notably the Gaza war and its aftermath, compounded by external stressors. Consequently, the demands placed on the government exceed those faced by its predecessors. The prime minister must address three critical issues that are essential for success.

Firstly, the government must focus on restoring citizen confidence, especially given the significant challenges that have undermined previous administrations, impacting their presence and performance. Secondly, the government should prioritize selecting highly competent individuals capable of effectively managing the crises in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. These individuals should also prioritize credibility, transparency, and the ability to implement complex programs during this challenging period. Lastly, the government must ensure its decisions are independent and not unduly influenced by external factors. This does not imply isolation but rather emphasizes the importance of coordination while maintaining the ability to implement its vision effectively.

This refers to the government's ability to assert its authority, which has been contested by various parties that influenced previous administrations. Over time, the government has become perceived as a minor institution within the Palestinian political and security framework. Consequently, its mandate has often been overlooked. This is not solely due to the government's emergence in a politically unstable Palestinian society, lacking a consensus among various factions, or a social contract with the people. Rather, it is a result of the diminishing role of previous administrations within the Palestinian context. Can Mohammad Mustafa revitalize the government and navigate it to success amidst these exceptional circumstances? Achieving this requires both capabilities and determination. International support and internal cohesion are crucial factors for the success of the government's mission.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.