By Ali Sawafta
RAMALLAH (Reuters) - Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and his West Bank-based government were sworn in on Thursday and one of their main challenges will be reaching a power-sharing deal with the Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza.
Hamdallah, a political independent and linguistics professor, was named on Sunday by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas to replace Salam Fayyad, who quit in April but remained in his post while a successor was sought.
"This is my government and you have all my trust and protection," Abbas said to the new cabinet members in broadcast remarks. "This government will work hard in the time available to it, whether it be weeks, months or whatever."
Hamas has called Hamdallah's appointment illegal and said Abbas should have focused instead on ending the internal Palestinian divide.
Leaders of Abbas's mainstream Fatah movement and Hamas officials agreed in May to work towards forming a unity government in August. But political differences, including over how to handle the longstanding conflict with Israel, have delayed any joint administration.
Hamas, which won the Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006, wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in a brief civil war in 2007 and rejects any recognition of Israel. Abbas has been party to U.S.-brokered efforts to revive peace talks that broke down in a dispute over Jewish settlement in 2010.
Along with the United States, Israel has called on Abbas to return without preconditions to talks on peace and Palestinian statehood.
Most members of Fayyad's cabinet remained in office as part of what officials have described as an interim administration until a unity government is formed with Hamas.
Fayyad, a former World Bank official credited with building Palestinian institutions needed to gain independence from Israel, resigned over an economic crisis caused by cuts in Western funds and temporary Israeli freezes on money transfers imposed over unilateral Palestinian moves on statehood.
As prime minister, Hamdallah is expected to focus on a domestic agenda, particularly the Palestinian economy. He will have two deputies, political science professor Zeyad Abu Amr, and Mohammed Mustafa, who heads the Palestine Investment Fund.
Shukri Bishara, a well-known, Western-educated Palestinian finance and banking expert, will serve as finance minister.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi, editing by Mark Heinrich)