Time is not on the side of 81-year-old Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. His state of health is not the best, he has heart problems, and soon he will need medical treatment in Jordan after having already undergone a cardiac catheterization. His age is what it is, and his body is letting him know.
According to Fatah sources, when pictures of Abbas were burned in a demonstration of thousands of supporters of Muhammad Dahlan in Gaza City, it had an effect on Abbas’ health. He took hard what was viewed as an attack on his legitimacy as leader of the Palestinian people.
Dahlan condemned the action, and there were claims on the social networks that it was a provocation by General Majid Freij of Palestinian General Intelligence. Majid, it was alleged, wanted to embarrass Dahlan and ramp up the tension between him and Abbas to prevent any possible reconciliation between them.
This intrigue is happening before Abbas has been able to appoint a successor who will safeguard his family’s future after he leaves the political stage – and especially the future of his two sons. He wants a successor who will ensure the interests and security of his family members.
The sons, Yasser and Tarek, are entrepreneurs who have amassed great wealth through connections with their father. Abbas has long feared that as soon as he retires from his post the new Palestinian leadership will settle scores with Yasser and Tarek, confiscate their assets, and even put them on trial. Many in Fatah already accuse them of corruption and stealing money.
Abbas’ opponents in the Fatah leadership, particularly Fatah Central Committee members Jibril Rajoub and Tawfik Tirawi, have managed to thwart Abbas’ aim of appointing Dr. Saeb Erekat as his successor. Time is working against Abbas, and he is seriously considering appointing a deputy and preparing him for the successor role; he thereby hopes to determine who his successor will be.
The intention is to declare the deputy’s appointment during the Seventh Fatah Congress, which will be held in Ramallah at the end of November 2016. Abbas is also planning to replace the Fatah leadership in Gaza in an attempt to weaken his bitter adversary Dahlan and to try and convene the Palestinian National Council at the onset of 2017 after having failed to do so more than a year ago.
That Abbas is under pressure is evident from the fact that the PLO Executive Committee is holding discussions on the possible imminent appointment of a deputy.
The existence of such talks indicates that the PA chairman has concluded that he can no longer skirt this demand, which was raised by Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, more than a year ago.
On October 10, 2016, in an interview with the Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad, PLO Executive Committee member, Dr. Assad Abdel Rahman, confirmed that a serious conversation was being held on appointing a deputy to the PA chairman. He said the aim was to avert unwanted struggles and emphasized the need to reach a conclusion within the Fatah Central Committee but not in isolation from the other Fatah factions.
Abdel Rahman revealed that the issue had already been raised in the past in Fatah Central Committee deliberations. Abbas, he said, had told its members: “Choose a vice-president from your ranks, or agree on a deputy from your ranks, and I will adopt your decision.”
He added that two names are now being raised: Dahlan, who was expelled from Fatah, and Nasser al-Kidwa, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and nephew of Yasser Arafat. He said further that others are now trying to intervene in the issue, such as Hamas and Arab and regional actors, including Israel.
The Legality of the Appointment
Undoubtedly the deterioration in Abbas’ health has added urgency to the talks in Fatah and the PLO, turning the question of appointing a deputy into a hot issue in the territories.
The Palestinian Basic Law stipulates that the head of the Palestinian Legislative Council (the parliament) fills the president’s position until presidential elections are held within 60 days.
Senior PLO officials fear that the appointment of a vice-president would contravene the law and, if done unilaterally, give official sanction to the rift between the West Bank and Gaza.
In their view, the Palestinian president should be elected democratically, and a deputy can be appointed only if the law is changed or amended.
Some Palestinian legal experts, however, maintain that there is no need to change the law and that the PLO Executive Committee has the authority to appoint a vice-president.
Hamas, for its part, staunchly opposes appointing a vice-president from the ranks of Fatah. On October 11, 2016, Naif al-Rajoub, one of the movement’s leaders in the West Bank, announced that after Abbas leaves the scene, the next president will be Legislative Council Chairman Aziz Duwaik (a Hamas man) as Palestinian law requires.
Two factions of the PLO, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front, have also announced their opposition to appointing a vice-president without consultation and agreement between Fatah and the other Palestinian factions. They say that if Abbas is incapacitated, then according to the law it is the Legislative Council Chairman Duwaik, who should replace him.
Abbas’ Retirement Is Imminent
Fatah sources say the movement views Abbas’ retirement as imminent.
On October 11, 2016, the website karamapress.com reported that Abbas was aiming to move to Qatar, and not to Jordan, as soon as the beginning of next year.
Sources close to Abbas’ family told the website that in the PA chairman’s recent meeting with the ruler of Qatar, Prince Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the two agreed on arrangements for Abbas’ permanent resettlement in Qatar, where he would join relatives who already live there.
The sources said further that Abbas has Qatari citizenship and that four years ago his sons set up six new investment firms in the country.
Some of the Abbas family’s business ventures, however, are in the Palestinian territories. Abbas wants to make sure his successor will safeguard their continued existence and not take measures against his sons, accused by some in Fatah of financial corruption.
It appears at present that, with presidential elections ruled out by the sharp disputes with Hamas, transferring Abbas’ mantle to his successor by appointing a deputy PA chairman is being seriously considered. That individual would be a member of Fatah, the ruling party.
Such a step, however, would be seen as a unilateral move by Fatah and would deepen the rift between it and the other Palestinian factions, even further hindering the chances of achieving a national reconciliation.