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Feb
2017

Mahmoud Abbas Refrained from Appointing a Deputy


Despite repeated assurances in recent months to the members of the Central Committee of the Fatah movement that he would appoint his deputy from within Fatah soon, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has delayed doing so.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. All is not okay.

Will Mahmoud Abbas give the okay for a successor?

Fatah’s expectation was that the appointment would happen immediately after the Seventh Fatah Conference at the beginning of December 2016, but this has not happened.

Mahmoud Abbas convened several meetings with the Fatah Central Committee to discuss the issue, but ultimately failed to reach a decision.

According to sources in Fatah, Abbas manipulated the committee members, all of whom were Abbas loyalists, to avoid choosing any of the candidates placed before the committee.

Two of the most prominent names among the candidates for deputy chairman of the Fatah movement were Marwan Barghouti and Jibril Rajoub. Barghouti is currently held in an Israeli prison, serving five life sentences for the murder of Israeli civilians. Rajoub is a member of the Fatah Central Committee.

Barghouti (center), Samir Kuntar (right) and Ahmed Saadat (left).

Barghouti (center) and fellow prison inmates, Samir Kuntar (right) and Ahmed Saadat (left).  Kuntar, who participated in a brutal terrorist attack in 1979,  was released in a prisoner swap in 2008. He was killed in December 2015, in an Israeli air raid against Hizbullah leaders. Ahmed Saadat, a PFLP leader, organized the assassination team that killed Israeli Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001. He remains in prison.

The discussions of the Fatah Central Committee concerning the appointment are expected to continue indefinitely. This means that when the time comes to pick someone from within the ranks of Fatah, they will be choosing the preferential candidate to succeed Mahmoud Abbas, not only as chairman of the Fatah but perhaps also lead the PLO and PA.

Mahmoud Abbas was forced to conduct these discussions under pressure from Fatah members because of his advanced age and state of health.

A couple of months ago, Abbas successfully underwent cardiac catheterization. However, the leadership of Fatah fears that if an agreement isn’t reached on Abbas’ successor, and Abbas won’t be able to continue in his post, then violence could break out between the candidates’ camps. Abbas’ arch-rival Mahmoud Dahlan, who has set up armed militias in refugee camps around the West Bank, could join the fray and shake the stability of the PA rule.

The Candidates

The Hamas website, “Al-Risala,” reported on January 28, 2017, that according to a Fatah official, regional Arab pressure on Mahmoud Abbas is making it difficult for Abbas to appoint a successor. According to the claim of the official, several Arab states support Jibril Rajoub for the position of deputy, despite other countries wanting someone for the position who is a diplomatic figure with political experience.

Jibril Rajoub stated recently that Mahmoud Abbas had the right to choose his deputy when the time suited him, and that he would support any appointment of Abbas.

According to sources within Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas has decided not to appoint his successor in the meantime and to let things drag on.

It seems that Abbas is afraid of both candidates. Jibril Rajoub is thought of as a tireless backstabber, whom if Abbas appoints as his deputy, would attempt to oust Abbas behind his back.

As for Marwan Barghouti, the fact that he is currently incarcerated in an Israeli prison makes it easier for Abbas, because he presents no threat to Abbas’ position in Fatah. The chances of Israel releasing Marwan Barghouti from prison is practically nonexistent, but Abbas fears him because Barghouti had a close relationship to his enemy, Mahmoud Dahlan.

The main task of Mahmoud Abbas remains to find the most faithful man to become his successor when the time comes, and ensure his own comfortable retirement with his family, with whom he can go and live in peace in Qatar.

The second consideration is to find a successor that will prevent damage to the business sectors operating in the West Bank of Abbas’ two sons, Yasser and Tareq. The successor would allow them to continue working despite the claims that they are corrupt.

Mahmoud Abbas, his wife (front row, bottom right), son Yasser (top left), son Tareq (top right), and their families. Photo taken in 2005.

Mahmoud Abbas, his wife (front row, bottom right), son Yasser (top left), son Tareq (top right), and their families. Photo taken in 2005. (AFP Photo)

It seems that the power struggle will continue in the coming months in the Palestinian Authority,  and the Palestinian Authority Chairman still believes there is no rush to appoint a deputy.

Nayef Hawatmeh, the head of the Democratic Front, gave an interview to the Jordanian newspaper “Al-Ed” on January 30, 2017, and said that “the question of succession of Mahmoud Abbas was postponed until further notice.”

The Continuing Struggle Against Mahmoud Dahlan

The main enemy of Mahmoud Abbas from within the Fatah ranks remains Dahlan. Dahlan has begun to mobilize and plans to convene a conference in Cairo next month with the participation of around 2,000 Fatah activists from the Palestinian territories.

This is a show of force from Dahlan in cooperation with Egypt, in order to show that Dahlan is the true face of the Fatah conference and that the conference called by President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah is a farce because it removed all of Dahlan’s followers.

The newspaper “Al-Quds Al-Arabi” reported on January 31, 2017, that according to associates of Dahlan, he does not intend to establish a parallel body to Fatah or to withdraw from Fatah.

Abbas fears that Dahlan’s activities are designed to gain strength in the Fatah movement in order to depose him and take Abbas’ place, so the chairman is fighting to the bitter end.

Following orders from Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian security forces tried to prevent a recent “incident” in the West Bank. Dahlan and his supporters sought to distribute several thousand blankets to families of both “martyrs” and security prisoners in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and east Jerusalem.

This “blanket” operation was funded by the United Arab Emirates. Students loyal to Dahlan managed to distribute the blankets for the winter in some areas in the West Bank.

PA security forces seized 4,000 blankets making their way in trucks to the village of Yatta in the Hebron area and arrested several students.

Dahlan continues to try and build up strongholds of power in the West Bank and improve Palestinian public opinion of him, through donations and charities for the needy.

Dahlan believes that he will succeed at the end of the day. Dahlan aims not only to return to his former position that he had five years ago before Mahmoud Abbas expelled him from the Fatah party, but also to succeed Abbas as PA chairman.

Jibril Rajoub (left) and Mohammed Dahlan

Jibril Rajoub (left) and Mohammed Dahlan, not rivals in this 2005 picture
(AFP Photo / Jamal Aruri)

The planned conference by Dahlan set to take place in Cairo is creating tension within the Fatah movement in the Palestinian territories. President Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces have warned Fatah activists not to travel to Cairo.

Fatah’s Central Committee should reach a decision soon that anyone who actively participates in Dahlan’s conference will be expelled from the Fatah party.

Meanwhile, Dahlan seems determined to hold the conference despite Abbas’ attempts to convince President al-Sisi to block the convention.

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
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