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The “After Abbas” Issue Intensifies Tensions among Fatah Top Brass

  • According to sources in Ramallah, the Fatah leadership is confused and unprepared for a succession battle, especially as it is not clear whether Mahmoud Abbas really wants to quit.
  • Heads of Fatah’s military wing, the Tanzim, are gathering forces and arms, gearing up for a fight. Jibril Rajoub is organizing the Hebron region, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Abbas’ official deputy, is organizing the Nablus region, and the Tanzim in Jenin have lost interest in the Ramallah leadership and are creating their own
Fatah-Tanzim graffiti

Fatah-Tanzim graffiti

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas stated at a March 2, 2018, meeting of the Fatah movement’s leadership that, “It’s possible this will be the last meeting that I will be attending,” according to sources in attendance.  These remarks have aroused a lot of emotions. Those present at the meeting understood that Abbas is essentially hinting that he is either sick or tired and is intending to resign. Abbas noticed this interpretation, and at another meeting with Fatah’s cadres from east Jerusalem, he calmed those present by saying he is in good health and the tiredness that he showed during his UN speech was caused by jetlag.

Soon afterward, senior Fatah personality Jibril Rajoub surprised everyone when he attacked the “wealthy refugees, the billionaires, who abandoned their homeland, unlike us, who have never left and are defending it.”

Jibril Rajoub

Jibril Rajoub, candidate

What is the connection between both of these two statements? Rajoub was sending a strong threat to the old leadership from the Tunis PLO headquarters not to dare to put forward any candidates to succeed Abbas. From Rajoub’s point of view, a successor should come from the ranks of the local leadership born in the West Bank, meaning the Tanzim. For Fatah’s military wing, the deciding criterion determining who should rule is service for the homeland, meaning a spell of incarceration in an Israeli jail.

According to sources in Ramallah, the Fatah leadership is extremely confused and unprepared for a battle for the succession, especially when it is not clear whether Abbas actually intends to quit. We can surmise that his state of health is not that good, but it is also not critical. So what’s the problem? The organization has not agreed to a procedure to choose a successor, and Abbas is not prepared to appoint one. So far, he has only appointed a temporary stand-in, Mahmoud al-Aloul, as a precaution.

The question of a genuine successor increasingly depends upon and increases the tensions among the Fatah leadership.

Majid Faraj

Major General Majid Faraj, candidate

Regional Competition on the West Bank

The leaders of the Tanzim are each arming themselves and mustering within their individual areas. Jibril Rajoub is mobilizing the Hebron region, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Abbas’ official deputy, is organizing the Nablus region, and the Tanzim in Jenin have lost interest in the leadership in Ramallah and are effectively creating their own autonomy.

One of the names mentioned as a possible successor is senior security official Majid Faraj, who is responsible for security cooperation with Israel. His candidacy has aroused international support, but internally he is seen as a collaborator. While the internal balance system does not enable any decision to be made, Faraj can still get involved and stage a kind of coup. Standing against him, in all probability, will be Mohammed Dahlan and the residents of the refugee camps. Dahlan has invested a lot in the camps, and previous skirmishes between the official security forces and Dahlan’s “troops” concluded without a clear winner.

A version of this article appeared in Ma’ariv in Hebrew.

About Pinhas Inbari

Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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