The current intifada has led to the undermining of the already weak political position of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is leading a divided nation and failing institutions. With the death toll rising on both sides, the uprising shows no sign of slowing down, due to the ongoing frustration among young Palestinians at the policies and violations of the Israeli occupation authorities. The fact that the PA is cooperating with Israel in security matters, and the Zionist state is continuing to expand its illegal settlements, makes the situation worse.
This was implied in a recent report by the New York Times which shed light on the struggle to succeed President Abbas. According to the NYT, it is Mohammed Dahlan who is the frontrunner, as he is backed by Egypt and the UAE. Marwan Barghouti and Nasser Al-Kidwa were also mentioned as potential successors.
With the growing speculation about who will succeed 81-year old Abbas, and when, the newspaper cited an article by Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, which was published recently. In “The End of the Abbas Era”, Thrall wrote, “Arab countries like Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have provided financial and political support to Abbas rivals, including the former Gaza strongman, Mohammed Dahlan, now in exile in Abu Dhabi.”
The NYT also noted the possibility of a more collective leadership led by Al-Kidwa, a relative of the late President Yasser Arafat and a former foreign minister, who would work alongside Majid Faraj, the current intelligence chief, and Salam Fayyad, the former prime minister and finance minister.
Faraj was born in 1962 and is regarded highly by the US and Israel as a trustworthy partner. He boasted recently that the PA security forces have disrupted “at least 200 attacks” against Israel since October. This statement was criticised by the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
Although Fayyad has never actually joined Fatah, he is respected by Israel and the West, but Abbas sees him as a threat to his leadership. Among the other potential successors, Jibril Rajoub, who is said to have support from Qatar.
The favourite, though, is Dahlan, 54, whose name has been put forward frequently as a potential successor; he lives in lavish exile in Abu Dhabi having been expelled by Abbas from Fatah in 2011 after he accused the president of killing Arafat. Dahlan is also accused of corruption, but he is known to be well supported by Egypt and the UAE, and, as a speaker of Arabic, Hebrew and English, is believed to have a good chance.
The other name mentioned in the race to be Abbas’s successor is Marwan Barghouti. At 56 he is often called the “Palestinian Mandela” due to his efforts to reconcile Fatah and Hamas and the fact that he is in an Israeli prison serving five consecutive life sentences on murder charges. He works from behind bars through his influential wife, Fadwa, and a network of supporters. The Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Saeb Erekat, told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle this month that he would support Barghouti should he run for president.
When will the successor be needed? “Abbas might go sooner rather than later,” an anonymous source told the NYT.
A poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in December indicated that 65 per cent of Palestinians want President Abbas to resign. They also want another armed uprising after losing hope of achieving peace through negotiations and the Oslo Accords.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] has achieved nothing,” said Shaikh Taha Qattanani. “The Palestinians deserve a stronger leadership, regardless of whether it is Fatah or Hamas.”
Fatah supporter Ramiz Hassouna believes that Fatah has no strategy or plan for the Palestinian people. “Its members have lost their dedication to the land and to the Palestinian cause,” he claimed. “They’re more interested in their bank accounts.”
According to a former aide of Abbas, the president intends to die in office. “His isolation is increasing; Abu Mazen is like a tree in the wind, with leaves blowing off everywhere. He thinks everyone is listening to him, but no one is listening any more.”
Under Abbas’s leadership, Palestinian institutions have deteriorated, and the 2015 budget deficit is estimated at $700 million. In addition, the political split with Hamas is ongoing, with Fatah controlling the West Bank while the Islamic movement remains in charge of the Gaza Strip.
According to the NYT, President Abbas’s political weakness became painfully apparent in September when he called for a meeting of the Palestine National Council to dismiss a former ally, Yasser Abed Rabbo, after accusing him of conspiring with Dahlan and Fayyad. In 1996, Abbas had called for the “re-alignment” of Fatah’s Executive Committee and the dismissal of Abed Rabbo, but this was not achieved.
Another sign of the sensitivity regarding Abbas’s successor, is that Jamal Tirwai, along with a number of Fatah members, such as Kaddoura Fares, refused to do press interviews. “We worry that the Palestinian Authority is getting weaker by the day,” they said.
Does Israel have a preferred candidate? Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan, said that it is very hard to decide. “If you say who you prefer, you damage him in the eyes of those there,” he explained.
Translated from Masralarabia, 28 February, 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.