The day after Abbas


Talk is rife again that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas may be in his final days or weeks in office. Abbas turns 83 this month and is reported to have health problems. His four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority expired nine years ago. His hospitalization last month at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore gave fuel to rumors that Abbas has cancer.

Abbas, never a strongman or charismatic leader, has nevertheless played his weak hand quite well. He has dominated West Bank politics. He’s sidelined potential opponents and has refused to designate a successor who could ease him out the door. As such, a leadership struggle is sure to follow Abbas’ resignation or death. It will pit younger, emerging leaders against veterans, and several potential strongmen against each other.

If there is an heir apparent, it might be Mahmoud al-Aloul, who was recently elected the first-ever vice president of his Fatah party, the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. A member of the old guard of the PLO who lived in exile in Tunis before the Oslo Accords brought the leadership to the West Bank and Gaza, Aloul, 68, was also a commander of Fatah’s armed wing, the Tanzim.

There are others: Palestinian senior official Jibril Rajoub; Mohammed Dahlan, the Fatah commander in Gaza before being driven out by the Hamas takeover in 2007; and senior Fatah member Marwan Barghouti, who is serving several life sentences in an Israeli prison.

Supporters of Israel who intensely dislike Abbas will understandably find it hard to accept any of these men — some of whom have Jewish blood on their hands, are not committed to peaceful protest as the only alternative to violent opposition, or don’t support a two-state solution, or all three. Indeed, a more strident, blunt Palestinian leader might make some nostalgic for Abbas, who despite his many faults at least made security cooperation with Israel a priority. Certainly none of the named contenders are as attractive as former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank economist whose focus during his tenure was on building Palestinian institutions and transparency in government.

The peace process has been at a standstill since 2014. Many have suggested that new Palestinian leadership is needed in order to make meaningful progress to an agreement and a two-state solution. But looking at the cast of characters waiting in the wings as Abbas ever so slowly makes his way to the exit does not infuse us with much optimism or hope. That said, maybe it doesn’t really matter who succeeds Abbas, since no progress is likely to be made so long as the Palestinian people themselves continue to believe that Israel is the source of their problems.

Nevertheless, the choice of Abbas’ successor is an important step for the Palestinian people. We hope when the time comes, they choose wisely.

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