Abbas’ heir apparent a ‘Nablus warlord,’ warns expert

Reports in the Arabic and Israeli press are raising speculation that Mahmoud al-Aloul will soon replace ailing Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

Most Israelis have never heard of Mahmoud al-Aloul, the man that the media has named as heir apparent to 82-year old-Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. In the Palestinian street, Aloul is known as a local Nablus strongman, with a terrorist resume. Until now his name was rarely, if ever, mentioned as a potential leader of the Palestinian people.

With Ramallah swirling with rumors about Abbas’ health condition, and despite the fact that the Palestinian leader continues to maintain a busy schedule, the subject of a successor to Abbas has given the strong impression that he is on his way out and sooner rather than later. Last week Abbas was hospitalized at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

He suffers from serious heart problems, and according to Palestinian sources, he has stomach cancer as well.

Until now the leading names mentioned to eventually replace Abbas have been former Fatah muscle Mohamed Dahlan, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, former PA security chief Jibril Rajoub, Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, Dr. Muhammad a-Shatiyeh and Dr. Nasser al-Kidwa.

Abbas does not have a deputy or a designated successor, even at times when he has hinted at impending retirement. Now it appears that Abbas may be tipping his hand or at least sending out a trial balloon with the name of Aloul. Abbas started the process by appointing him a year ago as deputy head of the Fatah party, a post that did not previously exist. In that capacity, Aloul would stand in for Mahmoud Abbas as acting party leader for three months if Abbas becomes unfit to govern.

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‘Terrorist of the intifada’ set to lead Palestinians

Palestinian Affairs expert Pinchas Inbari told World Israel News that Aloul would be a terrible choice. “He cannot be the heir to Abbas. He is not even accepted as a leader in Nablus. He was a commander and terrorist of the intifada, and now he is a warlord who leads the Nablus militia.”

According to Inbari, “Abbas nominated Aloul because he poses no risk as a man who would try to push him out before he is ready,” he said.

According to Yoni Ben Menachem from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “Mahmoud Abbas’ preferred candidate for his successor is actually his loyal supporter Gen. Majid Faraj, head of the General Intelligence Service in [Judea and Samaria]. Faraj is also accepted by the United States and Israel, due to his commanding the PA’s war on terror – a major consideration for Israel and the United States. For them, Abbas’ successor must continue his line of maintaining security cooperation with Israel in [Judea and Samaria]. Faraj has already proven his success in this specific area.”

Sixty-eight-year-old Aloul served as the commander of Fatah’s armed wing, the Tanzim, but was a relatively unknown figure and his appointment was greeted with some surprise. Last week, Abbas reportedly told members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council that Aloul was his preferred candidate to eventually replace him as chairman of the Fatah party.

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Born in Nablus, Aloul, aged 67, is part of the old guard of Palestinian leadership and he has been an Abbas loyalist who supports “popular resistance,” and not an “armed struggle,” against Israel. Better known by his “underground name” of Abu Jihad, he has a degree in geography from Beirut University.

In a recent interview in Asharq al-Awsat, Aloul said, “The resistance is legal… At this stage, the most appropriate form of resistance is popular resistance. Popular resistance is respected in dozens of places, but there’s also a need to invest a lot of effort to make sure that it is aroused. You should see its power to create pressure. It needs to be all inclusive so that it becomes a way of life. We want it to be on the ground, as a lifestyle. We want it to become the prevailing culture among Palestinian society so that our children will refrain from buying Israeli products.”

‘A politician, not a leader’

Dr. Mordechai Kedar from Bar Ilan University says that “Aloul has the advantage of having been born in the ‘West Bank’ but there has been a drop in popularity of all Palestinian leaders. Arafat was supported ‘wall to wall,’ Abbas much less so. Aloul is a politician and not a leader. If he is appointed by Abbas, that will not translate into popular support from the people. When Abbas leaves whoever replaces him will have much less support and there will be divisions and infighting by those thinking they should have been chosen to lead.”

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Aloul is long known to Israeli security forces. His first arrest was in 1967, when he was picked up by the IDF for Fatah membership and involvement in terrorism. He spent three years in prison before being deported to Jordan where he joined Palestinian terrorists operating in the Hashemite Kingdom. He became a commander of PLO operations that included the funding and financing of terror attacks against Israel.

Aloul moved to Lebanon with the rest of PLO leadership in 1970. He reportedly took part in several clashes with the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon War, and claims to have played a role in the capture of eight IDF soldiers in northern Lebanon in the early 1980s. After the PLO was expelled to Tunisia, Aloul was involved in setting up training bases for Fatah terrorists in several Arab countries.

After the Oslo accords in 1993, Aloul was eventually allowed to return to Judea and Samaria even though he was suspected of involvement in financing the first intifada, which began in 1987.

In 1995, then PA leader Yasser Arafat appointed Aloul as PA governor of Nablus. In 2009, he was elected to the Fatah Central Committee thanks to the support of Abbas.