Palestinians in search of leader after 11 failed years of Abbas

After suffering Abbas’ leadership, the Palestinians are in search of a new leader who could lead them down a positive path. Unfortunately, none of the candidates appear to have the capability to do so.

By: AP
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Palestinian Authoruty head Mahmoud Abbas. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Unpopular after 11 years in power, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is starting to face some open machinations from would-be successors, as his dream of achieving Palestinian statehood lies in tatters.

One likely contender is believed to be behind recent claims — swiftly denied by Abbas’ camp — that the 80-year-old’s health is failing, while another has complained of a “real leadership crisis” in rare open criticism of Abbas from within his Fatah movement.

On Wednesday, Abbas made his first public appearance since the rumors of ill health circulated last week, in an apparent attempt to show he is fine. In a 40-minute televised speech, he hit familiar themes, berating Israel for settlement expansion and dismissing concerns that his self-rule government might collapse under mounting tensions.

Despite attempts to reassure the Palestinian public, claims of Abbas’ purported health problems have drawn attention to the lack of a designated successor or a process for picking one. Abbas holds key jobs as PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) chief and head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), but the rift between Fatah in the Juda and Samaria region and its main rival, the Islamic Hamas terror organization in Gaza, has prevented timely leadership elections.

Behind the scenes, the battle for succession — likely to be chaotic when the time comes — is intensifying.

“The whole situation is extremely complex because we have a situation of instability, we have a situation where there are lots of wannabes,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO member who is not a contender.

Claimers of the Crown

“The war of succession has started,” said Palestinian analyst Jihad Harb. “Fatah leaders see Abbas as an old man. Each of the potential successors is mobilizing.”

PA head Mahmous Abbas (L) and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat at a press conference. (Photo: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

PA head Abbas (L) and chief negotiator Erekat. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Those who aspire to succeed Abbas include Saeb Erekat, 60, the veteran negotiator with Israel, who is seen as Abbas’ closest aide and favored successor, having displayed unwavering loyalty to the Palestinian leader.

Late last year, Abbas appointed Erekat as secretary general of the PLO, the same position Abbas once used as a springboard for becoming the main candidate in presidential elections following the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004. Erekat is seen by some in Fatah as an outsider, and polls indicate he would do poorly in elections for head of the PA.

Another option is Mohammed Dahlan, 54, who was once seen as a promising future leader. He lost political standing after the loss of his native Gaza to Hamas in a 2007 takeover and his falling-out with Abbas in 2010.

In exile, Dahlan expanded his business interests and forged close ties with the leaders of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He has used money and political clout to shore up support in Gaza.

Jibril Rajoub

Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub. (AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Jibril Rajoub, 62, serves as head of the Palestinian Football Federation and is rising to the top ranks of Fatah. In comments last week, Rajoub complained of a “real leadership crisis,” though he didn’t refer to Abbas by name. Rajoub said bad decisions have been taken on a series of crucial issues, including the relationship with Hamas and with regional leaders.

Salam Fayyad, 63, served as an Abbas-appointed Palestinian prime minister from 2007-2013. The economist won praise from the international community for cleaning up the PA’s finances. At the same time, the political independent has failed to build broad political support at home. Fayyad, who resigned two years ago amid growing disagreements with Abbas and Fatah, made overtures in recent weeks to former nemesis Hamas, an odd alliance that could help him in a leadership bid.

In a recent lecture at a Hamas-affiliated think tank in Gaza, Fayyad called for ending the political split quickly, creating a new leadership body that includes Hamas and rebuilding Gaza.

Hamas Ismail Haniyeh

Hamas leader Haniyeh. (Abed Rahim Khatib /Flash90)

Marwan Barghouti, 56, an arch-terrorist who is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison, is expected to run for president from his cell once Abbas is out of the picture, according to his inner circle. Opinion polls have consistently shown Barghouti to be the most popular Palestinian politician. At a time when two-thirds of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, Barghouti would handily defeat a Hamas challenger, such as former Gaza-based Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in presidential elections. It’s not clear, though, if Palestinians would opt for a leader in an Israeli lock-up if faced with the actual choice.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, 52, might sit out presidential elections because of his past experience of being shunned by the international community over his refusal to renounce violence, and might instead settle for serving as kingmaker. If Hamas does compete, a likely candidate would be Haniyeh, a preacher turned politician and one of the most powerful figures in the movement.

Unfortunately for Israel, all the aforementioned candidates have a long track-record of diplomatic and terrorist activities against the Jewish State, and none would serve as a partner for peace.