Life after Abbas: can the PA survive when its leader departs?

Whatever the truth of Mahmoud Abbas' recent hospital stay, a change is afoot at the top of the PA


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas left hospital this week amid reassuring statements about “routine checkups” and assurances from the Palestinian Health Minister that the results were “excellent”. 

But whatever the truth behind the latest episode in Ramallah, Mr Abbas is an 82-year-old man who has been in office for nearly 13 years. A generational transition is afoot at the top of the Palestinian Authority. 

These unavoidale facts raise several questions, not only over the identity of Mr Abbas's eventual successor, but also over the PA’s chances of survival after its current leader departs.

The Palestinian succession is made more complex by the lack of elections in the PA. Mr Abbas was elected in January 2005, but there has not been a presidential election since, largely due to the split between the PA-ruled West Bank and the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas since 2007.

There is also the matter of Mr Abbas's different roles. He is chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and leader of its dominant wing, Fatah. Any succession struggle will take place within Fatah's framework. 

Israeli officials, who have spoken in recent months off the record on the post-Abbas period, hope that Fatah’s rivalry with Hamas and its leadership’s desire to retain control of the West Bank will ensure a relatively calm transition. 

One senior intelligence official said last month that he expects the first stage after Mr Abbas’ departure to require “a collective leadership, including the main Fatah chiefs, making sure Hamas doesn’t take over”.

Members of such a collective would potentially include senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who would in effect the PA’s representative to the world; commander of the security forces Majid Farah, who would control matters on the ground; and perhaps former security chief Jibril Rajoub, who has been gradually rehabilitated in recent years, partly with a view to bringing him before the transition. 

The main question is whether these ambitious and powerful men could indeed cooperate for the length of time necessary before another election. Similarly, could they withstand challenges from other aspiring leaders? 

These challengers are expected to be the former leader of Fatah’s Tanzim militia, Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five life sentences for murder in an Israeli prison, and Mohammed Dahlan, once the PA’s security chief in Gaza and probably Mr Abbas’ biggest rival in Fatah. 

Mr Dahlan is working on a deal with Hamas whereby he will take control of Gaza’s border-crossings, with Egyptian support. If this arrangement materialises, it will put him in a position to demand a role in the PA leadership in the future.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive