Palestinian Affairs expert Khaled Abu Toameh explores various scenarios if aging, ailing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas steps down
IPD Forum: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is 81 and not in the best of health; what is likely to happen when he goes?
Khaled Abu Toameh: Abbas was elected as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in January 2005. His term in office expired in January 2009. But because of the power struggle between Abbas's Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement, the Palestinians have been unable to hold parliamentary or presidential elections for the past decade. It is hard to predict what will happen if Abbas goes. Palestinians have different views on this matter. Some believe the departure of Abbas will result in anarchy and lawlessness, while others are convinced that nothing dramatic will happen and life for most Palestinians will continue as it is.
IPDF: How will Abbas's departure play out in the West Bank?
KAT: Unless the Palestinian leadership gets its act together and starts planning for the post-Abbas era, his departure from the scene could create a huge vacuum, especially in the West Bank, where the PA and his Fatah faction are in power. Internal disputes in Fatah and ongoing bickering among its top brass have already created tensions that could undermine Fatah and severely damage its credibility. A weak Fatah in the West Bank provides Hamas with a golden opportunity to boost its standing in this area.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly; Credit: J. Carrier / UN Photo.
IPDF: How will Abbas's departure play out in Gaza?
KAT: For the past decade, the Gaza Strip has been under the exclusive control of Hamas. Abbas has played almost no role in the life of Palestinians living there and that's why his absence is not expected to bring about any change in the Gaza Strip. Some Palestinians, however, believe that Abbas's departure from the scene could even pave the way for achieving reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
IPDF: How do you assess the chances of the leading candidates to succeed him -- Marwan Barghouti, Mohammed Dahlan or Jibril Rajoub?
KAT: It is hard to assess the chances of any potential successor. No one really knows how the next president will be elected. What is certain is that, under the current circumstances, the Palestinians do not seem to be able to hold presidential election. The split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as divisions inside Fatah, do not allow for such elections to take place. In recent weeks, there have been several names of potential successors floating around. Public opinion polls have provided different results. But many have indicated that jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti is one of the favored leading candidates. However, there are too many candidates out there who are convinced that each one of them is the most suitable official to succeed Abbas.
IPDF: Will there be a leadership race following an Abbas departure and could Hamas be part of it?
KAT: In the end, the Fatah and PLO leadership will choose one of their own as the next president. If they fail, according to another scenario, the two bodies may agree to form some kind of a "collective leadership" to fill the vacuum and as a way of compromise.
Jerusalem-based Khaled Abu Toameh is a journalist, lecturer and documentary filmmaker. He is a senior distinguished fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute, former producer and consultant for NBC News and a former Palestinian Affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.