Post Abbas Palestinian Leadership Crisis
The political black hole that the Arab Israeli conflict has entered and the ageing Palestinian leader forced again the discussion of what will happen in the post-Abbas era.
Two news items recently pointed to the succession crisis in the Palestinian leadership: the sudden removal of Yasser Abed Rabo as PLO executive committee general secretary and his replacement with Saeb Erekat, and the temporary arrest and questioning of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.
Abed Rabo and Fayyad are subject of unproven accusation, within internal Palestinian circles, of being somehow plotting against President Mahmoud Abbas.
The problem of succession is complicated on many fronts. The regular four-year term of Abbas, who was elected 60 days after the death of Yasser Arafat, finished in 2009. The current Hamas controlled Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) term also ended in 2010.
The Palestinian Basic Law — a quasi constitution — states that in case of the absence of a president (through death, resignation or for health reasons), his place should be taken by the speaker of the PLC for a 60-day period, during which a presidential election is due to take place.
Controversy exists regarding who is the speaker of the PLC, which has not met in years.
The last elected speaker, Abdel Aziz Dweik, a Hamas supporter, was recently released from an Israeli jail, but legal experts say that the speaker’s term, in particular, is changed with every general session, and is not an elected position that continues if the legislature does not meet.
Palestinian commentator Hani Masri wrote about the subject in various publications, noting that the ruling Fateh Party itself cannot claim an automatic right to the position of president, and not even the PLO, because of a strong challenge from Hamas and the Islamists.
The issue of successions has gained momentum not only because of Abbas’ age (who is 80), but also because of the political atmosphere.
The absence of any clear political horizon or active peace process has turned the attention of many in Palestine inwardly.
The need to deal with the issue of who will replace Abbas has gained prominence because of the absence of a clear second in line.
What adds to the complication is the absence of a deputy or vice president. Moreover, not a single leader has been groomed or is known to be the second in line within the PLO executive committee or the ruling Fateh Party. This has led many to worry about a freefall.
Will this attention to the subject speed up the process of appointing a vice president or a deputy to Abbas, or will the president leave the situation as is, to be dealt with by existing legal entities?
The Palestinian National Council (PNC), the highest body that Palestinians respect, has not met in years. The central council has met regularly, but Hamas and other Islamic representatives have not attended these meetings.
While Hamas is committed on paper to join a reconstituted PNC, this has not happened, and no one knows if it will in the near future.
The future of Palestine is certainly not tied to the future of any single individual. While the issue of presidential succession is important, many prefer a more open mechanism, one that solves the issue at the ballot box and gives the opportunity to anyone to run for office.
Obviously the position of president of Palestine will only be open to those Palestinians living in the occupied territories, while the PLO and its worldwide representation will not be directly affected by such stipulation.
A more logical process would be to get a larger PLO structure in order to help create the kind of worldwide leadership of Palestinians; the president of occupied Palestine then could be a natural reflection of such leadership.
The PLO and Hamas are committed to holding elections throughout the world to enlarge the PNC. But this process has been hampered by the lack of goodwill and mutual trust between the largest Palestinian movements, Hamas and Fateh.
What should happen first — presidential election, parliamentary elections or worldwide elections for delegates to the PNC — has not been resolved because of this internal conflict.
This chicken-and-egg question cannot wait forever as the immediate question of succession is being argued on a much more accelerated level.
The replacement of Abed Rabo and the questioning of Fayyad might be only the tip of the iceberg if this important issue of the future of the Palestinian leadership is not dealt with quickly and decisively.