Abbas’ Failing Health and Successor(s) plus Figurehead
Notwithstanding the efforts of Palestinian officials to pretend that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), 83, is making a good recovery – supported by Israel Arab well-wishers, DEBKA Weekly’s sources confirm that he is seriously ill. The communiqué issued on Tuesday, May 22, by the private Al-Istishari medical center in Ramallah, where Abbas is hospitalized, stated: “Medical tests and X-rays showed the presence of inflammation in the right lung. Treatment began by giving the necessary medication.” Medical director Dr. Saed al-Sarahneh said in a statement: “He is now responding to the treatment quickly and is recovering.”
According to our sources, the lung infection is not the primary reason for keeping Abbas in hospital for a second week, but the fact that the ear infection which developed from “minor surgery,” during an earlier visit, has spread to his heart. Abu Mazen has suffered from a heart condition for some years. Last February, he was admitted to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for tests and treatment. That condition worsened in the first week of April. From that time on, a doctor was at his side 7/24 at his Ramallah headquarters and an intensive care ambulance was parked outside.
On Tuesday, May 22, his aides released images showing Abu Mazen strolling through a hospital corridor and sitting and reading a newspaper. The images were faked, our sources disclose, to convince worried Palestinians and Arab opinion at large that their leader is recovering well and will soon be discharged from hospital.
The truth is quite different. Palestinian leaders and Israeli Arab lawmakers, who claimed to have visited the Palestinian leader and talked to him, were part of a conspiracy of silence. In fact, no visitor has been allowed to see the ailing leader or talk to him.
In view of his serious medical condition, the Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah ought to be a buzzing hub of speculation and rivalry among bidders to succeed him as “President of the Palestinian Authority” – a title Abu Mazen invented for himself. Strangely enough, the Palestinian street and the Arab world are silent on the subject. This is explained by DEBKA Weekly’s sources on two grounds:
- The Palestinians’ political, regional and international standing is in deep decline.
- The heads of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah have already come to terms with his departure and more or less agreed on a distribution of jobs and areas of influence.
Earlier this year, Abbas formally named as his successor the secretary general of Fatah, Mahmud al-Allul, whose authority stems mainly from his control of much of the Fatah-Tanzim paramilitary arm in the northern Palestinian districts. His main rival is Jibril Rajoub, head of the PLO, who is strong in the southern districts.
Their two factions recently proposed appointing as president former Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti, who is serving six life sentences in an Israel jail for multiple terrorist murders. This would be a hollow title and allow the two rivals. Al-Allul and Rajoub, to run the show as vice presidents. Appointing a third party to replace Abbas would install a triumvirate at the head of the ruling the Palestinian Authority. The candidates for this post are listed below in the order of their prospects:
- Saeb Areiqat, Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee – who made a name in the west as senior negotiator in many failed peace negotiations with Israel.
- Gen. Majed Faraj, Head of a roof executive of all Palestinian security services.
- Rami Hamdallah, Palestinian Prime Minister.
- Hussein al-Sheikh, Deputy Prime Minister, in charge of relations with Israel.
- Nasser al-Qidwa, Yasser Arafat’s nephew, who would be an apt figurehead.
• Jamal Mheisin, Ahmed Majdalani or Salim Za’anun, all comparatively weak figures.