The day after his February 20 address to the UN, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas checked himself into Johns Hopkins Hospital for what his spokesmen say was a routine checkup. Despite these official assurances, Abbas’s hospital visit set off much speculation about his health, which in turn revived conjectures as to who would replace him in the event of his death. Benny Avni comments:
It’s . . . possible that, . . . as Israelis fear most, in lieu of a clear line of succession, a Palestinian bloodbath will determine the winner.
Abbas has never named a successor. Yes, he recently crowned a deputy Fatah chairman. But the man, Mahmoud al-Aloul, is almost unknown outside Ramallah and thus is a weak contender: as in much of the Arab world, would-be Palestinian leaders must be backed by armed men. Gray apparatchiks are at a distinct disadvantage.
Which brings us to Hamas, the uncontested ruler of Gaza. According to the Palestinian constitution, once the current president can no longer function, the speaker of the legislative council becomes interim leader. That position is held by a Hamas politician, Aziz Duwaik. As is shown by Abbas’s twelve years as president after being elected for four, temporary can last forever.
So Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, may end up taking over West Bank politics, burying any hope of better Israeli-Palestinian relations. Washington, as yet, has been mostly mum, but if America wants to remain relevant in the Mideast, it must draw some red lines and clarify our interests: avoid a bloody succession battle; make sure Hamas stays out of power; ensure the next leader continues security coordination with our allies Jordan, Egypt and, most crucially, Israel.
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