The eighty-six-year-old Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas draws his legitimacy from his victory in a 2005 election—the only such contest the PA has ever had. Despite his age and reports of ill health, he has shown no indication of plans to step down; however, he appears at long last to have designated a successor in the person of Hussein al-Sheikh, and the two have taken steps to get al-Sheikh elected head of Abbas’s Fatah party. Yoni Ben Menachem comments on the emerging situation:
Al-Sheikh is considered Abbas’s most loyal confidant, and senior Fatah officials say he promised to tend to the needs of Abbas and his family members after his retirement. Abbas’s two sons own a vast economic empire, part of it in the Palestinian Authority, and al-Sheikh vowed that no harm would come to it.
Fatah officials also say al-Sheikh intends to weaken two main rivals in the succession battle by removing them from the movement’s power centers in the internal elections. One is Tawfiq al-Tirawi, former head of West Bank Palestinian intelligence and a Central Committee member. A report by a PA investigative committee accused him of corruption and nepotism. Another candidate, Marwan Barghouti, is the architect of the terror of the second intifada, serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison.
Barghouti is a member of the Fatah Central Committee and a bitter adversary of Abbas and al-Sheikh. Nevertheless, Palestinian opinion surveys show that he has public support as Abbas’ possible successor.
[Moreover], the PA succession battle could escalate dramatically and violently. The Palestinian street fears stepped-up assassinations in the West Bank because al-Sheikh’s political rivals have armed militias in different locales.