Abbas plans Fatah congress amid succession rumors

Aging Palestinian Authority leader agrees to first Fatah congress since his term expired in 2009, amid speculation of possible replacement.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas
Flash 90

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party aims to hold its first congress since 2009 by the end of this year, an official said, in what some analysts have called a bid by the 81-year-old to stave off rivals.

The plan to hold the congress of the mainstream party he heads comes as Arab states have reportedly been pressuring Abbas to bring longtime rival and enemy Mohammed Dahlan back from exile in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

While Abbas's advisers insist the congress is being organized simply because it is overdue, some analysts see it as an opportunity for him to reshuffle key positions and sideline Dahlan allies.

A member of the Fatah central committee said on condition of anonymity that the congress would take place "before the end of the year," hopefully in November.

It will be Fatah's seventh since its formation and the first since 2009.

The congress is to include elections for Fatah's 23-member central committee, in which Abbas serves as president, and its 132-member revolutionary council.

The so-called Arab Quartet -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE -- a group that has been showing signs of falling apart lately, has been pushing for Abbas to resolve issues with rivals in Fatah with a view towards a wider reconciliation between Palestinian Authority factions.

Besides splits within the party, Abbas's secular Fatah and the Islamist movement Hamas have been at loggerheads since the latter seized Gaza in a near civil war in 2007.

In a recent poll, 65 percent of Palestinian Authority residents were pessimistic about the potential for reconciliation, with just 31 percent optimistic.

Another source of concern has been Saudi Arabia not providing any financial contributions to the Palestinian Authority budget since April.

The oil-rich Gulf state normally provides around $20 million a month, and there have been suggestions the money has been withheld over frustration with the deadlock.

Succession talk

Abbas, known to be a heavy smoker, was hospitalized earlier this month for a heart test after complaining of chest pains, though he has since returned to his normal duties.

“Everyone is thinking about post-Abbas succession. Everyone has their preferred candidates," said Hugh Lovatt, Israel and Palestine coordinator for the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

"Abbas has been consolidating his position -- excluding his potential rivals. There is no clear person in his camp who could succeed him."

The Arab Quartet has reportedly been seeking to encourage Abbas to bring Dahlan back.

Dahlan, Fatah's former strongman in Gaza, was expelled from the party in 2011 and now lives in exile in the UAE. His name has been associated with the recent attempted coup in Turkey. Charismatic and energetic, he is seen as someone who can prove an obstacle to an almost certain Hamas takeover if elections are held and possibly even unite Fatah and Hamas.

"It is no secret Dahlan is the preferred candidate of the Arab Quartet," Lovatt said. Abbas, however, is vehemently opposed to his candidacy.

Dahlan has previously called for Abbas to step aside and on Sunday gave an interview with BBC Arabic in which he again criticized him.

Hundreds of his supporters in his native Gaza recently marched calling for his return -- with some burning pictures of Abbas.

AFP contributed to this report




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