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Monday, December 17, 2012

Who will follow Abu Mazen?

Jonathan Schanzer worries about who will follow 'moderate' 'Palestinian' President Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen.
The aging Abbas, however, may not have years. The Palestinian leader is 77 years old, a heavy smoker, and an incessant traveler. He reportedly underwent treatment for prostate cancer a decade ago, and in 2010 he was admitted six times to a Jordanian hospital for unspecified health reasons. In short, he's not a picture of perfect fitness. This raises the inconvenient question: Who will follow in his footsteps?
Right now, the answer is Hamas. According to Palestinian Basic Law, Article 37, if the presidency of the Palestinian Authority becomes vacant "the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council shall temporarily assume the powers and duties of the Presidency of the National Authority for a period not to exceed sixty (60) days, during which free and direct elections to elect a new President shall take place."
As it turns out, the current speaker is none other than Aziz Dweik. In January 2006, the last time Palestinians held legislative elections, Dweik ran and won on Hamas's Change and Reform list. When Hamas emerged with a majority after that vote, he was sworn in as speaker.
Who is this leader waiting in the wings? He has spent two decades being pursued by Israel. In 1992, Dweik was one of 415 Hamas members exiled to Lebanon by Israel for their involvement in the nascent terrorist group. Following the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Israelis arrested him for being a member of Hamas. In June 2009, Dweik was released from prison, but was rearrested this January for "involvement in terrorist activities." He was released again, only months ago, in July.
Of course, Dweik isn't a shoo-in. Succession does not always proceed according to law, and the PLO could still appoint someone from its own ranks if Abbas could no longer lead that body. However, a power struggle is a recipe for another ugly clash between the PLO and Hamas -- perhaps a reprise of the bloody 2007 civil war, in which Hamas seized the Gaza Strip. And right now, Abbas's health and political fortunes are the only things standing in the way of this chaotic scenario.

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Abbas continues to hang on, but he still doesn't seem to stand for anything other than the perpetuation of his own rule. He has failed to deliver peace, yet will not engage in violence against Israel. This "neither here nor there" approach explains why he was basically irrelevant during the most recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
The question of who might succeed Abbas is not a new one. According to a leaked U.S. State Department cable, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned Americans as far back as 2006 that a "political vacuum" would elevate Dweik to the role of president. Other Palestinian insiders have also quietly expressed concerns about the Palestinian Authority's succession plan.
Abbas, however, refuses to name a successor. Taking a page from deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, his old ally, he has no vice president and no heir apparent. Instead, he has led campaigns to weaken potential challengers. Mohammed Dahlan, the popular strongman of Gaza under the late Yasir Arafat, has endured particularly nasty treatment from Abbas, who has made moves to freeze his assets abroad.

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If the international community is serious about Palestinian statehood, it should start thinking about who is next in line to govern the Palestinian people and how to forge the infrastructure needed to ensure good governance. More importantly, it should demand that Abbas take steps to ensure that legitimate contenders have the opportunities to ensure their political voices are heard.
The problem with the 'Palestinians' isn't just that they don't get the 'vision thing' as former President george W. Bush would call it. There is no 'vision thing.' There is not and has never been anything to a 'Palestinian state' other than the destruction of the Jewish state. And therefore there's no plan for continuity after a leader dies. That was true under Arafat and it's true under Abu Mazen.

What could go wrong?

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