Palestinians Ponder Succession After 11 Years of Abbas

RAMALLAH (AP) -

Unpopular after 11 years in power, Mahmoud Abbas is starting to face some open machinations from would-be successors to his leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

One likely contender is believed to be behind recent claims — swiftly denied by Abbas’ camp — that the 80-year-old’s health is failing, while another has complained of a “real leadership crisis” in rare open criticism of Abbas from within his Fatah movement.

On Wednesday, Abbas made his first public appearance since the rumors of ill health circulated last week, in an apparent attempt to dispel them. In a 40-minute speech, he hit familiar themes, condemning Israel and dismissing concerns that his self-rule government might be facing imminent collapse.

Despite attempts to reassure the Palestinian public, claims of Abbas’ purported health problems have drawn attention to the lack of a designated successor or a process for picking one.

Behind the scenes, the battle for succession — likely to be chaotic when the time comes — is intensifying.

“The whole situation is extremely complex because we have a situation of instability, we have a situation where there are lots of wannabes,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO member who is not a contender.

The leading contenders include: Saeb Erekat, 60, veteran Palestinian negotiator with Israel; Mohammed Dahlan, 54, in exile since a falling-out with Abbas in 2010, accused of circulating rumors of Abbas’ ill health; Jibril Rajoub, 62, former Palestinian security chief; Salam Fayyad, 63, Western-trained economist, Abbas-appointed Palestinian prime minister 2007-2013, Marwan Barghouti, 56, notorious terrorist currently serving multiple life terms in Israeli prison.