Israeli security officials are becoming increasingly concerned over the health of Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas. The octogenarian Abbas was hospitalized Saturday for several hours in a Ramallah hospital for treatment of “exhaustion,” the PA said, due to the “events of recent weeks.”
Haaretz quoted Israeli security figures who said there may have been something to those claims. Seeking to remain ahead of the political curve, Abbas immersed himself deeply in the “Al-Aqsa incident,” holding meetings, press conferences and rallies day and night to demand that Israel remove security measures from the entrances to Har HaBayis.
However, Israeli officials are quite certain that overwork isn’t Abbas’s only problem. In recent months, he has been in and out of the hospital several times, and Israeli officials quoted by Haaretz believe he is not well. Palestinian Authority sources told the newspaper the same thing, and that concern over Abbas’s health was prompting factions in the PA to prepare for a showdown over who will take charge when he leaves the political scene.
The most likely candidate at this time appears to be Mohammed Dahlan, an Abbas rival who in recent months has grown close to Hamas. He is supported by Egypt as a successor to Abbas, thus putting the current chief’s Fatah terror group at a disadvantage over future control of PA institutions, a rich source of money and patronage due to the many millions donated by foreign governments. In any event, Israel is concerned that the retirement or death of Abbas will unleash a power struggle in the PA. This would mean more instability in an already very weak institution — the kind of situation that could greatly enhance the chances of a well-organized Hamas taking over the PA altogether, the Israeli officials said.
What Abbas may be suffering from is not specifically clear. The 82-year-old has been a heavy smoker for most of his life. In recent months, he has begun smoking electronic cigarettes, and had tried to cut back on cigarettes altogether to some extent, sources in the PA told Haaretz.
A report Sunday said that Abbas had refused to meet with U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt last week. The report in Arab media attributed this as being due to a threat by Greenblatt that the U.S. Congress would freeze funds for the PA unless it modified its negotiating stance on core issues with Israel, with Abbas rejecting the threat. In the end, Greenblatt met with chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat and the head of PA intelligence, Majad Faraj, according to the report.