Khaled Abu Toameh
The Jerusalem Post
April 30, 2010 - 12:00am

In the wake of reports that he’s facing health problems, Fatah is demanding that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appoint a deputy, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Senior Fatah officials who met with Abbas, 75, over the past week urged him to consider appointing a deputy president, to prevent power vacuum if he were unable to carry out his duties.

One official told the Post that Abbas had not rejected the suggestion. However, the PA president told the Fatah representatives that while it was a good idea to name a deputy, “the current crisis with Hamas did not allow such a move,” the official said.

Abbas noted that it would be difficult to take such a decision at a time when the Palestinian Legislative Council and other Palestinian institutions remained paralyzed because of the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Abbas also made it clear that he had no intention to run in another presidential election, when and if it ever took place in the PA-controlled territories.

According to the reports, Abbas recently underwent a series of medical check-ups in Amman. One report suggested that he had heart problems.

But a source close to Abbas on Thursday said he had been diagnosed with a “chronic illness” that would require prolonged medical treatment. The source refused to elaborate on the subject.

Earlier this month, the London-based pan-Arab Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper said Abbas was suffering from serious health problems. It said the PA president had visited a private hospital in Amman at least six times in the past few weeks.

Doctors treating Abbas have been instructed to ensure full secrecy regarding his health, the newspaper added.

The Post was told that a few weeks ago, Abbas was rushed late at night from Ramallah to the Jordanian hospital after he complained of severe pain and fatigue.

Earlier this year, Abbas was rushed to Amman for medical treatment after his aides claimed that he had “slipped in his home.”

Abbas was back in Jordan this week, but his aides refused to say whether he was receiving medical treatment there. On Thursday, he left Amman for a brief visit to China.

The PA president is expected to return to Amman soon for further medical check-ups and treatment, one of his aides confirmed on Thursday.

Fatah is worried that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who does not belong to the faction but is strongly backed by the US and the EU, would try to succeed Abbas in the event that the PA president was gone from the scene.

Many Fatah officials see Fayyad as a major threat to their faction’s status, and some are convinced that he has his eyes set on the presidency. Earlier this week, the Fatah Revolutionary Council urged Abbas to take three portfolios from Fayyad so as to limit his powers: Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance.

“Only Fatah will decide who the next president is,” a member of the Revolutionary Council said. “We won’t allow the Americans or the Europeans or the Israelis to choose our president.”

At least four senior Fatah officials are known to have ambitions to succeed Abbas: former security commanders Jibril Rajoub and Muhammad Dahlan, jailed Tanzim militia leader Marwan Barghouti and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Because of the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, it is highly unlikely that Abbas’s successor would be elected in a presidential election. Hamas has declared that it won’t allow any elections to take place before the two parties sign an agreement ending the dispute.

This means that the next president will be elected by members of Fatah’s two strong bodies, the Revolutionary Council and the Central Committee, or in a limited election that would take place only in PA-controlled territories in the West Bank.


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