Adam Gonn
September 21, 2012 - 12:00am


JERUSALEM, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas has told his staff to start looking for someone to replace him, according to a recent report by Saudi Arabia's Al-Watan newspaper.

"You have 10 days until I return from the United States," Abbas reportedly told members of his Fatah party, "You should seek a new president."

Abbas is scheduled to deliver a speech during the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Sept. 27.

While Abbas has said that he would use the occasion to ask the United Nations to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to the level of a non-member state, based on the new report, he could be planning to use the UNGA to give his farewell speech instead.

However, according to some analysts, a more likely outcome would be an attempt to refocus some of the international community 's attention, which has been diverted to other areas of the Middle East, back to the Palestinians and their national struggle.

Hussein Ibish of the U.S.-based American Task Force on Palestine, told Xinhua Thursday that while no one knows for sure what Abbas' intentions are, he remains skeptical of the likelihood that the Palestinian leader would be prepared to step down.

"There are no clear successors, and that's not just a job for the PNA, Fatah or the Palestine Liberation Organization. You'd expect some kind of leadership to come from the outgoing president on that," Ibish said.

"On the other hand, it's always possible that he's run out of patience, options and the will to persist under virtually impossible circumstances," he added.

Abbas does indeed find himself in a very tough situation both internationally and domestically. There have not been any peace negotiations with Israel for a number of years due to both parties inability to agree on which commitments needs to be fulfilled before talks can resume.

Abbas wants Israel to reinstate a freeze on settlement construction as it did from December 2009 to September 2010, a demand Israel has refused, citing the freeze as a one-time goodwill gesture imposed after American pressure and one that brought no reciprocal Palestinian moves.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, has asked Abbas to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people as part of the negotiations, a request Abbas has so far turned down.

In addition to the stalemate with Israel, increasing numbers of Palestinians living in the West Bank have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the way Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are handling the Palestinian economy, one largely based on foreign donations.

While Shlomo Brom, of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that it is not the first time that Abbas threatens to step down.

"Abbas isn't going to leave so soon because of a number of very strong interests. Some of them are personal interests and some of them are political interests for Fatah," Brom said.

One such political interest is the reconciliation efforts that Abbas has undertaken with Hamas ever since the latter ousted Fatah from Gaza in 2007 and thereby split the West Bank and Gaza into two separate political entities with their own governments. While there have been several mediation attempts, none of the signed deals have been implemented.

As well, Fatah members are concerned that should Abbas step down, Hamas would try to increase their influence on the West Bank -- at Fatah's expense.

Both Brom and Ibish pointed to the lack of designated successor to Abbas as one of the reasons why he would remain in office.

"The only name that is mentioned sometimes is Marwan Barghouti, who is in an Israeli prison, and Israel isn't going to release him, " Brom said.

Barghouti was the leader of Fatah's Tanzim militant forces during the first years of the second intifada when the group carried out hundreds of terror attacks on Israelis. Israel arrested Barghouti in 2002 and sentenced him to five consecutive life sentences for his involvement in a string of deadly attacks.

Brom argued that while there is "definitely a continued crisis on the political level" between Israel and the PNA -- due to the standstill in the negotiations -- daily life still goes on."

Abbas' statement -- which may not have been leaked intentionally -- can be added to similar statements he and other senior PNA members have made in the past few weeks, which were issued in order to put pressure on Israel and donor countries to rescue the PNA from its financial crisis and ensure its relevance.


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