Co-written by Evan Charney
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced the surprise appointment of Mahmoud al-Aloul as his deputy in the Fatah party Wednesday night. This is the first time in Fatah’s history that the party has appointed a deputy. The move and the man are both seen as controversial.
Al-Aloul has a long history in the party’s militant activities. He served for years as an assistant to Khalil al-Wazir, the mastermind of PLO terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1983, al-Aloul led a raid that captured six Israeli soldiers, eventually returning those soldiers in a prisoner exchange. When al-Wazir was assassinated, al-Aloul became the chief for the PLO’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza. He returned to the West Bank in 1995, where he became governor of the Nablus region before joining the parliament in 2006 and rising to Fatah’s highest body, the Central Committee, in 2009.
Within Fatah’s upper echelons, al-Aloul assumed the portfolio of mobilization and organization within the party, and in that role he has had an active presence. He is frequently spotted leading protests in the West Bank, and in November of last year, he gave a speech where he declared: “When we talk about our enemies, we talk about the [Israeli] occupation and the United States.”
Al-Aloul’s appointment likely raises the specter of a protracted power struggle when Abbas, now 81, departs the scene. There is already a quiet but contentious battle underway among the party’s top players to succeed Abbas. Al-Aloul appears to have surged, but other players include Jibril Rajoub (former West Bank security chief), Marwan Barghouti (a mastermind of terror attacks during the second intifada), Mohammed Dahlan (an exiled former Arafat protégé), and others.
While al-Aloul may be Abbas’ deputy within Fatah, he is technically not Abbas’ anointed successor within the Palestinian Authority. According to Palestinian Basic Law, in the absence of a president, power goes to the speaker of parliament for sixty days. The current speaker is Aziz al-Dweik, a member of Hamas. So, were Abbas to suddenly vacate the presidency, Hamas would still lay claim to the PA, while al-Aloul and his competitors would try to claim Fatah.
In short, the appointment promises to exacerbate the ongoing power struggle within Fatah. As he fends off calls to name a successor, that may be just what Abbas wants.
Grant Rumley is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Evan Charney is an intern. Follow Grant on Twitter @GrantRumley