Fatah has begun studying the legal mechanisms for nominating a deputy to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a party official said on Saturday.

Central Committee member Abbas Zaki told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that five members of the committee were selected to study the constitutional requirements for the new position.

“There is a consensus within Palestinian leadership regarding the need to nominate a deputy to the president, given the dangers facing the Palestinian issue and the attempts to draft a constitution and [create] legal frameworks for the future Palestinian state,” Zaki told Xinhua.

Yasser Arafat, the first chairman of the Palestinian Authority, never nominated a deputy. But international pressure exerted on him following the violent upsurge of the Second Intifada forced Arafat to nominate Fatah veteran Mahmoud Abbas as the first Palestinian prime minister in March 2003, serving as his de facto deputy.

Despite his ailing health, 78-year-old Abbas has not nominated a deputy either. Abbas has unilaterally extended his term as president since January 2009 amid a political schism with rival movement Hamas, revolving around — among other issues — the arrangements of new presidential and parliamentary elections.

Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dweik (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dweik (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

According to the Palestinian Basic Law, if the president is to become incapacitated, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament must fill the position pending new elections to be held within 60 days. The current speaker of parliament is Hamas member Aziz Dweik, a fact adding to Fatah’s angst over the day after Abbas.

Palestinian media interpreted statements by the Israeli chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, late January whereby Palestinians will “pay the price” for Abbas’s “unacceptable positions” as a veiled Israeli threat on the president’s life.

Zaki said that Fatah’s decision to nominate a deputy to Abbas had “nothing to do with the Israeli threats directed personally at President Mahmoud Abbas.”