Former Nablus governor Mahmoud al-Aloul was appointed as the first ever vice president of the ruling Palestinian Fatah movement Wednesday night, marking him as a possible candidate to succeed Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian Authority president.
Aloul, 67, apppointed by the Fatah Central Committee, is a close confidant of the 82-year-old Abbas. He is considered popular within the party, and was a long-time leader of Fatah’s armed wing before following the group’s leadership from Tunis to the West Bank in 1995 in the wake of the Oslo Accords.
He was appointed Palestinian labor minister in 2006, and in 2009 was elected to the Fatah Central Committee. He advocates nonviolent resistance against Israel, including boycotts and protests, but as recently as 2013 said in an interview that Fatah had not renounced “its right to use violence.”
Aloul, also known as Abu Jihad, is the first vice president appointed to Fatah since the party’s founding in the 1960s.
His appointment puts him in line to succeed Abbas, and serves as a fresh blow to Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader convicted of orchestrating deadly terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank during the Second Intifada. Bargouti, who is currently serving out a life sentence in an Israeli prison, is often seen as the next Palestinian leader, after a previous Fatah meeting also saw him sidelined.
However, as the Fatah Central Committee did not also appoint Aloul deputy leader of the Palestinian Authority, his succession is not certain, Reuters reported.
Another possible successor to Abbas to emerge Wednesday night was the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, who was appointed secretary general of the 18-member Fatah Central Committee.
During the Seventh Fatah Congress in December, Rajoub was ranked second-highest in the central committee after receiving the second-largest number of votes, second only to Barghouti.
Previously, the secretary general and vice president of the Fatah central committee was one position, but it was decided to split it into two. Palestinian commentators assessed that Rajoub may have cut a deal with Aloul to split the position.
The appointments are due to be reviewed in a year.
A hit to Barghouti
Though Barghouti won the most votes during the Seventh Fatah Congress in December, the decision not to appoint him to any role Wednesday night is seen as an attempt to distance him from holding any office that would put him in line to succeed Abbas.
Some in Barghouti’s circle expressed concern in recent days that the Fatah central committee would deny him an appointment, according to anonymous statements given to Arab media.
Currently, Barghouti’s future in Fatah is unclear. According to his close associates, Barghouti agreed to participate in the Seventh Fatah Congress only after Abbas promised him the deputy position.
Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan’s wife, slammed the Fatah central committee, writing in a Facebook post Wednesday night that they had “given into the threats of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”
Another significant loser after from Wednesday’s meeting is Tawfik Tirawi, who was a candidate for the top roles but was appointed to a minor position as commissioner of popular organizations.
Saeb Erekat retained his appointment as top Palestinian negotiator, though peace talks with Israel fizzled out three years ago.