Who is Mahmoud al-Aloul, touted as Abbas’s possible heir?
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Who is Mahmoud al-Aloul, touted as Abbas’s possible heir?

With swirling rumors surrounding the Palestinian leader's health, focus has turned to his deputy and preferred successor

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Mahmoud al-Aloul, member of the Central Committee of Fatah. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Mahmoud al-Aloul, member of the Central Committee of Fatah. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

If reports in various Arab media outlets are true, veteran Fatah leader Mahmoud al-Aloul appears, for now, to be the leading candidate to succeed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Ramallah is awash with rumors about the 82-year-old Abbas’s health condition.

The rumors surfaced after Abbas underwent what some of his aides described as “routine medical checkups” in a US hospital last month.

Despite the rumors, Abbas continues to stick to his busy schedule, holding meetings with Palestinians and foreigners on a daily basis.

“The president doesn’t get enough sleep and that’s why he looks very tired,” said a senior PA official, who refused to comment on the gossip concerning Abbas’s health condition.

Meanwhile, focus has intensified on the 68-year-old Aloul, who was elected a year ago as deputy chairman of Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the PA and it security forces.

Last week, Abbas reportedly told members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council that Aloul was his preferred candidate to succeed him as chairman of Fatah. The council is the second key decision-making body after the Fatah Central Committee.

If Abbas is incapacitated, Palestinian sources say Aloul is expected to serve as acting chairman of Fatah until its representatives elect a new leader.

If elected, Aloul, who belongs to the old guard of the Palestinian leadership, is expected to pursue the same policies of his predecessor.

One reason Abbas prefers Aloul to other candidates, the sources said, was that he shares the PA chief’s strategy according to which the Palestinians should stick to “popular resistance,” and not an “armed struggle,” against Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations Security Council on February 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

Born in Nablus in 1950, Aloul, who is better known as Abu Jihad, holds a B.A degree in Geography from the Beirut Arab University in Lebanon.

Aloul was first arrested by the IDF in 1967 because of his membership in Fatah and involvement in terrorism. After spending three years in Israeli prison, he was deported to Jordan, where he joined Fatah forces that were operating in the kingdom.

Within a short period, Aloul was appointed as a senior official with the Amman-based Western Sector Department, a PLO institution that oversaw terror attacks against Israel and provided funding to Palestinian individuals and institutions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The Western Sector Department was at the time headed by Khalil al Wazir (also known as Abu Jihad), a co-founder of Fatah who was assassinated by Israel in Tunis in 1988. For many years, Wazir served as Yasser Arafat’s second-in-command and was personally responsible for several terror attacks against Israel.

After the PLO moved to Lebanon in the early 70s, Aloul reportedly took part in several battles against the IDF, especially during the 1982 Lebanon War. His resume claims that he played a role in the capture of eight IDF soldiers in northern Lebanon in the early 80s.

After the PLO was expelled from Lebanon to Tunisia, Aloul continued to work closely with Wazir until the latter’s assassination. Aloul’s duties included, among other things, setting up training bases for Fatah fighters in several Arab countries.

After Wazir’s departure from the scene, Aloul was appointed head of the Occupied Territories Committee, which was tasked with providing financial and military aid to the Palestinians during the First Intifada, which erupted in 1987.

The Muqata’a in Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/PalestinianLiberator/File)

Israel initially opposed Aloul’s return to the West Bank together with the PLO leadership, after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, because of his role in terrorism. However, Israel later changed its mind and allowed him to reunite with his PLO cohorts in the West Bank.

In 1995, Arafat appointed Aloul as PA governor of Nablus, the largest West Bank Palestinian city. In 2009, he was elected as member of the Fatah Central Committee thanks to his close and friendly relations with Abbas.

His oldest son, Jihad, was killed in clashes with the IDF during the Second Intifada.

Aloul has often expressed views similar to those made by Abbas. Like Abbas, he has rejected attempts by Arab countries to meddle in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. In a 2016 interview with the London-based Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, Aloul said he too was opposed to deposed Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who currently lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

And like Abbas, Aloul also believes that the US is no longer qualified to act as an honest broker in any peace process between the Palestinians and Israel. Last December, Aloul was quoted as accusing the US of being Israel’s “partner in violating Palestinian rights and assaults on the Palestinian people.”

He is known as a leading advocate of boycotting Israeli goods.

At this stage, it’s hard to assess Aloul’s chances of winning the backing of a majority of Fatah officials as the next PA president. Other senior Fatah officials also see themselves as suitable successors, and this may lead to an open power struggle in the post-Abbas era.

When and if he succeeds Abbas, Aloul will ensure the continued dominance of the PLO’s old guard figures over the Palestinian decision-making process and political landscape.

What is virtually certain is that Abbas’s successor will not be chosen through a fair and free presidential election, but by Fatah and PLO officials in Ramallah: The continued rivalry between Fatah and Hamas has made open elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip an unlikely prospect.

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