Yasir Arafat may be dead, but his Machiavellian strategies linger. Ever protective of his position as sole leader of the Palestinian people, Arafat sought to block any means by which a potential rival could challenge him. But in protecting his position, Arafat also blocked the appointment of a successor in his lifetime.
In the first weeks after Arafat’s death, that seemed not to matter. Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s longtime deputy and the architect of the Oslo accords, quickly secured the backing of Fatah, the PLO’s core body. A seamless transition appeared possible. But now Marwan Barghouti, Fatah’s leader in the West Bank during the current Intifada, has decided to contest Abbas for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority (PA) from his Israeli jail cell.
Facing economic stagnation and what Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei calls “the anarchy of weapons,” a succession struggle is the last thing Palestinians need. Any new leader must spur the economy, enforce the rule of law, fight corruption, unify the PA’s security agencies, and preserve public safety – and he must do so quickly or lose authority.
Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) represents the Old Guard of Palestinian politics. But the Young Guard – those who led the first Intifada (1987-1993), as well as those making their names in the current Intifada – want a share of power. Abbas will thus need to find support within this rising generation of nationalist leaders if he is to succeed.