Palestinian politicians tend to view term limits as casual suggestions. This is especially true in the case of the two largest Palestinian parties: the nominally secular Fatah, which manages the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank, and the Islamist terror group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Yet those two factions’ usual disdain for smooth political transitions seemed to wane in February, when Hamas elected a military commander, Yehya Sinwar, to serve as its next leader in Gaza, and the longtime apparatchik Mahmoud al-Aloul became Fatah’s first-ever vice president. The elevation of both men may signal a hard-line shift in Palestinian politics.
FATAH’S NEW CONTENDER
For Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the head of Fatah, the appointment of Aloul as party vice president was a stroke of tactical genius. Abbas’ allies and rivals have hounded him for years about the need to appoint a deputy and to begin planning for a stable transition, but Abbas, who is 81 years old and fears emboldening his challengers, has long refused to do so. Instead, the president has spent much of his time in office consolidating his grip on power and pushing aside his rivals, ensuring that they have remained too weak or unpopular to threaten him. When rumors swirled that Fatah was splintering ahead of a party conference last November, for example, Abbas barred the dissenters from attending the meeting and used the group’s internal elections to purge his rivals.
By naming the 66-year-old Aloul as Fatah’s vice president, Abbas has elevated a man who has the pedigree to eventually head the party but still lacks the influence to directly challenge his leadership. A longtime Fatah member and veteran of the party’s military wing, Aloul was responsible for the 1983 capture and ransom of six Israeli soldiers in Lebanon; in the 1990s, he served as a governor in the West Bank.