PA's Abbas makes right-hand man Hussein Al-Sheikh 'potential successor' as Palestinians demand vote

PA's Abbas makes right-hand man Hussein Al-Sheikh 'potential successor' as Palestinians demand vote
2 min read
27 May, 2022
Hussein Al-Sheikh, 61, who oversees cooperation with Israel regarding civilian issues, succeeds Saeb Erekat, who died from coronavirus in late 2020.
Hussein Al-Sheikh (left) is a key ally and possible successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (not pictured) [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty-archive]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a key ally and possible successor Hussein Al-Sheikh Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee secretary-general on Thursday.

The decision, reported by Palestinian Authority (PA) news agency Wafa, means Civil Affairs Minister Al-Sheikh, 61, is now the second most senior Palestinian official.

There was no vote ahead of the move, and neither the central committee of 87-year-old Abbas's Fatah party nor the PLO's executive committee were asked for their input, Israeli daily Haaretz said.

Al-Sheikh, who oversees cooperation with Israel regarding civilian issues, succeeds Saeb Erekat, who died from coronavirus in late 2020.

The move was described as"opportunistic" by one Fatah figure, who said it demonstrated the rift between those at the top and ordinary Palestinians, Haaretz said.

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Others in the PA indicated the decision may now mean Al-Sheikh is the person most likely to take the mantle of leader after Abbas, putting a temporary end to fighting for the top job.

"In a scenario in which Abu Mazen [Abbas] is unable to function, the chairman of the Palestinian National Council would become the acting president," one informed PA source said.

The source added that Ruhi Fattouh has been selected for this role by the council, though called him an "anonymous figure with zero influence within the Palestinian political system".

Therefore, power will stay focused within the PLO executive committee and "Al-Sheikh's appointment will only strengthen Abbas's grip on the institutions", the source said.

The Palestinian president had been positioning the civil affairs minister to become PLO executive committee secretary-general in the wake of Erekat's death.

In addition to joining Abbas on overseas trips, Al-Sheikh maintains communication with Israeli and US figures.

His presence at diplomatic meetings reportedly creates unease with Riyad Al-Maliki, who serves as foreign minister.

Al-Sheikh has said multiple times that the next PA president will be chosen by Palestinians at the ballot box.