RAMALLAH (AFP) – The embattled leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) held a rare meeting yesterday to fill key roles that could hint at a favoured successor for 86-year-old Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
The PLO, tasked since its creation in 1964 with leading the struggle for Palestinian statehood, has faced growing questions over its relevance in recent years and criticism for failing to hold regular elections to fill leadership roles.
Yesterday’s meeting of the PLO’s 124-member Central Committee – the first in four years – was expected to fill several executive committee vacancies, including that held by ex-chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who died in 2020 after contracting the coronavirus.
Highlighting Palestinian frustration with the PLO and Abbas, the organisation’s chairman, yesterday’s meeting was boycotted by several leftist factions and protests demanding his resignation were called in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza, ruled by Hamas.
A political scientist at Birzeit University in the West Bank Ghassan Khatib told AFP that “the very significant questions about the legitimacy” of the PLO have been fuelled by “the lack of elections”.
Abbas has been accused of maintaining a tight grip over the PLO, an umbrella group representing various Palestinian factions, and the Palestinian Authority, which has civilian control over parts of the West Bank.
Khatib said the fact that yesterday’s decisions would be made only by Abbas’s inner circle “will further deepen the debate and the question over legitimacy”.
With the octogenarian leader set to address the central committee, protesters had gathered in Ramallah and in Gaza City.
Widely tipped to take over Erekat’s chief negotiator role when results are announced later is Hussein Al Sheikh, the current Palestinian civil affairs minister who is charged with dealing with Israel.
Analysts have speculated that Sheikh could be Abbas’s preferred choice as a presidential successor, with the vote offering a chance to elevate his profile.
The meeting was also due to fill the executive committee slot vacated by Hanan Ashrawi, who left the PLO in protest in 2020.
Hamas is not part of the PLO, a source of friction with Abbas’ secular Fatah movement that has in part hindered unified Palestinian governance.