Who are the front runners to replace Mahmoud Abbas as Palestine's next leader?

Marwan Barghouti is seen as the most unifying candidate but he is being held in an Israeli jail

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has resisted calls to hand over power to a new leader. EPA
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Israel's war in Gaza has refocused international attention on the need for new Palestinian leadership and a figure to replace the 88-year-old Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, is the current president of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank and is dominated by the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

But Mr Abbas's rule is considered deeply unpopular. The Palestinian leader, who has been in power since 2005, has been accused of monopolising power and repeatedly resisted calls for elections while presiding over a deteriorating economy and no progress towards an independent Palestinian state. The PA is also accused of widespread corruption and has co-ordinated with Israel in the enforcement of security in the West Bank.

Last year, 80 per cent of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza wanted Mr Abbas to resign, according to a poll by the respected Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research.

Mr Abbas is yet to formally announce a succession plan.

He has reportedly pushed for the PA to have an enlarged role in governing Gaza once the war is over, despite Hamas currently ruling there and political analysts cautioning that the unpopular PA may not even survive that long.

Relations with Hamas will be a key task for whoever replaces Mr Abbas as the head of the secular PA, led by Fatah. The two Palestinian groups fought a civil war in 2006-2007 that resulted in Hamas taking control of Gaza from Fatah, after Hamas's surprise victory in parliamentary elections.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas as a military and political force, but Arab officials say that the Iran-backed group has gained in popularity among Palestinians since the outbreak of the war and is unlikely to disappear completely.

As international mediators discuss post-war scenarios in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, several names have been put forward as potential successors to Mr Abbas.

Here is what you need to know about the main players.

Marwan Barghouti

Political affiliation: Former leader of Tanzim, the military wing of Fatah

Age: 64

Current status: Imprisoned in Israel since 2002, but seen as a unifying force in Palestinian politics

Marwan Barghouti has long been considered a future leader of the Palestinian Authority, and has often been described as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela by the local media.

Barghouti joined Fatah in 1974 and was jailed for the first time in 1978.

He rose to prominence as a leader during the 1987 uprising that became known as the First Intifada. He was deported to Jordan in 1987, by Israel, and spent seven years in exile before being able to return under the conditions of the Oslo Accords signed between the PLO and Israel.

As the leader of Tanzim, one of Fatah's armed paramilitaries, he played a leading role in the Second Intifada that broke out in 2000. He was arrested in 2002, and convicted of five murders by an Israeli court in May 2004.

Barghouti denies the allegations and told the judges at his trial, in fluent Hebrew learnt in prison, that he does not recognise their jurisdiction over him, calling the proceedings, "a court of occupation".

He led about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in a hunger strike in 2017 to protest against "Israel's illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners".

While in prison, Barghouti released a 255-page book, written secretly behind bars and smuggled out via lawyers and family members, detailing his experience in jail.

He is seen as the most likely candidate to unify supporters of Fatah and its historical rival Hamas. A poll of 1,200 Palestinians conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in December 2023 put Barghouti as by far the most popular candidate to succeed Mr Abbas.

However, it is far from clear whether Barghouti will ever be released from prison. His wife, the lawyer and Fatah member Fadwa Barghouti, leads the campaign for his release.

Hussein Al Sheikh

Political affiliation: PLO/Fatah, Palestinian Authority

Age: 63

Current status: Senior PLO and PA official well connected in Israel, Egypt and Jordan

Hussein Al Sheikh is considered to be Mr Abbas's preferred candidate.

Mr Abbas made him his de facto number two by last year appointing him as secretary general of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

Mr Al Sheikh had served on Fatah's central committee and headed the PA's General Authority of Civil Affairs.

He is linked to the Palestinian security apparatus and developed ties with Egyptian and Israeli officials during a range of co-ordination jobs within the PA. He also has strong ties with Jordan.

Before his long career in the Palestinian Authority, Mr Al Sheikh says he was detained by Israeli forces for 11 years, from 1978 to 1989, during which time he learnt Hebrew.

Until the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war, he was seen as the preferred candidate of the US and its Arab allies. However, his association with the unpopular Mr Abbas and the status quo may now work against him.

Mohammed Dahlan

Political affiliation: Former Fatah security commander

Age: 62

Current status: Politician in exile who retains home support

Mohammed Dahlan, known as Abu Fadi, is a former security operative who was for decades the top and most feared enforcer for Fatah.

Born in a refugee camp in southern Gaza, he joined Fatah in the 1980s and led the Gaza branch of the Fatah Youth Movement.

He was arrested 11 times by Israeli forces during the 1980s and deported to Jordan in 1987.

Mr Dahlan then joined Yasser Arafat and the exiled PLO leadership in Tunis, where he began to build the wide international network that he retains today.

After returning to Palestine in 1994, he took on a security role responsible for suppressing PLO opponents in Gaza. Security forces under his command repeatedly clashed with Hamas members and others in Gaza.

Having established a power base with his security forces and international connections, Mr Dahlan made a failed bid to unseat Mr Arafat in the early 2000s.

He was in charge of Fatah's security in Gaza during the 2006-2007 Hamas-Fatah clashes in Gaza, which Hamas won. He fell out with Mr Abbas in the aftermath of the defeat, having accused him of corruption.

In 2011, Mr Dahlan was expelled from Fatah and moved to the UAE. In 2014, he was tried in his absence on corruption charges.

He has continued to foster a strong international network from outside Palestine and is thought to be close to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and other regional players.

Mr Dahlan retains a political base in Khan Younis, his hometown in Gaza. According to a research paper by the European Council on Foreign Relations, he has been advocating reconciling differences between Fatah and Hamas. He has previously said that he does not aspire to any future political position.

Jibril Al Rajoub

Political affiliation: Fatah

Age: 70

Current status: Politician with connection to Hamas who is also president of the Palestinian Football Association

Jibril Al Rajoub, known as Abu Rami, is a former senior Fatah official whose name has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Mr Abbas.

Mr Al Rajoub was an aid to Yasser Arafat, working on security co-ordination with Israel until he was removed in the early 2000s. He remained in Fatah and became secretary general of Fatah's central committee in 2017.

Mr Al Rajoub is seen as one of the PLO leaders with whom Hamas can work. His brother, Nayef Al Rajoub, was religious affairs minister under Hamas.

Mr Al Rajoub's recent public profile is centred on his association with sports in Palestine. He is head of the Palestinian Higher Council for Youth and Sports, the Palestine Olympic Committee, and Palestinian Football Association.

Nasser Al Kidwa

Political affiliation: National Democratic Assembly, formerly Fatah

Age: 70

Current status: Former diplomat and reformist living in the US who is critical of Abbas

Born in Gaza, Nasser Al Kidwa is a veteran Palestinian diplomat whose career is marked by criticism of Mr Abbas.

He is the nephew of Yasser Arafat. He joined Fatah in 1969 and was active in Palestinian student politics.

Mr Al Kidwa has represented the PLO at the UN and played a range of international roles, including UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan.

He helped to lodge the case against Israel’s separation wall in the International Court of Justice, a rare Palestinian diplomatic victory, after the court issued an advisory opinion in 2004 in favour of the illegality of the wall.

In 2022, Mr Al Kidwa formed the National Democratic Assembly, a group of reformists who have been trying to break Fatah's monopoly on West Bank politics.

He worked as Arab League envoy to both Libya and Syria, working jointly with the UN on the latter country. Members of the Syrian opposition to President Bashar Al Assad told The National that, unlike other UN officials, Mr Al Kidwa was interested in a genuine political transformation in Syria, rather than the mere pursuit of a deal.

Mohamad Shtayyeh

Political affiliation: Fatah

Age: 66

Current status: Palestinian Authority prime minister seen as technocrat and supporter of Mr Abbas

Mohammed Shtayyeh is the PA's current prime minister, after being appointed by Mr Abbas in 2019 as the PA's funding crisis deepened.

He was involved in peace negotiations with Israel since the 1991 Madrid peace conference, and has attended numerous conferences and negotiations.

He was responsible for managing investment funds under the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction.

Mr Shtayyeh is seen as a technocrat. His CV states that he is a politician and economist, with a PhD from the University of Sussex, and is a published author

Mohammad Mustafa

Political affiliation: PA

Age: 69

Current status: Chairman of Palestine Investment Fund and businessman

Mohammad Mustafa is one of Mr Abbas’s senior advisers on the economy.

He was Deputy Prime Minister from 2013 to 2014 and is an independent member of the PLO's Executive Committee.

He has chaired the Palestine Investment Fund since 2009 and founded the Palestine Telecommunications Company (PalTel), alongside other businesses.

He held prominent positions within the World Bank over 15 years and is seen as a technocrat.

Updated: January 25, 2024, 12:00 PM