Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flew to Germany last week for medical checks, official says

The Palestinian Authority leader’s future has been called into question by health issues in recent years

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the extraordinary session of the Arab League foreign ministers to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt Sunday, April 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been riddled by health problems in recent years, travelled to a hospital in Germany for medical tests last week, according to a Palestinian official.

He travelled to a hospital in Berlin, the German capital, for checks before returning to the occupied West Bank on Friday.

“He’s OK,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as they are not permitted to brief the media.

He will “appear today in the cabinet meeting” in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, where his Palestinian Authority government is based and meets regularly. It operates limited self-rule in the territory under an Israeli military occupation.

The official did not know why he travelled such a distance, from the Jordanian capital Amman to Berlin, for the checks. He has previously been treated at the Al Istishari hospital in Ramallah. Such a trip, a four-hour and 40 minute flight, may indicate that he required specialist medical facilities not available in Jordan or the occupied West Bank.

His record of ill health is long. In May last year, he was hospitalised three times in one week for minor ear surgery and pneumonia. Official Palestinian media moved quickly to release images showing him smiling and walking on his own, appearing in good health after his hospital stay.

The statesman also known by the moniker Abu Mazen is overweight and a long-time heavy smoker. He has previously experienced health issues ranging from prostate cancer to heart trouble. He underwent successful, minor heart surgery at a Jordanian hospital in 2005. He was hospitalised for heart tests again in October 2016.

The health of the ailing 83-year-old Palestinian leader has long been the subject of speculation in the West Bank and rumours about his well-being have led to jostling among Palestinian officials to be his eventual successor.

"Senior Palestinian leaders have been positioning themselves in anticipation of a future post-Abbas era for a while now, albeit still without a clear understanding of how the succession will work and who will come out on top," said Hugh Lovatt, Middle East and North Africa policy fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations.

Mr Abbas has attempted to strengthen his grip on power in old age, ensuring that his inner circle will be among the contenders to replace him despite not officially naming a successor.

He has refused to hold Palestinian elections since 2005, the year he entered power following the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, amid a deep rift with Gazan rulers Hamas. He is currently serving his 15th year of a four-year term as Palestinian president.

His cash-strapped government is already facing a crisis as it has ended all public ties with the administration of US President Donald Trump. The American leader has cut funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem that serve sick Palestinians and relocated the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Israel has also cut millions of dollars in tax revenue collected from the Palestinians over the PA’s payments to the families of Palestinian attackers killed by Israeli forces or languishing in Israeli prisons.

Both Mr Abbas and his close aides fear a surge for Hamas in any election and a bid by the group for greater power in any transition in the occupied West Bank. The group and Mr Abbas’s Fatah party have been at loggerheads over salary payments to employees in Gaza and a lack of power in the strip, which Gazans have blamed on Mr Abbas squeezing the enclave.

Certain sections of Gazan society view him as a traitor for his apparent mistreatment of the territory. His popularity in the occupied West Bank has also dwindled, with Palestinians of all ages frustrated by his co-operation with Israel on security matters, his lack of progress in the peace process, and his tight squeeze on dissent and Palestinian democracy.

But, in January, Mr Abbas vowed that he would not end his life a “traitor” and would continue to oppose US moves in the region and any peace plan rolled out by Washington.

“We are dealing with three issues that we cannot accept: the situation with the US, the situation with Israel and the situation with Hamas,” he said on a visit to Cairo in January.

“The doors are closed to the US,” he continued. “As long as it does not retract its decisions against the Palestinian people, no Palestinian should meet with the American leadership, no matter what their role is.”