After Abbas: three responses

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is 81 years old, has publicly stated his intention not to compete again in elections and has appointed no successor. Given the state of the Palestinian system as well as increasing frustration with the PA and the moribund peace process with Israel, a chaotic battle for succession – one that is already underway – is the most likely scenario for the post-Abbas era.

Our new Strategic Assessment, the first in a two-part series, provides a comprehensive analysis of the current state of Palestinian politics and the possible candidates to succeed Abbas. Part two examines different strategic options for the Palestinians in the post-Abbas period, including the long term viability of the PA and future security coordination with Israel.

To accompany the report, we asked three experts on Palestinian politics and Israeli-Palestinian relations who they thought would succeed Mahmoud Abbas, and what the consequences would be in the post-Abbas era.


Grant Rumley

Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Who succeeds Mahmoud Abbas will largely depend on how Abbas leaves the presidency.

“If he retires and appoints a successor, expect a loyalist like long-time negotiator Saeb Erekat to rise. If Abbas suddenly passes away and there are elections, the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti would be the frontrunner. If he dies and elections are not held, however, a power struggle between various factions aligned with strongmen like Mohammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub is likely.

“In any event, the longer he goes without paving the way for a viable succession, the more unstable the post-Abbas era looks.”


Paul Scham

Executive Director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland.

“The two previous Presidents of the Palestinian authority have filled two other jobs as well: head of Fatah and Chairman of the PLO.  Presumably, whoever succeeds Abbas will be chosen by Fatah and do the same.

“The President is simultaneously a semi-dictator combined with extreme impotence. He generally rules by decree and his favor makes or breaks officials.  On the other hand, squeezed by both Israel and Hamas, there is little he can actually do to ameliorate the Palestinian plight and is therefore likely to become, like Abbas, the object of popular derision.  Or, he could provoke a war with Israel.

“Of the half dozen likely candidates and a similar number of dark horses, there is none currently more likely to be chosen than the others.”


Einat Wilf

Senior Fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, Baye Foundation Adjunct Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and former Member of the Knesset.

“The only Palestinian leader who could make a real difference to peace is the leader who would accept defeat. True peace requires final acceptance by the Palestinian national movement of the equal right of the Jewish national movement – Zionism – for self-determination.

“Such recognition entails partition of the land they view as exclusively Arab Palestine and forgoing the claim known as the Right of Return. Much of the world considers this a necessary compromise for fair peace. The Palestinians consider this an unjust and humiliating defeat. Therefore it matters not who leads the Palestinians, as none would be allowed (yet?) to sign this surrender.”