Mahmoud Abbas' Health Deteriorates, and Israel Prepares for Bloody Succession Fight

Head of West Bank’s Palestinian Authority was hospitalized for tests in U.S. at end of February

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, January 4, 2015.
AFP

In recent months there has been a deterioration in the health of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who will be 83 at the end of the month. Information about his health has been submitted to Israeli political and security officials.

Although the security cooperation between Israel and the PA continues to be managed well, Israel is readying itself for the possibility that a continued worsening of Abbas’ health will intensify the succession wars in the PA and undermine the relative stability that now prevails in the West Bank.

At the end of last month, while he was in the United States to address the UN General Assembly in New York, Abbas was hospitalized for a few hours for tests in a Baltimore hospital. He also underwent tests in a Ramallah hospital last July. In both instances, the PA spokesman issued denials regarding illnesses Abbas supposedly had and insisted that his medical condition was satisfactory. Abbas himself, in an interview with Palestinian television on February 22, said he was in good health.

However, Palestinian activists opposed to Abbas’ regime claim that he’s ill and getting worse. There was even a claim on social media that he was suffering from cancer of the digestive system. This claim was never confirmed.

Some 20 years ago Abbas was operated on for prostate cancer, and the surgery was said to be successful.

The PA president has cut down his work hours over the past year. People around him say he seems to be getting more short-tempered and argumentative with his aides and other senior PA officials. Aside from his health and advancing age, Abbas’ behavior seems to indicate that the PA, and his leadership, are facing a crisis.

The main reason is the bad relationship with the Trump administration and the United States clearly positioning itself on Israel’s side with regard to its diplomatic dispute with the Palestinians. This American position is accompanied by other moves that are liable to undermine the Palestinian economy, like pushing the Taylor Force law through Congress (which limits American aid to the PA because of its financial support for imprisoned terrorists and their families) and the plan to reduce support for UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency.

At Abbas’ orders, the PA security agencies are continuing to closely coordinate with the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service, and they are regularly assisting in the rescue of Israelis who stray into Area A, which is under PA control. In closed forums with foreign diplomats, senior PA officials admit that the IDF is showing restraint in the West Bank and its approach is preventing violent flare-ups.

But as Abbas’ health gets worse, the battle among the many contenders hoping to succeed him will intensify. There are nearly 10 Palestinian politicians and security officials who see themselves worthy of the job, and there could be temporary alliances formed between some of them in an effort to win the leadership of PA. Israel is concerned about the instability that could ensue the closer the end of Abbas’ tenure seems – and is concerned that the internal tension will impact the degree to which the PA security services will work to prevent attacks on the IDF and Israeli civilians in the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Issam Rimawi, Reuters