Two potential successors to 86-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were named on Monday to top posts in the Palestine Liberation Organization at a meeting boycotted by his Islamist rivals.
The Palestinian Authority's official news agency WAFA said the PLO's 141-member Central Council appointed Hussein Al-Sheikh, 61, an Abbas confidant who serves as key liaison with Israel and the United States, to the PLO's Executive Committee.
He is expected to replace the late Saeb Erekat as the committee's secretary-general.
The council, meeting for the first time in nearly four years, picked Rawhi Fattouh, 73, another Abbas aide, to head the PLO's highest decision-making body, the National Council.
Both men were nominated by the Western-backed Abbas and his Fatah party and are widely seen in the Palestinian territories as possible successors. They are not expected to promote any shift in policies over the handling of the conflict with Israel.
The Hamas and Islamist Jihad movements turned down an invitation to attend the Central Council's two-day session, which began on Sunday, saying Abbas had to institute power-sharing reforms first.
“These appointments are void, illegal and lack (national) consensus. It is nothing but a redeployment of (Abbas's) team,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in Gaza.
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Other senior council members boycotted the meeting, accusing the president of using the meeting to consolidate his inner circle's grip on power.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, who resigned last year from the PLO Executive Committee, was among those that boycotted the meeting. On Saturday, she published a letter stating that the meeting was “a step that would deepen the division and harm the principle of cooperation and democratic change.”
Palestinian analysts say the Central Council's appointments could improve Sheikh's and Fattouh's prospects of succeeding Abbas, but internal divisions and other potential challengers cloud the political picture.
Abbas, who has a history of heart problems, has not proposed a successor.
The meeting of the council, which currently consists of 141 members, was once considered a seminal event in Palestinian politics, because the council has the power to approve appointments to the PLO Executive Committee, under whose aegis the PA operates.