Senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh lost his status as a possible successor to Mahmoud Abbas
By Yoni Ben Menachem
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas convened a meeting of senior Fatah leaders on December 31, 2022, to discuss the publication of the recording of his close associate Hussein al-Sheikh in which he uttered sharp criticism of the PA chairman and even cursed him as “the son of 66 whores.”
Al-Sheikh did not deny in the meeting the words that were heard in the recording leaked to Shehab, the news agency of Hamas. The meeting dealt with the deep disputes in the Fatah movement, and it was agreed to hold another meeting on the subject.
Al-Sheikh briefed his close associates that the publication of the recording will not harm his relationship with the head of the Palestinian Authority, but senior Fatah officials say that a deep crisis has arisen between the two and Abbas is giving Hussein al-Sheikh the cold shoulder.
The rare recording is still causing a stir on the Palestinian street.
The Palestinians are witnessing the continuation of the struggles at the top of the Fatah movement over the question of who will be Abbas’ successor.
The main loser from the leaking of the recording is Hussein al-Sheikh himself. Fatah sources say that his big mouth has “harmed him greatly” and his chances to be Abbas’ successor are close to zero.”
The main beneficiaries of the release of the tape are senior Fatah officials Jabril Rajoub, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Majed Faraj, and Mohammad Dahlan, who was expelled from the Fatah movement but seeks to return after Abbas’ demise.
Another beneficiary is senior Fatah member Tawfik al-Tirawi, an opponent of Hussein al-Sheikh who is suspected of having leaked documents from a committee that investigated the circumstances of Yasser Arafat’s death. The files indicated that Mahmoud Abbas had a great interest in getting rid of Arafat. Fatah sources claim that al-Sheikh is the one who convinced Abbas to take sanctions against al-Tirawi.
Hussein al-Sheikh lost his position as the right-hand man of the head of the Palestinian Authority and his possible successor, sources in the Fatah movement say. Apparently, senior Fatah officials conducted a “sting operation” to secretly record Hussein al-Sheikh about two months ago and leaked the recording to Hamas for publication.
The episode may not be the end of the affair, and soon more recordings of Fatah officials will be leaked to the press.
Abbas is quite satisfied with what happened: there are many senior Fatah officials around him and their dependence on him only increases because they lust for power. He is taking advantage of a “divide and rule” method to achieve his goals.
Abbas told his close associates that he had never designated Hussein al-Sheikh as his successor and that the successor would only be chosen as part of general elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Hussein al-Sheikh’s relations with his political ally Majed Faraj were also ruined, and Faraj tends to support Mahmoud al-Aloul as the successor of Abbas.
Security officials in Israel and the CIA are worried about the developments. Hussein al-Sheikh, who was accepted by them as a possible successor, lost his status, and the battle of succession became even more complicated. As things stand now, there will be no escape from choosing a successor to Abbas through elections. This means a bloody struggle on the ground between the various militias of Fatah and also the likely possibility that the Hamas-supported candidate who wins the elections will be elected president of the Palestinian Authority.
Fatah Secretary General Jabril Rajoub called on Fatah activists this week to unite and put aside their differences. There are now talks between senior Fatah officials about dividing Abbas’ powers into three positions that will be temporarily filled by Fatah officials until the elections are held for the presidency.
Al-Sheikh will continue to serve as the secretary-general of the PLO’s executive committee and also minister of civil affairs, thus maintaining the relationship with Israel and the American administration, but he is considered burned by Abbas and on the Palestinian street.
The succession battle in the PA is far from over, and more troubling struggles at the top of Fatah are expected.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.