Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas achieved a political victory this week after the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) promoted several of his confidants to serve in key roles on its executive committee. 

Such appointments are meant to better position Abbas’ preferred replacements ahead of a future battle to inherit the presidency. 

Abbas convened a rare conference of the PLO’s Central Council in order to approve the promotions by a majority vote – the first such meeting since 2018.

Hussein al-Sheikh, one of Abbas’ closest advisors, was chosen to fill the Executive Committee seat vacated by the late former PLO chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Al-Sheikh, 61, is considered one of the most powerful and controversial politicians in the West Bank. He serves as a liaison with Israel and the United States and is expected to be responsible for any future negotiations. 

Abbas’ other associates who were elected to important positions are Ramzi Khoury – a new  member of the Executive Committee – and Rawhi Fattouh, 73, who was picked to head the PLO’s highest decision-making body, the National Council. 

Both men are viewed in the Palestinian territories as possible successors to 86-year-old Abbas.

In addition, Abbas’ longtime chief economic advisor Mohammad Mustafa will fill the seat left by former PLO spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi, who quit last year. Ashrawi resigned after Abbas refused to appoint her as Erekat’s successor to assume the negotiations portfolio. She became a prominent critic of the Palestinian leader and condemned the conference, saying it would only “perpetuate stagnation.”

Several Palestinian factions boycotted Abbas’ gathering, accusing him of seeking to consolidate his power in the PLO by packing the body with loyalists. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad – terror groups that also have political parties – are not PLO members and condemned the proceedings.

Abbas has been the leader of the PLO and the PA for more than 17 years. Despite his age and deteriorating health, he has not proposed a clear successor.

During the first day of the gathering, Abbas emphasized in a pre-recorded speech that there will not be peace in the region without the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. He addressed his recent meeting with Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz and said that “contacts with the Israeli side are not a substitute for a political solution based on international legitimacy.” 

“We will not accept the continuation of the occupation and its colonial customs that perpetuate the apartheid and settler terrorism,” he added. 

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