In the wake of Mahmoud Abbas' inclination not to run for-reelection as Palestinian Authority president, the rumor mill is working overtime in respect to possible replacements. Should Abbas follow through on his announcement, we may have to prepare for a new face near the negotiating table: Will it be the honorable President Mohammad Dahlan? Or perhaps Chairman Nasser al-Kudwa? And maybe even President-Prisoner Marwan Barghouti?
Despite estimates that Abbas will not deliver on his threat and will eventually seek reelection, several names have been mentioned in connection to a possible successor. The most high-flying candidate mentioned is Mohammad Dahlan, who in the wake of the Fatah convention is seen as the most prominent figure in the Fatah movement's central committee.
Dahlan enjoys growing support from extensive public sectors and also among the veteran leadership, which at this time is out of the decision-making loop. He is perceived as the most charismatic and worthy figure for leading Fatah.
However, Dahlan's problem is the personal campaign managed against him by Hamas and media outlets associated with it. By engaging in an intensive character assassination effort, they turned him into a highly controversial figure. This fact may concern many within Fatah who will be wondering whether such contentious figure, despite his abilities, is worthy of becoming the movement's candidate in the presidential elections.
Another name brought up is Abu Maher Ghneim, the movement's number two man, and one of its veterans in Tunisia. Ghneim, who recently returned to the Palestinian territories after many years in exile, is the natural candidate for the job, since he is Abbas' deputy. However, Ghneim does not have any other advantages over the remaining candidates that give him higher chances of being elected.
PA sources say that Ghneim is not a political person, and certainly not someone who can run the Authority politically. "He was never involved in peace talks and political affairs," a source said Thursday evening.
"He was also detached from the reconciliation talks, and besides that, he is a very old man," the source added. Even Ghneim's closest associates said he does not view himself as a candidate for the job.
Another candidate whose name was brought up is former PLO ambassador to the UN and retired Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qudwa. Al-Qudwa's political skills, as well as the international recognition of them, serve as an advantage to the former ambassador.
Al-Qudwa does not have a large group of supporters in Fatah, but he has not been working on building such a camp. The fact that he is the nephew of former President Yasser Arafat will also work to his advantage.
But the fact that he lacks any organizational foundation and his affiliation with the movement's hawkish camp will harm his chances of election.
The final name on the list of possible candidates is the former Tanzim leader and Fatah Parliament Member Marwan Barghouti, who is currently held in an Israeli prison. The most reliable polls carried out in the PA recently show Barghouti's high public support, which equals that of Abbas at 16.7%. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh received 16.1% of the public's support in the same polls.
Despite a decline in Barghouti's popularity following his prolonged incarceration, he is still considered very popular among almost all echelons of Fatah's leadership and its operatives.
Barghouti is considered the candidate with the highest chances of beating Hamas, as one who presents an incorruptible, capable alternative premised on principles.
But one thing stands in the way of Barghouti's path to presidency in Ramallah – the lock and key he is kept behind in Israel, which increases the chances that his candidacy will seem irrelevant, and bring with it much objection within the Fatah movement.