The Fatah Central Committee on Wednesday elected Mahmoud al-Aloul to serve as the movement’s vice chairman, making him the first to hold the position.
The election of Aloul to a one-year term reportedly comes after weeks of disputes between Fatah members over the position, and two months since the newest central committee was elected at the 7th General Congress in December.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will determine the specific responsibilities of the vice chairman in the coming days, according to Abbas Zaki, a central committee member.
“The vice chairman will share responsibilities with the president in leading the Fatah movement,” Zaki told The Jerusalem Post by phone on Thursday.
Aloul, 67, is loyal to Abbas, supporting his policies pertaining to Fatah and the PA.
He is well-known among the Fatah base as he served as commissioner of the group’s popular Mobilization and Organization Commission from 2009 until his election as vice chairman.
Aloul, who is known popularly as Abu Jihad, was a senior Fatah military leader in Lebanon, where he worked with the secret Western Sector, which planned and organized attacks in Israel, and served as assistant to top Fatah leader Khalil al-Wazir.
Following the signing of the Oslo Accords, Aloul returned to the Palestinian territories, where he was appointed governor of Nablus, the second largest West Bank city after Hebron.
Aloul has been a major proponent of popular, nonviolent resistance against Israel’s military rule, backing the boycott of specific Israeli products and attending anti-Israeli military rule rallies and protests. However, Aloul has not categorically eschewed armed confrontation with Israel, saying in an interview in 2014 that, “All forms of resistance are a legitimate right of all occupied peoples… but at this time in history, popular resistance is most appropriate.”
Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Bir Zeit University, told the Post that Aloul’s election to vice chairman will raise his profile, but does not necessarily improve his chances of replacing Abbas as PA president.
“Aloul’s new position does not mean much in terms of succession. If Abbas is no longer chairman of Fatah, Aloul will not automatically become chairman of Fatah, rather the central committee has to meet and elect a new chairman,” said Khatib, who is also a former PA government official. “The fact that he was elected indicates that he could be among the candidates who have a chance at being elected Fatah chairman in the future, but that is not fixed because the balances and alliances are always changing in Fatah.”
Grant Rumley, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told the Post that while Aloul’s election may not be a game changer in terms of succession, it does introduce a new contender.
“By virtue of his new position as No. 2 in Fatah, Aloul cannot be ignored or discounted in the race to replace Abbas,” Rumley said.
After Aloul completes his one-year term as vice chairman, the central committee will either extend Aloul’s term or vote for a new vice chairman.
On Wednesday, the central committee also appointed Jibril Rajoub as its secretary- general for a one-year term, the No. 3 position in the movement.
Other important portfolios were also distributed to various committee members with the noticeable exception of Marwan Barghouti. Many in the party had expected the longtime Fatah leader to receive some form of recognition, and possibly the vice chairmanship. Barghouti is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in killing civilians during the second intifada.
Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan’s wife, who had called on the central committee to elect her husband vice chairman, expressed her disappointment in a Facebook post Wednesday evening. “Marwan is not absent; he is present and in the hearts of all of our people,” she wrote.
The next major item on the future agendas of the central committee meetings is to appoint three additional members.
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