Arafat’s Possible Successors

Since the Israeli government declared Yasser Arafat "irrelevant" in December 2001, the question arose as to who might be an acceptable negotiating partner for the Israelis. Arafat's death on November 11, 2004, immediately raises the question of who will take his place. The Palestinians have no order of succession and Arafat never indicated who he wanted to replace him, so a great deal of speculation centers around the following Palestinians who appear the leading candidates to assume power.

Jabril Rajoub

The head of the Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, Rajoub leads one of the most powerful of the Palestinian Authority's various security agencies and has several thousand officers under his command. Rajoub, 51, earned his credentials on the Palestinian street after spending years in Israeli jails, where he also learned to speak Hebrew. He was later deported to Lebanon and then followed the PLO leadership into exile in Tunisia. From Tunis, he helped coordinate the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation, beginning in 1987. Rajoub has been a negotiator on security issues with the Israelis under U.S. mediation. Known for his gravelly voice and dour expression, he has been frequently interviewed by Israeli media since the start of the latest Palestinian uprising.

Mohammed Dahlan

The head of the Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip, Dahlan has played a key role in negotiations with Israel. In the absence of an official army, he and Rajoub are the closest to military chiefs the Palestinian Authority has. Both have recruited young men from the ranks of Arafat's Fatah faction to carry out a security mandate largely aimed at reining in militant groups. Dahlan, 43, was a student leader in the Palestinian intifada of the 1980s and was also deported by the Israelis. He continued to orchestrate the protesters from exile in Tunis where he won Arafat's confidence. Dahlan angered Arafat last month by expressing dissatisfaction over the lack of a coherent policy during the current uprising. He and Rajoub have been criticized by human rights groups for their methods during past crackdowns on Islamic militants.

Marwan Barghouti

One of the most popular figures of the current Palestinian uprising, Barghouti is a senior Fatah leader in the West Bank. Schooled in Hebrew during his time in Israeli jails, Barghouti was a field Fatah leader during the first intifada of 1987, when he was deported by Israel. Barghouti, 45, has struck a chord with ordinary Palestinians. The son of a West Bank farmer, he has appeared frequently at demonstrations, funerals and in the Arab press. Israel asked that the Palestinian Authority extradite Barghouti for questioning in connection with a number of West Bank shootings. Israel arrested him in 2002 and put him on trial for his role in terrorist attacks against Israelis. On May 20, 2004, the Tel Aviv District Court convicted Barghouti of three terror attacks in which five Israelis were murdered, and also of attempted murder, membership in a terror organization and conspiring to commit a crime. He was acquitted of 33 other murders with which he was charged, because of a lack of evidence. On June 6, 2004, Barghouti was sentenced to five consecutive life terms and 40 years. Israel has said it will not release him.

Ahmed Korei

Also known as Abu Ala, Korei has served as speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council since 1996 when Palestinians voted to install the 88-member lawmaking body. Korei was previously the Palestine Liberation Organization's "money-man" who ran Samed, the industrial and investment fund which for years underpinned the movement's finances. Korei, 66, was one of three PLO leaders who met secretly with Israelis in Norway to hammer out the Oslo accords which paved the way for the first interim peace deal between the two sides in 1993. Korei, from a wealthy family in Abu Dis, near Jerusalem, is not popular among ordinary Palestinians, who view him as an aristocrat. He gave up a banking career in 1968 to join Fatah.

Mahmoud Abbas

Also known as Abu Mazen, Abbas was the PLO man who signed the 1993 peace accord with Israel. He was an architect of the deal and his long contacts with Israeli leftists won him a reputation as a PLO dove. He commands respect among Palestinian officials, in United States, Israel and the Arab world as the brains behind the PLO. But he lacks Arafat's charisma and has little credibility among ordinary Palestinians. Some consider him too conciliatory toward Israel. Abbas, 69, was forced to flee to Syria with his family when Israel was created in 1948. He joined Arafat's Fatah faction in 1965. A member since 1980 of the PLO's Executive Committee, its top body, he was elected the Committee's secretary general in 1996, informally confirming his position as Arafat's deputy.

Source: MSNBC, (December 6, 2001)