RAMALLAH — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hospitalized in Ramallah for treatment of a lung infection, is generating widespread concern for his overall health since it’s the third time in less than one week that the octogenarian has been hospitalized.
Doctors have not said publicly how long they intend to hold the president at Al-Istishari Arab Hospital, but concern has grown exponentially as the diagnosis progressed from ear infection to high fever to lung infection, not unrelated to previous health bouts including one with prostate cancer a few years ago. Public confidence was not boosted when it became known that Abbas was hospitalized for the lung infection and not for tests was first announced.
Mahmoud Al-Aloul, vice president of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), told The Media Line that the president’s condition is now improving.
“He had a lung infection that caused a spike in his body temperature,” he said. “But Al-Istishari Hospital provided the needed treatment and his body is responding to it perfectly.”
Once again, the uncertainty surrounding Abbas’s hospitalization triggered discussions about his potential replacement.
“The Palestinian Parliament is on hold,” Hanna Issa, a Palestinian political analyst, told The Media Line. If Abbas is not able to perform his role, Palestinian law stipulates that the head of the Palestinian Parliament—currently Aziz Dweik, who is a Hamas member—will become the president for 60 days, until Palestinians elect a new president in a national election.
Nevertheless, Issa added, the PLO’s executive committee will have to agree on who will become the interim president, raising the likelihood that Abbas’s replacement will be PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.
“In any case, Hamas is not qualified to govern Palestinians in the West Bank,” Issa said, stressing that the PLO holds jurisdiction there.
On the Palestinian street, Abbas’s hospitalization elicited critical responses.
Two residents from east Jerusalem told The Media Line that they would not be saddened if the president died. “I don’t feel bad for him; he is not doing his job as president,” said Mohammed, who did not want to reveal his last name.
“Once we [East Jerusalem residents] asked the PA to sponsor a treatment for a man who was shot by the Israeli police. Its response was ‘no.’” He went on to accuse Abbas of stealing aid-money for the Palestinians and saving the funds in foreign bank accounts.
Kawthar, who also feared disclosing her last name, told The Media Line that the PA is neglecting its own citizens. “How are the poor people within the Palestinian community faring during this holy month of Ramadan?” She added that Abbas is not able to govern the Palestinians and must be replaced urgently regardless of his health condition.
“Look at Israel. It offers hospitals, clean streets and many other services to its citizens.” The Palestinians, she added, “do not have proper public facilities or human services because of the PA’s corruption.”
West Bank Palestinians expressed both curiosity and confusion over Abbas’s health condition. Marwan (last name withheld) told The Media Line that the situation is difficult and unpredictable.
“We Palestinians are going through a tough time and it isn’t right to even comment about what’s next before Abbas is out of the hospital.”
Tamer (last name withheld), another West Bank Palestinian, said that given Abbas’s age, his hospitalization does not come as a surprise.
“The risk is what happens in case he dies.” He explained that many contenders are vying for the presidency, with Mohammad Dahlan, the former leader of Fatah in Gaza, on the top of the list.
“Palestine will go through a very critical and tough time if anything happens to Abbas. It will be harder than the period after Yassir Arafat’s death [the former chairman of the PLO],” he concluded.
“Palestine will suffer.” Click here for more stories from The Media Line.