RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told political confidants he won't seek re-election to the top posts in the Palestine Liberation Organization or his Fatah movement in upcoming elections, two participants in the meeting said Tuesday.
In such a scenario, Abbas would still retain his most important post, as president of the Palestinian self-rule government.
Rumors have been swirling that the 80-year-old plans to step down as president, after a decade on the job, because all roads to Palestinian statehood appear blocked. Critics have cast Abbas' latest moves, including arranging for internal PLO elections, as an attempt to consolidate control and sideline opponents.
Currently, Abbas holds the three top positions in Palestinian politics — as president, head of the PLO and Fatah chief.
In mid-September, the Palestinians' parliament-in-exile is to meet in the West Bank town of Ramallah to elect a new Executive Committee. Traditionally, the committee has elected the head of the PLO. If Abbas doesn't run for the committee, he would ostensibly not be eligible for the PLO's top job.
A new Executive Committee would create a pool of potential Abbas successors and would give him a say when the time comes. He has not designated a successor, though he has given increasing responsibilities to veteran Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat in recent months.
Fatah, meanwhile, plans to hold elections for a new leadership in late November.
The two officials said Abbas laid out his decision to sit out internal elections when he addressed the PLO Executive Committee in Ramallah on Monday evening. The committee members spoke on condition of anonymity because Abbas has not spoken publicly about his plans.
Palestinian analyst Majed Sweilim said he believes Abbas is preparing for a gradual exit, but wants to have control over who will eventually succeed him.
"Abbas is leaving because the peace process (with Israel) hit a wall and there is no way out," Sweilim said. "But he won't leave before he gets things on the right track for his successor. Abbas is leaving Fatah and the PLO, but will stay as president until his successor comes."