RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Poll results have been consistent over six months and were affirmed Monday: two-thirds of Palestinians would like President Mahmoud Abbas to resign after a string of policy failures. Yet the Palestinian leader does not appear to be under palpable domestic or international pressure to step down.
The prospect of a chaotic succession battle might put off some Palestinians, while Abbas' Western backers view him as a guarantor of relative stability in a region engulfed by conflict. Potential successors from Abbas' Fatah party have not challenged him openly for fear of hurting their chances later.
They might also be deterred by anemic popular support for them, particularly if competing against a candidate from the Islamic militant group Hamas, Fatah's main rival, said pollster Khalil Shikaki.
"Abbas is weak, but his contenders are weak, too," Shikaki told reporters as he released his latest poll. The survey was based on responses from 1,270 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, with an error margin of 3 percentage points.
Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison, is the only Fatah candidate who could defeat a Hamas rival, Shikaki said.
His findings come at a time of deep-rooted hopelessness among Palestinians who have seen their statehood dreams slip away. Abbas' political goals have repeatedly been frustrated by Hamas and by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister,
Netanyahu, in office since 2009, has said he is willing to negotiate the terms of statehood, but has rejected internationally backed ground rules for an Israel-Palestine partition of the Holy Land. Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007, has badly weakened Abbas' leadership, setting up a rival government and fighting three wars with Israel.
Yet, an open-ended Abbas presidency also means ongoing paralysis and perhaps worsening authoritarian rule as he tries to fend off critics.
Abbas, who turns 81 this week, is seen as distant from his people. He frequently travels abroad on diplomatic missions and — when in the West Bank — rarely ventures out of his compound in the city of Ramallah. Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri said Abbas, backed into a corner, is increasingly intolerant of criticism.
Abbas "has failed to achieve any of his goals, particularly having an independent state, and he has no alternative," said al-Masri. "Therefore, he tries to silence anyone who ... expresses his or her view."
Nabil Shaath, an Abbas aide, blamed the decline of political institutions on the political and geographic split of 2007, which paralyzed the parliament.
"We lost our democracy on the day we lost our unity," he said. "We no longer have legislative and parliamentary oversight."
New presidential and parliamentary elections are seemingly the most direct path to leadership change. However, Abbas and Hamas can't agree on the terms for election, each blaming the other for the impasse.
In this stalemate, those seen as potential Abbas successors remain cautious.
Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah member, recently called for rebuilding the political system because the current one "does not respond to the aspirations of people."
However, he shopped short of criticizing Abbas or saying how the system failed.
Two other politicians with ambitions to succeed Abbas spoke on condition of anonymity, for fear of repercussions and harming their political prospects.
Both said they expect Abbas to fight to keep his job for as long as possible. They said they would not challenge him while he is in power. The would-be challengers are also locked in a fierce competition with each other.
Two months ago, a member of Fatah's top decision-making body, the Central Committee, proposed appointing five deputies to Abbas in the movement — presumably the group from which the eventual successor would one day be chosen.
Participants in the meetings said the proposal quickly faded because Fatah leaders couldn't reach consensus on five names.
Associated Press writer Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.