Sudden Vacancy in the office of the President: Dilemmas and Expected Scenarios

Abbas.pngSudden Vacancy in the office of the President:

Dilemmas and Expected Scenarios

Rashad Twam & Asem Khalil

Mahmoud Abbas is currently the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Executive Committee and president of the State of Palestine and the Palestinian Authority (PA). If he were to no longer be able to fulfil these roles, then the Executive Committee would appoint one of its members and the Central Council would nominate/appoint a president of the State of Palestine – it would most likely be the same person, as was also the case under Yasser Arafat. However, this leaves the question of who would become president of the PA if this office was suddenly vacated. The Basic Law (BL) suggests that the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) would became president on an interim basis, which only opens up a further question as the Council has been dissolved and no new elections are currently scheduled to take place.

Scenario One: Aziz Dweik, who was the speaker of the PLC when it was dissolved, would assume the presidency on an interim basis. The 2005 amendment to the Basic Law (BL) establishes that the mandate of incumbent PLC representatives ends when new members take their oath of office. The mandate of ‘incumbent’ members is therefore still in effect.

Scenario Two: The PLO Central Council may repeat its actions of 1993, and would therefore select the PA’s president and instruct the PLO Executive Committee to appoint the PA’s Council, which would henceforth apply executive and legislative powers.

Scenario Three: The PLO Central Council would officially replace the PLC. Salim Zanon, the speaker of the PLO Central Council, would henceforth serve as the PA’s interim president.

Scenario Four: It is possible that the Draft Constitution of Palestine will be officially endorsed. If/When this occurs, it will stipulate that the vice-president should replace the president – if the vice-presidency is unoccupied, the chairman of the Constitutional Court will be asked to fill the role.

Scenario Five: The State of Palestine has now replaced the PA, and its president could therefore be appointed/selected. In the absence of an incumbent president, the Central Council would elect/appoint the Head of State.

Scenario Six: The PA president may declare a state of emergency, which would suspend the interim BL provisions related to the presidency, and would task the vice-president with fulfilling the mandate of the president.

This paper recognizes that both Palestinians and the international community are closely  preoccupied with the question of who will be the next president of the PA and the State of Palestine, and it therefore outlines six different scenarios, without indicating a specific preference for any one. But this overlooks what is perhaps the central question, which is the fragmentation of the Palestinian political agency without any real central Palestinian authority, and regardless of who will be the next president. Whereas the preceding scenarios operate within a de jure framework of reference, this question instead orientates towards a series of de facto considerations.

(This is a summary of an article that was published in Arabic)

عاصم خليل ورشاد توام، الشغور المفاجئ في منصب الرئيس: المعضلة والسيناريوهات المتوقعة، صحيفة الحدث، 11/2019. 

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