JERUSALEM, Feb. 11 (JTA) — Several Palestinian officials are considered to be possible successors to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Here is biographical information on several of them: • Mahmoud Abbas, secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee: Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, was born in Safed in 1935, and fled to Syria after Israel´s 1948 War of Independence. He engaged in political activities in Damascus, studied law and later acquired his doctorate in the history of Zionism at Moscow´s Oriental College. Along with Arafat, Abbas was a founding member of the Fatah movement, which became the mainstream faction of the PLO. Though considered to be the person closest to Arafat, Abu Mazen reportedly has not been on speaking terms with Arafat in recent months. Abbas was the co-author of the so-called Beilin-Abu Mazen document that created an outline for a final Israeli-Palestinian agreement, though later — after criticism from other Palestinians — Abbas denied that the document existed. Since 1968, Abbas has been one of the key members of the PLO pushing for negotiations with Israel. As early as January 1977, he worked out a declaration of "principles of peace" with reserve Gen. Matityahu Peled. It was the first time a leading Palestinian figure signed a document favoring a "two-state solution" under which Israel would continue to exist. Abbas became a member of the PLO Executive Committee, the organization´s governing body, in 1981. He continued his involvement in secret negotiations with the Israelis through Dutch intermediaries in 1989, and coordinated overall negotiating strategy during the Madrid peace conference in 1991. Abbas oversaw negotiations that led to the Oslo accords in 1993, signing the Declaration of Principles. In 1996 Abbas was appointed secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee, officially becoming Arafat´s second-in-command in the PLO. After years in exile, Abbas was allowed to return to the country in 1995. Abu Mazen has failed to maintain his popularity with ordinary Palestinians. His large new residences in Gaza and Ramallah have led to accusations of corruption. Since the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000, Abbas has adopted a harsh line, blaming Israel for the collapse of the talks, insisting on a total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem and implementation of the Palestinian refugees´ "right of return." • Ahmad Karia, speaker of the Palestinian legislative council: According to the unwritten constitution of the PLO, Karia will be appointed interim president if Arafat can no longer function. Karia was born in 1937 to a wealthy family in Abu Dis, a village near Jerusalem. He joined Fatah in 1968 and quickly moved up the ladder, eventually becoming director general of the PLO´s economic department. Along with Abbas, Karia had a key role in negotiating the Oslo accords. Karia headed negotiations that led to the April 1994 Paris agreement and the September 1995 Oslo II agreement. He served as Palestinian minister of economy and trade, then minister for industry. Karia recently was appointed to head the Palestinian delegation in meetings with American envoy Anthony Zinni. Recently he prepared a peace plan together with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that calls for Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state while cease-fire talks take place. • Jibril Rajoub, head of Palestinian security in the West Bank: Considered one of the "strong men" in the Palestinian Authority and often accused of human rights abuses, Rajoub was born in 1953 in the village of Dura near Hebron in the West Bank. From 1968 to 1985, he served time in an Israeli jail for throwing a grenade at a military vehicle. Rajoub was released from prison as part of a prisoner exchange, but was expelled from the West Bank to Lebanon in 1988. He then joined the PLO leadership in Tunis, and served as chief adviser on the first intifada, which began in 1987. Rajoub returned to West Bank in 1994. In 1997, rumors spread that Rajoub planned to take control of the West Bank if Arafat´s health should worsen, and eventually he was suspended from Fatah´s Central Committee for eight months. However, in his position as security chief, Rajoub maintained his influence in the Palestinian territories, and is known for good working relations with the Israelis. Rajoub ordered his men to refrain from terrorism and stay out of clashes with Israeli security forces — though that did not save his Ramallah residence from an Israeli tank shell when Palestinians began firing on Israeli troops from the grounds of Rajoub´s house. • Sari Nusseibeh, PLO representative in Jerusalem: Nusseibeh was born in 1949 in Jerusalem, son of Anwar Nusseibeh, a senior officer in the Jordanian army who lost a leg in the 1948 war and eventually became minister of defense in the Jordanian Cabinet. He received his doctorate in Islamic philosophy from Harvard in 1978 and became a professor of philosophy at Bir Zeit University on the West Bank. Nusseibeh was the first prominent Palestinian to hold talks with a senior Likud politician, Moshe Amirav, in 1987, for which he was criticized by Palestinian activists. Nusseibeh was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1991 and charged with passing military information to Iraq because of a phone call with an overseas friend during the Iraqi missile attacks in the Gulf War. Nusseibeh became a member of the Palestinian steering committee to the 1991 Madrid talks. By 1991 he had changed his earlier support for a binational state and co-authored "No Trumpets, No Drums" with Israeli academic Mark Heller, calling for a two-state solution. He has written dozens of articles on Jerusalem and the prospects for agreement with Israel, and is known for his close relations to Israeli leftists, particularly within the Meretz Party. Since 1995, Nusseibeh has served as president of Al-Quds University in eastern Jerusalem. Following the death in 2001 of the top PLO official in Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini, Nusseibeh was appointed head of the PLO in Jerusalem. Since then, he has strongly criticized the violent direction of the intifada, and called on Palestinian refugees to give up their demand to return to their former homes inside Israel, saying that he would have accepted former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak´s offer at Camp David. • Mohammad Dahlan, head of Palestinian security in Gaza: Dahlan was born in 1961 to a refugee family in Gaza and served as leader of Fatah´s Shabiba youth movement on the West Bank. He was imprisoned by Israel from 1981 until late 1986 before being deported in 1988 to Jordan. He then joined the PLO in Tunis, and is considered to have influenced the direction of the 1987 to 1993 intifada from afar. After the Oslo accords, Dahlan returned to Gaza in 1994. He is believed to have drawn up an agreement at a 1994 meeting in Rome with senior Israeli military and Shin Bet officials to contain Hamas, and was actively involved in subsequent negotiations with the Israelis. He also is know to have good connections with the Egyptian leadership and the American government, through his connections with the CIA. Despite Dahlan´s relatively close relations with Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed him for an attack on an Israeli bus in Gaza in November 2000, launched attacks on his offices and said that he deserved to die. Subsequently, Dahlan took a more moderate stand toward Palestinian hard-liners, and reportedly tendered his resignation in November 2001 because the Palestinian Authority had begun arresting militants from Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Arafat refused to accept the resignation. Recently Dahlan once again has changed his line, apparently adjusting himself to the tone of Arafat´s peaceful declarations in Israeli and world media. This week he said in a radio interview that Arafat is ready to compromise on the refugees´ "right of return," and that the issue could be worked out between the Palestinians and Israel, as long as the Palestinians have a state in all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. • Marwan Barghouti, the leader of the Tanzim militias: Barghouti was born in 1959 in the West Bank. He was among the founders of Shabiba, Fatah´s youth movement in the West Bank, and headed its faction at Bir Zeit University in the early 1980s. He was imprisoned for six years and deported to Jordan in 1987. Following the Oslo accords, Barghouti returned to the territories in 1994 and soon became one of the key Fatah players in the West Bank. Barghouti was a supporter of the Oslo process, but since the outbreak of the intifada his men have been deeply involved in terror attacks on Israel. Though he repeatedly proclaims his loyalty to Arafat, he has criticized the centralization of power under Arafat, and has ignored orders Arafat allegedly has given for a ceasefire.
Profiles of Palestinian leaders