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My background and track record give me legitimacy to lead, says al-Sheikh

Ramallah – The Head of the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s General Commission of Civil Affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh, stated that he does not think ‘Israel’ is serious about ending the occupation, so Palestinians have no option other than to keep working within the current arrangement.

In a rare interview with The New York Times published on Friday, al-Sheikh said while speaking in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, “Ending relations with Israel or disbanding the Palestinian Authority might end in a security vacuum that would leave Palestinians even worse off than they are now.”

“If I were to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, what is the alternative?” al-Sheikh said. “The alternative is violence and chaos and bloodshed,” he added. “I know the consequences of that decision. I know the Palestinians would pay the price.”

The interview was published in an article titled “A New Palestinian Leader Rises in the West Bank. He’s Very Unpopular,” and written by Patrick Kingsley.

The writer said that al-Sheikh, for years, “has overseen the fraught day-to-day relations between Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Israeli military — a role that has made him unpopular with the public but has drawn him close to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.”

Last May, the president of the Palestinian Authority appointed al-Sheikh to one of the highest posts in his political movement.

The writer said that though Abbas is 87, he has never designated an heir apparent to lead the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank and the 2.7 million Palestinians who live there.

Now, al-Sheikh’s sudden ascent has led analysts and diplomats to wonder whether he is being groomed as the successor. Although he was appointed, not elected, to his new position, al-Sheikh said his background and track record give him the legitimacy to lead.

Polls suggest that al-Sheikh would struggle mightily to win an election. Just 3 percent of Palestinians want him to be their next leader, according to poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between 22 and 25 June 2022.

Another poll conducted by the PSR in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between 16 and 20 March 2022 suggested that nearly three-quarters of Palestinians opposed his May promotion to the No. 2 position in the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Al-Sheikh was born in Ramallah in 1960 and his family who came from a village near occupied Tel Aviv were among some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forcibly expelled from their homes during the wars surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948 — a mass displacement that Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe.

He was 6 when ‘Israel’ captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. As a teenager, he joined Fatah, the leading Palestinian militant group at the time. As a result, he spent much of the 1980s in Israeli occupation jails. After the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s, he became a colonel in the newly formed Palestinian security services.

In 2007, he was appointed as the main Palestinian liaison to the Israeli military. A year later, he joined the leadership council of Fatah, the faction that dominates the Palestinian Authority and the P.L.O

“You are talking to someone whose entire history is about the struggle of the Palestinian people,” al-Sheikh said. “I know exactly how to lead my people to the right path.”

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