In Palestine, the rise of Hussein Al-Sheikh, face of a power at the end of its course

The Palestinian street hates him. Many of his peers despise him. But for now, Hussein Al-Sheikh is savoring his pleasure. Monday, February 7, President Mahmoud Abbas honored this minister and adviser, in charge of relations with Israel. The raïs had him appointed by a hundred delegates, gathered in his Mouqata’a palace, to the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The institution that has embodied the Palestinian cause since 1964.

The position of Secretary General is reaching out to him. Second after Mr. Abbas, he could assume the transition of power when he dies. Strong face, oblique smile, Hussein Al-Sheikh looks good at 61 years old. He smokes “slim” cigarettes, wears Italian shoes and surrounds himself with beautiful assistants. The Palestinians see in him the archetype of the man of apparatus and money. He is the hand and the voice of Mr. Abbas, this increasingly isolated 86-year-old president, plagued by suspicion. Economic affairs with Israel, permits to cross borders, diplomatic contacts: everything goes through him. In many ways, he already embodies Palestinian power.

An education in prison

“He was better off when he had no money or women. But he never had principles. He is a pragmatist in love with himself, an egoist, an opportunist above all, capable of unlimited flexibility”, summarizes a Fatah comrade, who has been seeing him for thirty years. “He is shameless, without charm or determination. He has nothing and that is why he is in this place: he does not scare Abbas,” judge for his part a European diplomat, who is surprised to see Mr. Al-Sheikh presented as a successor to the supreme post.

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Hussein Al-Sheikh was not born rich. He comes from a family of merchants, refugees in Ramallah in 1948 during the Nabka (the “catastrophe”), the forced displacement of 700,000 Palestinians at the creation of the State of Israel. Their village, Deir Tarif, located in the peripheral plain of Tel Aviv, is erased from the map. The young man has little education. It is in prison that he acquires his legitimacy.

Imprisoned at the age of 18 in Israel, he spent eleven years there, until 1989. There he learned Hebrew and the political struggle. As the echoes of civil war in Lebanon agitated the cells, he compromised himself by siding with Abou Moussa, head of a pro-Syrian dissident Fatah, who in 1983 expelled from Tripoli the leader of the party, Yasser Arafat, and the last square of fedayins who were there . The young Hussein Al-Sheikh will be absolved after a few months. He will never again deviate from the majority line.

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