The future battle to succeed Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas could trigger "mass protest, repression" and the outright collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said Wednesday.
The Brussels-based policy and research organization released its forecast a day after the ageing and increasingly unpopular 87-year-old Abbas met in Ramallah with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in the region to urge calm amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Given Abbas's age and persistent rumors about his poor health, speculation on his successor is common in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is based.
The ICG predicted in its report that "elections based on legal procedures" were "the least likely" outcome when Abbas vacates the presidency.
Abbas heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the secular political movement founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Abbas was elected president after Arafat died in 2004. Palestinians have had no presidential elections since.
The report says Abbas, who has been unwilling to designate a successor, has also "hollowed out or disabled the institutions and procedures that would otherwise decide who will take his place."
It is therefore "unclear who will succeed him, and by what process," ICG said, warning of a possible "descent into mass protest, repression, violence and even the PA's collapse."
According to the report, any last-ditch effort to name a successor to ease a transition process "would go awry."
Abbas has repeatedly called off plans to hold presidential polls, as recently as 2021 when he scrapped scheduled elections citing Israel's refusal to allow voting in annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.
Palestinian experts widely suspected Abbas backed away from the polls over fears Fatah would be trounced by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
While Abbas has not named a successor, he has elevated PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, who he tapped for the number two spot in the PLO.
The ICG report names Sheikh and PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj as possible successors.
Though the two men hold significant power within the PA and are seen as able to work with the international community, the report notes "neither has been able to win much support in Palestinian society".
It identifies second-tier "would-be successors", among them Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub, Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief exiled to the United Arab Emirates after falling out with Abbas.
"Each of these men has his own network," the report says, but none "could stand on his own".