JERUSALEM - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who returned to the West Bank after undergoing a coronary procedure in Jordan, expressed willingness yesterday to appoint a deputy and potential successor.
Abbas' comments reflected a degree of concern, his own and others', about the 70-year-old leader's health, but his attitude was striking mainly for its contrast to the behavior of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
Arafat, who died in November, jealously guarded his power and fiercely resisted all urging to designate a successor.
Over the years, the veteran leader systematically undermined anyone in his inner circle who seemed to be gaining a popular following.
Abbas, returning to his Ramallah headquarters yesterday from the Jordanian capital, Amman, told reporters in response to questions that he had been considering the idea of appointing a deputy since his election in January.
"This is a subject of vital importance," he said. "If we are to depend on institutions, such a post should be created."
Separately, Abbas, who is popularly known as Abu Mazen, told the Arabic satellite television channel Al Arabiya that having a deputy was a "vital and useful idea."
"If fate approaches, we do not wish to see any disorder or lack of continuity," he said.
Such an appointment would need the approval of the Palestinian Parliament. Abbas gave no indication of whom he might be considering for the post, or when he might act on his decision.
"God willing, it will be executed at the earliest possible date," he told Al Arabiya.
The Palestinian leader's plan to appoint a deputy raised renewed speculation about his relationship with Ahmed Qureia, the prime minister, with whom he has quarreled in the past. Their dealings of late have been described by aides as cordial but tense.
Any deputy appointed by Abbas would not automatically assume power in the event of his death - by law, the presidency would be filled temporarily by the speaker of Parliament, just as it was after Arafat died.
Such a show of confidence by Abbas would probably serve as a political springboard for the person he picked as his most senior aide.
But Abbas could also choose to make the appointment a largely symbolic one, giving the deputy no real responsibility while benefiting from the good will of that person's constituency.
For example, he could pick the jailed Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader of the intifada, or uprising, who had flirted with the idea of contesting the presidency.
Or he could choose Farouk Kaddoum, a PLO hard-liner in exile who leads Abbas' Fatah faction.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are to meet June 21 in their first encounter since a summit in Egypt on Feb. 8.
The venue has not been finalized, but Israel has reportedly invited the Palestinian leader to come to Jerusalem.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.