By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
A poor state is the state of the Palestinian National Council!
The Palestinian National Council (PNC) is supposed to reflect the will of the Palestinian people and protect their dignity. It is supposed to be a civilized umbrella for Palestinian forces, factions, popular institutions and figures, and to express the dynamism of the people and their capacity to prove that they are a people deserving of life, return, and victory. Instead, this council has become a ‘puppet’ or a ‘tool’ in the hands of the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah. It has become one of the decorative fixtures of so-called “Palestinian legitimacy.”
It is useless when it comes to exercising its original functions of oversight and accountability. The council does not have the ability to convene, let alone represent the real weight of Palestinian forces and segments. It’s term has expired to begin with, and has no ability to dismiss those whose terms have expired.
The council is summoned on demand but only when it comes to functions that the PLO or Fatah leadership want it to exercise, resuscitating it from its ICU or the morgue to provide the necessary seals of approval.
In 1968, when there were negotiations with Fatah over re-forming the PNC in order for it to enter the PLO, Fatah insisted on forming an active and dynamic council that could convene easily. The number of members was reduced from 450 to around 100, who became the members of the fourth PNC that convened in the summer of 1968.
However, this council became, later, ineffective under Fatah’s management and domination. Its members increased steadily in number until the figure reached 450 members in the 19th council that convened in 1988.
This decline was met with chaos that does not befit a council that represents a struggling people, as the PLO leadership (Fatah leadership) added about 400 members to the council that convened in April 1996, in a way that was neither understandable or justified in terms of legislation or institutional work… The members reached around 800, without the approval of the Chairman Salim Za‘noon. The new names were not sent to the relevant committees of the council to implement the appropriate measures to process their membership.
There was no justification except that the council had to convene inside Palestine in Gaza (for the first time under occupation), and to have the necessary quorum for this to take place. The council, almost, needed to approve one thing: The Oslo Accords, in addition to abolishing all PNC provisions that are incompatible with the accords, which incidentally account for the majority of the charter’s provisions!
On the other hand, this council, which is officially supposed to convene on an annual basis, and to be renewed every three years, has not convened in 24 years (since 1991) except once in 1996 (with many reservations on this). Its members also met in a “ceremonial” fashion on 14/12/1998, in the presence of then-US President Bill Clinton, to “bless” the abolition of the Palestinian National Charter provisions. They also met in an emergency session in Ramallah on 25/8/2009, with less than half of the members attending (325 out of 700 surviving members attended). They had to meet one request, namely, to replace six Executive Committee members, who passed away, with new members.
This means that the council has not exercised its duties in 24 years, and has only been at the beckoning of the leadership of PLO and Fatah to do their bidding, including altering the original identity of the PLO and the mission it was created for.
Furthermore, the PNC has suffered from the domination of one faction, Fatah, for the past 47 years (since 1968). It has not reflected any real representation of the forces and factions of the Palestinian people for a long time.
The forces of the Palestinian Islamic resistance, especially Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ), which represent broad segments of the Palestinian people, are completely absent from the council and are not represented in it. Therefore, they are not represented in the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) or in the Executive Committee of the PLO.
In abnormal situations like these, we note the presence of marginal or unpopular forces over-represented in the leadership of the PLO elected by the council, compared to their actual size. For example, Yasir ‘Abd Rabbo entered the Executive Committee as representative of the Fida Party. He has since resigned from the party and no longer represents it, and yet, he remains a member. After that, another member of the party joined the committee, Saleh Ra’fat, as representative of Fida, bearing in mind that this party along with two other factions allied to it could not win more than two seats out of 132 in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections of 2006. Nevertheless, these parties (including ‘Abd Rabbo) have four seats in the 18-seat Executive Committee, while Hamas, which has 74 (out of 132) seats in the PLC, is not represented in the committee.
In 2005, after the Palestinian factions concluded the Cairo Agreement (17/3/2005), it was agreed to rebuild the PLO and reactivate its institutions, including the PNC. There was a Palestinian consensus on the formation of a new PNC to comprise 300 members, half from the Palestinian interior (West Bank and Gaza Strip), and half from the diaspora. At the time, the PNC Chairman Salim Za‘noon and his deputy Taysir Qubba‘a spoke about the issue.
There was agreement that the interior would be represented through elections, through members who win in the legislative elections. However, when Hamas won an overwhelming majority of the seats in the PLC, the leadership of the PLO (or rather Fatah) disrupted the formation of the new PNC. Salim Za‘noon (member of Fatah Central Committee) backtracked from his previous statements, and insisted that all former members of the council who are still alive remain in place, that is 717 members, to be joined by members of the elected PLC!
Throughout the past nine years and until now (2015), the Fatah leadership, which dominates the PLO and the PNC, has not taken any serious and practical measure to pave the way for real reform and reactivation of the work of the council or the PLO. If there are some who object to this by saying the matter is contingent upon holding new legislative elections, then they must clarify the following:
– Why has Abu Mazen not activated the provisional leadership framework of the Palestinian people, agreed upon in the reconciliation agreement concluded in May 2011? Why is he disrupting it and preventing it from exercising its role?
– Why did he call for convening the PNC in August 2009 during reconciliation talks, ignoring all objections and reservations by the broad-based segments and forces that are not represented in the council?
– Why did he also call for a PNC session in September 2015, without respect for the requirements of Palestinian reconciliation, and without waiting for the results of the promised PLC elections?
– If Abu Mazen and the leadership of Fatah respect Palestinian legitimacy, then why have they prevented the PLC from convening for eight years, and preventing its activation and its functioning until the election of a new one?
It seems that Abu Mazen and the leadership around him are dealing with the PNC and the PLO Executive Committee as the internal affair of their own faction rather than a reference frame for the entire people of Palestine.
The fourth aspect worthy of pause has to do with the fact that the national councils that convened after 1991, despite their insignificance and formal nature, convened in a climate dominated by the Israeli occupation.
Throughout its history, the Fatah leadership was proud of the “independent Palestinian national decision,” considering it one of the staple elements of Palestinian struggle. However, there is a crucial question about how this “independent decision” could have been served by convening the council under the occupation? How can the Palestinians abroad and the active resistance forces be represented in any upcoming PNC, without getting visas from the occupation and without the entry and exit and meeting of the members be subject to the whims of the occupation?
What is remarkable is that the PLO had convened all its national councils after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and until 1991 outside the occupied territories. More importantly, the PLO did not count the PNC members as part of the quorum in all its councils, on the grounds that some were under occupation and came under pressure, including their ability to enter and exit.
In other words, Palestinians abroad were 100% of the attendance of the council and its quorum to convene, vote, and make decisions.
Now, one of the advisers of President ‘Abbas (and several others) are calling for convening the PNC in the “homeland,” as though there is no Israeli occupation or domination.
In short, the independent Palestinian decision means having a real and active national council. This means that it cannot convene in conditions dominated by the occupying enemy.
Moreover, the average age of the members of the PNC, which has not been renewed since 1996, is around 70. Even those who represent segments like students are around 60 years old!! which applies to other popular segments as well.
While we respect and value the wisdom of the “veterans,” a council in this shape cannot express the dynamism and vitality of the Palestinian people and their different segments. Nor can such a council bypass facts imposed by the presence of new generations with huge potentials and capacities, resisting the occupation in all its forms, and interacting with the pulse of the Palestinian people and their concerns, and yet are unpresented in a framework that is supposed to represent the Palestinian people.
Finally, the Palestinian National Council will unfortunately continue to be humiliated and used as seal of approval by the faction controlling the PLO. It will remain hostage to the paths imposed or drawn by this faction.
Accordingly, there is no value in any call for the council to convene unless it is re-formed on comprehensive national bases, and on the basis of national accord. All Palestinian forces must be included in real manner that reflects their weight in the Palestinian street, representing the aspirations and fundamentals of the Palestinian people, and their quest for victory and liberation.