By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Those who betted that President Mahmud ‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership will not convene the Palestinian National Council (PNC) except within the Palestinian reconciliation and consensus framework, were wrong.
As a matter of fact, ‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership stood by their convictions when they overlooked reconciliation agreements in 2005 and 2011, and the subsequent understandings in Doha 2012, al-Shati’ 2014, in Beirut early 2017, and in Cairo October 2017. Thus reflecting a 50-year domination of Palestinian political decision.
The Palestine issue is facing the gravest threat of liquidation in its history, and it is in utmost need of a national leadership that unites the Palestinian people and the nation behind it… However, in recent months, we only saw a series of frustrating behaviors; sanctions on the Gaza Strip (GS) have been tightened rather than been lifted, and the calls of the Temporary Leadership Framework to face Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and to confront the “Deal of the Century” have been neglected. The decisions of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) have been emptied of their content, and security coordination with the Israeli occupation has continued. This leadership then insists on convening the dissolved PNC, in violation of all Palestinian consensuses.
The current Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are as any Arab or “third world” leadership of a totalitarian regime, speaking on behalf of all and despite their will. They cannot see themselves as part of a genuine partnership based on parity and equality, because that might weaken their control or lead them to be in the ranks of the opposition.
The only exception in which Fatah leadership emphasized its “democracy,” is when it held the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in 2006, in which Hamas won. After that Fatah “repented” of holding such elections. It disrupted the PLC, thwarted the efforts of the government formed by Hamas, concentrated all power in the hands of the president, and formed a PA government that lacks constitutional legitimacy according to the PA law itself. To the extent that, when local municipal elections were scheduled for September 2016, Fatah leadership (through some of its followers) intervened to stop it, since there were high expectations that Hamas would win majority seats in many major municipalities in the West Bank (WB) and GS. Consequently, these elections were not held, until the following year, only after it was confirmed that Hamas has withdrawn.
‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership are also consistent with their commitments to the Oslo Accords, the peace process and the Israeli side. For in case the resistance bloc, which represents more than half of the Palestinian people, entered the PNC and became part of the PLO, where there are already pro-resistance members, the Oslo Accords and the peace process will be reconsidered. Also, the resistance choice would regain its strength, the priorities of the Palestinian National project would be rearranged, and might provide a new leadership and institutional model. This would change the PLO and PA image that Fatah is keen to present. Fatah sees that the new “resistance image” will harm the Palestinian interest according to its own current calculations. For this may further weaken the PA, and undermine the PLO in the international community. The United States (US) and western countries might withdraw their PLO recognition, and the “two-state solution” might collapse, etc.
‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership are also in harmony with the Arab and international environment that is hostile to the “political Islam” movements, which are strong, effective and popular in the Palestinian arena (Hamas and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine—PIJ). They see that if these movements are strong in the legislative and the leadership circles, they would cause them more trouble and further difficulties.
The preparatory committee held a meeting in the Palestinian embassy in Beirut on 10–11/1/2017, headed by the president of the PNC Salim al-Za‘noun. It agreed to convene the PNC to include all Palestinian factions, and stressed the need to “embody national unity” within the PLO framework. The conferees agreed to convene the PNC pursuant to the Cairo Agreement of 2005 and the Reconciliation Agreement 2011, through elections where possible and consensus when elections are difficult to hold. They agreed to meet the next month, however, by the time of writing (Late April 2018), the preparatory committee did not convene.
Not surprisingly, the Fatah movement Central Committee, which met under the leadership of Mahmud ‘Abbas on 9/8/2017, recommended holding a session of the PNC to elect a new Executive Committee and PCC, and approve a political program for the coming phase. Fatah leadership sources also spoke of the possibility of the PNC convening in Ramallah in September 2017. This raised concerns and drew objections from Palestinian factions such as Hamas, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). However, it seems that Fatah postponed the meeting, after there were some positive developments between Fatah and Hamas concerning reconciliation and PA administration of GS.
On 7/3/2018, the PLO (actually Fatah) decided to convene the PNC on 30/4/2018, in breach of the Beirut January 2017 agreement, and without any prior consultations with the main factions outside the PLO, who are supposed to be consulted before convening the new PNC. They were not even officially invited to participate in the Council. The resolution clearly ignored all reconciliation agreements and arrangements, insisting that Fatah continues its leadership of the PLO, in harmony with previous behavior.
Remarkably, President ‘Abbas stressed that the strength, survival and health of the PLO is the basis; and that convening the Council is of absolute importance, in order to preserve the PLO and its “strength and effectiveness” (Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA), 8/4/2018). The question that President ‘Abbas must answer is as follows: As he is the most knowledgeable about the miserable state of the PLO, where most of the organization’s institutions have been disrupted and abandoned, and they did not even work for the Palestinians abroad, who constitute half of the Palestinian people. The PLO even became more of a department among PA departments, and its representative and executive councils lack the real representation of the Palestinian people and its components… so if President ‘Abbas knows all these facts, then which power and effectiveness is he talking about?!
If ‘Abbas and Fatah have agreed with the Palestinian factions to rebuild and reform the PLO, why did they leave this consensus aside, and insist instead on moving on with the PNC and PLO, despite all their flaws?!!
The Fatah leadership knows that the last ordinary PNC meeting was the twentieth session, which was held in Algeria on 23–28 September 1991. Whereas in April 1996, it was held in GS under the occupation to abolish most of the provisions of the Palestinian National Charter, the basis of the PLO. As for the PNC meeting on 14/12/1998, it was a “ceremonial” one, held under the occupation and in the presence of President Bill Clinton, to “bless” the cancelation of the Charter provisions. They also met in an extraordinary 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.
The PNC is supposed to meet annually, it is elected for a three-year term. However, its membership has not been renewed since 1996; even when about 350 members were added to the 450 former members without actual criteria or sound procedures. According to available data (which may need official confirmation), 691 members are still alive so far: 374 in WB, 130 in GS, 60 in Jordan, 83 in the rest of the Arab countries, and 44 in the rest of the world. Hence, 504 members (73% of total) representatives are inside Palestine, and that does not reflect the balance between the inside and outside. There is also a lack of balance in the age groups, where, with all due respect to the veterans, the average age is about 72 years; whereas about 80% of the Palestinian people are under forty.
Hence, this is an unqualified council whose term has expired, and on which there is a general Palestinian consensus on changing it and replacing it.
There is a great insistence on convening the PNC in Ramallah under Israeli occupation. We do not know how to talk about an “independent Palestinian national decision-making” and its protection, while it is held in such circumstances and conditions ?! And why does Fatah insist on its convening, knowing that many representatives of the Palestinian people reject such convening under occupation. In addition, many members cannot come to Ramallah. Such a decision by Fatah is an implicit prior decision to convene it with members in line with the Oslo Accords or whom are approved by the Israeli occupation. Thus, such conditions are neither suitable for rebuilding the PLO and activating its institutions, nor for achieving national partnership.
As expected, the call to hold a PNC meeting on 30/4/2018 was broadly rejected by Hamas, PIJ, PFLP and by many prominent independent figures. Consequently, a PNC meeting would enshrine Palestinian schism, dashes the hopes of reforming the PLO, and deepens the notion that Fatah is determined to dominate. Despite the refusal of more than one hundred PNC members to convene in this manner, the concerned authorities continued with the convening procedures.
It is noted that Fatah leaders—and those close to them—talk about the need to convene the Council to face the “challenges of the Palestine issue,” and the Deal of the Century … and others. This is most astonishing, for how can the enormous dangers be faced with an incompetent council under occupation, lacking legitimacy and real representation of the Palestinian people, and dominated by one faction that monopolizes command and marginalizes others…?!
And why did Fatah leadership financially pressure and threaten to stop allocations of some factions to subdue the opposing factions within the PLO.
How can the challenges be faced with more weakness and fragmentation?!
What the PLO leadership is actually doing is further tightening Fatah’s grip on the organization, providing the necessary arrangements to fill the vacancies due to disability or death in the Executive Committee of the Organization, and making the necessary arrangements for the post-‘Abbas era, in case of his death.
In short, the council that ‘Abbas insists on convening is the “Fatah Council” he leads. It will continue to suffer from incomplete and artificial legitimacy, and does not reflect the will of the Palestinian people. Such a council cannot bear the burdens of the Palestinian national project, nor face the dangers that beset it.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 26/4/2018