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The Palestine issue is facing an existential threat, and the Palestinian national project suffers from a serious crisis, evident in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership, structural, organizational and political crises. Consequently, it has lost the ability to work, represent and effectively define the best path for the Palestinian national project.

Despite the clear nature of the crisis, the current PLO leadership insisted on reproducing the Palestinian system, by holding the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in April 2018, without Palestinian consensus, under the domination of the Israeli occupation and without the participation of all Palestinian forces, thus adding insult to injury.

The PLO faces four possible scenarios: Either letting things remain as they are, where Fatah leads and dominates the organization; the PLO reconsidering its decisions and working on rebuilding the organization on a basis that accommodates all Palestinians in accordance with an effective political and practical program; ending the PLO role, which would be replaced by the Palestinian Authority (PA); or letting the Palestinian opposition widen and a national bloc rearrange the Palestinian national project, and impose its vision on the current PLO leadership.

Current indicators show that, in the short and medium terms, the first scenario is the most likely, hence leaving the serious crisis as it is. This may lead to the fourth scenario in the long term, if internal and external requirements for its success were available.



First: Historical Background

The Palestinian national project is suffering from a serious crisis, and one of its most prominent manifestations is the current PLO crisis. It is a political, structural, organizational and leadership one, which has reflected on its representation and functioning abilities. Consequently, it has become ineffective in reaching the PLO desired goal: liberation.

While discussing the historical background, it is necessary to emphasize the following:

1. Since its establishment, the organization has been the “moral home” of the Palestinian people, who had great hopes that it would put the Palestinian house in order and bring together its national forces to achieve liberation. On these bases, the Palestinian factions entered the PLO after the 1967 defeat, to make the organization a revolutionary one, while insisting on liberation from the river to the sea. Consequently the Palestinian National Charter was replaced by the National Charter.

2. Since its inception, the PLO gained Arab legitimacy. In the 1960s, Egypt pushed to establish a Palestinian entity that would absorb the Palestinian movements, put them “under control,” and struggle against the Zionist project. At the 1974 Rabat Summit, the Arabs officially recognized the organization, which was a prelude for international recognition. Consequently, it was granted the “observer” status in the United Nations (UN) in the same year.

3. The PLO has gradually declined, due to several factors. Some are internal ones, such as the weak leadership performance, the weak ability to include all Palestinian forces within the liberation project, decline of resistance performance, and the weak institutional work within the organization. As for the external factors, they include the Arab retreat and its denial of cross-border resistance, external pressures and the opposition to resistance.

4. Fatah has dominated the PLO since the summer of 1968, adopted the Ten-Point Program in 1974, and committed itself to the peace process. This was clearly reflected in the PNC’s decisions in 1988, until the signing of the Oslo Accords and the recognition of Israel in 1993. A major Palestinian schism happened, leading the anti-Oslo forces to establish the coalition of ten factions. The PA amended the Palestinian National Charter, and cancelled clauses related to Israel and the armed struggle. Thus, the organization’s goals changed from sponsoring the liberation project to sponsoring the peace process.

5. Since its establishment, the PA has been inflated at the expense of the PLO, which has shrunk and entered the “recovery room.” It has since become practically smaller than a department in the PA. The PLO departments have been disrupted; its institutions have collapsed; and the role of Palestinians abroad has been lost. The diaspora fell outside the core focus, while remaining a negotiation card in the peace process.

6. Some of the Palestinian factions opposed to the Oslo Accords enjoy broad Palestinian popularity, but they are still not represented in the PLO. This allows the continued dominance of one faction (Fatah) over the organization, monopolizing the PA and PLO leadership without necessarily having the popular majority among Palestinians. Therefore, the Palestinian national project and the Palestinian political system face real crises.

Second: The PNC Meeting April 2018

The PNC reality is no different from the rest of the PLO’s constituencies, which have entered the “recovery room,” and are not let out except in extreme and exceptional cases. Despite its dire conditions, the PNC met in 1996 to abolish provisions of the Palestinian National Charter; and in 1998 it held a ceremonial meeting, in the presence of President Bill Clinton, to “bless” the cancelation of the Charter provisions. Also in 2009, the PNC met in an extraordinary session to replace six Executive Committee members, who had passed away, with new members.

Despite the Palestinian agreements and understandings on rebuilding the PLO, the latter’s leadership (Fatah’s leadership) insisted on the PNC meeting in Ramallah under the occupation and without the participation of all Palestinian factions. The rebuilding agreements and understandings started with the Cairo Agreement in 2005, then in the National Conciliation Document in 2006, followed by the Cairo Agreement in 2011, and Doha Declaration in 2012. In January 2017, meetings in Beirut also affirmed the necessity of holding a Palestinian representative consensus conference, where all factions would participate and away from the Israeli occupation control.

Based on the above, the Fatah movement benefited from the international and Arab pro-peace process environment, which also don’t wish for the active participation of Islamic forces and the armed resistance factions in the organization. It wanted to legitimize its hegemony over the PLO after reproducing a system that lacks the representative legitimacy of the Palestinian people. This has made the Palestinian national project face a dangerous and a more complex crisis, and it has weakened the Palestinian political system when facing dangerous challenges such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the deal of the century, Arab enthusiasm for normalization and closing the refugees’ case.

Third: Possible Scenarios for PLO’s Future

First Scenario: Things stay as they are and this phase is passed while Fatah continues its leadership and hegemony. There would be a smooth transition after President Mahmud ‘Abbas, whether the three presidencies are granted to a Fatah leader, or are distributed among three leaders. However, this scenario means that the dangerous crisis of the Palestinian political system continues, the marginalization of widely popular Palestinian factions continues, and the rebuilding of PLO and the rehabilitation of its institutions continue to be neglected.

Second Scenario: The PLO reconsiders its previous resolutions, and new developments would emerge that call for the implementation of reconciliation agreements. Such developments may exert more pressure that detracts from its ability to take control, for example, Palestinian popular and factional opposition increases, ‘Abbas dies, Fatah’s internal dispute increases, and the Arab and international cover declines.

Third Scenario: The PLO role ends, and the PA replaces it and becomes a “state.” This is practically what the PA has done in the last 25 years, without abolishing the PLO role, where the latter was summoned when needed, for example, when PNC meeting was held on 30/4/2018. It is noteworthy to say that the PLO is still a necessary title for the PA and the Fatah leadership, in order to monopolize the PLO legitimate representation and be able to face other Palestinian factions. In addition, permanent ending of PLO’s role needs regional and international consensus, which is currently unlikely.

Fourth Scenario: The broadening of factional and popular opposition, forming a strong majority in the face of a faction whose popularity and influence are declining, and which continues to control the organization and its leadership. This would lead the opposition to form a representative national bloc that forces the leadership of Fatah to open the PLO’s closed doors and form a genuine and effective partnership, or it would reorganize the Palestinian national project with an alternative reference.

Despite the severity of the national project crisis, the main Palestinian forces such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are not represented in the organization, don’t suggest an alternative reference. As for the other factions represented in the organization, and despite their reservations regarding the organization’s performance and Fatah’s monopoly, they have no desire to bypass the organization through an alternative body. For the PLO was able to extract regional and international recognition that it represents the Palestinian people. In addition, the general Palestinian environment still tends to pressure Fatah towards opening the PLO doors for a genuine partnership and rebuilding the national project under the organization’s umbrella.

Fourth: Discussing Scenarios, the Probable and the Desired Ones

In the short term, the first scenario is the most probable one. It states that things would stay as they are, with Fatah’s leadership and hegemony continuing over the PLO. Factors reinforcing this scenario are:

1. ‘Abbas holding the PNC meeting in Ramallah, thus keeping the status quo of crises and illegitimacy.

2. The international and Arab pro-peace process environment, which is also against resistance and Islamic forces.

As for the “desired” scenario, it is the second one, where the PLO would reconsider its decisions, implement the reconciliation agreements, especially the part concerning the rebuilding of the PLO while preserving the fundamentals. This scenario is suitable for this phase, it protects the Palestine issue from surrounding conspiracies, preserves the Palestinian national project, and puts the Palestinian political house in order. However, this scenario is still far due to the following considerations:

1. This scenario is not consistent with the mentality and practices of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which has been accustomed to the monopoly of Palestinian decision-making over the past 50 years.

2. Palestinian forces affiliated with the organization, but opposing the peace process and Oslo Accords, are unable to pressure from within the organization enough to push the Fatah leadership to activate the process of reform.

3. The Israeli and US veto influencing Palestinian reconciliation and the PLO membership of pro-resistance and Islamic forces.

4. The divided and weak Arab environment, where some Arab countries are rushing to normalize their relations with Israel and want to be in harmony with US regional policy.

Fifth: Recommendations

1. Holding Palestinian national meetings in various places, wherever the Palestinian people are present, where Palestinian forces would pressure to put the Palestinian political house in order and confront the “deal of the century” and normalization with Israel.

2. Forming national committees everywhere, which would include all the Palestinian forces, in addition to independent Palestinian figures to pressure towards the implementation of the reconciliation agreement in accordance with the National Reconciliation Document.

3. Calling on all Palestinian factions opposed to the peace process, especially those who are PLO members, to exert pressure in order to activate the PLO reform and to lift the sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip.

4. Accelerating the holding of PA presidential and legislative elections.

5. Calling on the Provisional Leadership Framework of the Palestinian people to hold new PNC elections at home and abroad, on a fair and transparent democratic bases, where the free will of the Palestinian people would be expressed and a new leadership would be elected, representing the true Palestinian aspirations for freedom, return and liberation.

* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. Wael Sa‘ad for authoring the original text upon which this strategic assessment was based.

The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 7/7/2018