By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
These days mark the second anniversary of the launching of the “Popular Conference For Palestinians Abroad,” in which six thousand Palestinians participated. They came from all over the world to Istanbul, on 25/2/2017, to confirm the sacred link between around 6.5 million Palestinians and Palestine, expressing the aspirations of the Palestinian people abroad to liberate Palestine and to return all the refugees to their homes and lands, from which they were expelled.
The organizers of the Popular Conference sought to establish an independent nonpartisan civil society that would mobilize and absorb various forces and segments of the Palestinian people, and organize their potentials effectively so that they would engage in all aspects of public life. This would contribute to the establishment of a healthy mature environment that would help national action, Palestinian decision-making and would support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people at home. At the same time, and as mentioned by the organizers, despite the fact that the Popular Conference has a political mission, it is neither a political party, nor is it subject to quotas and partisan calculations, in addition, it does not include any factional symbols or leaders, although the Popular Conference is open to people of different affiliations to participate as individuals, without being representatives of their factions. Also, the Popular Conference is not a mere charity, even if it aspires to serve the Palestinian people.
The Popular Conference launching was a big boost to the organizers, due to the wide participation and the quality of conferees. Opening speeches were delivered by prominent former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) members such as ‘Abdul Muhsen al-Qattan, Anis Kassim, Salman Abu Sitta, Munir Shafiq and Fouad Bseiso, in addition to large group of promising young Palestinians.
The Conference: A National Must
The PLO has deteriorated, its institutions abroad are inactive, and it has been absent from the Palestinians abroad and their concerns for the last 25 years. In addition, it hasn’t renewed the legislative and leadership structure, leaving one faction to dominate it, while the other active and widely popular forces are absent or are made so. Consequently, participants unanimously decided to establish this Popular Conference.
The second factor was the fact that the Palestinian syndicates and unions abroad are weak and secluded, and they fail to represent and activate the Palestinians in their line of work and specialty.
Thirdly, the Popular Conference participants cautioned against the dangers of the current stage and what is being woven against the Palestine issue. For there are attempts to close this dossier and waste the rights of the Palestinian people while tampering with their fundamentals; first and foremost the right of liberating the whole land of Palestine along with its holy sites, exercising sovereignty over it and gaining their right of return. Therefore, it was necessary to mobilize all the forces of the Palestinian people at home and abroad—supported by the Arab and Muslim nation, and the free world—to confront the Israeli project, and all plans to liquidate the Palestine issue.
Consequently, there was a deep realization of the need of Palestinians abroad to restore their basic role in the Palestinian national project and in preserving national fundamentals. And this was neither new nor strange to their pioneering role since the 1948 Nakbah and the 1967 catastrophe. For they were the ones who established the main Palestinian factions and they were these faction’s leaders, also, they were the ones who founded the PLO and they were its leaders. Furthermore, they were the ones who led the military resistance, the national Palestinian project from 1948 and until 1993. The same goes for student, professional, youth and women unions and syndicates. For wherever the Israeli occupation rule of Palestinians was heavy-handed, preventing and crushing the ability to work and resist, Palestinians abroad would carry out their duties and responsibilities, taking the initiative and providing their brethren and their families inside Palestine with tools of endurance, strength and steadfastness.
After the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PLO and PA leaderships were responsible for making the Palestinians abroad absent, diminishing their roles, and endangering their rights and fundamentals.
Successes … However
During the past two years, and despite the difficulties, obstacles and lack of resources, the Popular Conference For Palestinians Abroad was able to overcome the hurdles faced by former similar initiatives, which used to end or diminish a short period after their beginning. The Popular Conference was able to form its governing bodies, convene its general assembly, adopt its statute and prepare its vision and strategic plan for the next ten years, and to form many of its commissions, which started work on the ground, in addition to holding several events in Lebanon, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and others. Over the past two years, its general secretariat held around ten meetings for operational follow-up of programs and perceptions, in which the positive and frank atmosphere, the mutual understanding and the joint work of its members have grown, despite the difference in their ideological and political backgrounds.
Thus, these members have proven their earnest work, their willingness to endure a lot of difficulties, while seeking to overcome them, so that the idea would succeed, grow and expand. The Popular Conference has proven to be a “difficult figure” among the Palestinians abroad.
However, it seems that what has been accomplished is much less than the ambitions of many, who had participated in the conference launching, for:
• The number of members remains small, when compared with the number of Palestinians abroad, and its growth is still weak.
• The ability to have an active role among the Palestinian communities abroad remains limited.
• The Popular Conference has weak presence in the syndicates and trade unions circles.
• The Popular Conference remains an elite case, with which the Palestinian public abroad have not yet interacted as they should.
• There are still many Palestinian symbols and personalities, and competent individuals, who have not joined the Conference or are reluctant to participate actively in it.
• The Popular Conference has not yet succeeded in securing funds and providing potentials, enabling it to implement its programs on the ground.
Difficulties and Hurdles
As is the case with all big projects that face difficulties and hurdles, there are subjective and objective reasons that make the achievements less than the ambitions of those overlooking the project.
One of the subjective reasons is the fact that figures of different political affiliations have participated in this conference. They come from diverse geographic environments, have various degrees of vision and ambition, varying degrees of willingness to work, and diverse views on current priorities and the ways to reach the objectives. Some are trying to direct the efforts towards holding elections of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and rebuilding the PLO; others are trying to focus their efforts on supporting the Palestinians inside Palestine and their Intifadah in order to defeat the occupation. Whereas some figures see that the priority lies in activating communities, syndicates and trade unions and mobilizing the Palestinian people abroad to preserve the fundamentals, especially the right of return; and there are some others who try to mix between all these views. As a result, there were long discussions and deliberations in the General Secretariat and the General Assembly of the Conference in order to build the visions, plans and paths.
Another subjective factor, maybe that the Conference needs more of the Palestinian symbols and influential figures in the Palestinian communities. Also, the weak financial resources and the lack of full-time workers are among the factors impeding the ability of the Conference to launch and rapidly expand.
Moreover, there are objective factors that may greatly impede the Conference, for its members come from all over the world, from Australia to South America and North America, and despite the communication via the internet, many issues need deep discussions especially during the founding period. Therefore, personal meeting is needed, which is money and effort consuming, hence it cannot be done except few times a year and on the level of the General Secretariat.
On a second note, the PLO (the PA and Fatah leadership) stands against the Conference, and works hard to disable it and make it fail, rather than considering it a leverage for the national project and a way to activate the Palestinians abroad and preserve their fundamentals. Instead, it sees that the conference detracts from its legitimacy, embarrasses it and the paths it chose, and supports its opposing political forces, especially pro-resistance and “political Islam” forces, particularly Hamas.
Despite the terribly poor performance of the PLO abroad that has left a huge vacuum and caused huge future risks for the Palestinians abroad, this leadership still does not want to work… and it doesn’t seem to want others to work!! That’s why it fought it in its media, and warned several countries of the Conference and its activities, accusing it that it seeks to form a PLO substitute. This is despite the fact that the Conference assured in all its literature that it is not a substitute of the PLO and does not seek such goal. The PLO’s conduct caused the disruption of convening the General Assembly in Istanbul in March 2018, when President ‘Abbas himself contacted the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to prevent convening it. ‘Abbas caused the disruption of holding a huge conference in Beirut, and made a number of countries—that do not want to upset the PLO’s leadership—deal with the conference with caution. Besides, Palestinian figures hesitated to participate in the conference as members, due to the incitement and distortion campaigns carried out by the PLO and PA leadership.
Thirdly, the official Arab environment, where there is a dense Palestinian population, is one with a low political ceiling and limited freedoms, and at the same time, it treats pro-resistance or “political Islam” movements with caution or as a foe. These environments are in line with the peace process and do not wish to upset the PLO and PA leadership and the US. Consequently, the Conference’s scope of work remains limited in the midst of such environments, where more than 80% of the Palestinians abroad live. The activation of the communities, the reorganization and reactivation of syndicates and trade unions, and all political, media and mobilization activities are governed by the regime’s ceiling and conditions. However, there is still a range of reasonable work, albeit to varying degrees, in a number of Arab countries such as Lebanon, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Muslim countries such as Turkey and Malaysia, and in most countries of the Western world.
The fourth obstacle is in the weak financial resources and in providing enough money to launch activities and events and reach people, as a result many ideas and programs cannot be implemented. It is a challenge that must be overcome by reaching out to Palestinian businessmen who believe in the Conference’s notion, and by increasing membership and participation, so to cover the conference’s expenses through its activities.
As two years have passed since the Conference launch, and its structure has stabilized, and its perceptions and paths have matured to a reasonable extent, the monotonous work is no longer sufficient, lest frustration and weakness would slip into the participants. It is time for a strong systematic start, dealing realistically with facts on the ground, and at the same time having what it takes to overcome the obstacles and deliver tangible results, including having the will and ambition, the ability to initiate, and to bear the burdens and pay the costs.
This way, the Palestinians who are competent, experienced and full of potentials would be motivated to join the Conference and support it. Skeptics and hesitant persons must be reassured, by word and action, that this frame has a pure national agenda, it is open to all and welcomes all, it is not anyone’s substitute, rather it is a comprehensive framework for the release of the potentials of the Palestinian people abroad and to preserve their fundamentals.