The insistence of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership on convening the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) in Ramallah on 6–7/2/2022, without national consensus and amidst wide boycott of Palestinian forces and independent elites, has contributed to deepening the Palestinian division and increased the difficulties facing national reconciliation, rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and resuming the democratic process. The Palestinian arena began to witness sharp polarization between Fatah together with some small factions on the one hand, and a wide spectrum of active Palestinian forces on the other hand.
There are five scenarios for the future of Palestinian action after the PCC convening crisis. The first scenario is the continuation of the stalemate and of the status quo; the second is the formation of a new national reference by the PA opponents; the third is clinging to the PLO but with the withdrawal of recognition of its current leadership and holding the elections of its leadership and institutions. The fourth scenario is achieving reconciliation and national consensus and rebuilding the PLO, while the fifth is forming a transitional national alignment, which would cooperate to put pressure on the current PLO leadership to make serious, real and transparent reform in a way it would reflect the will of the Palestinian people at home and abroad.
It appears that the first scenario of stalemate is still strong and valid. However, the chances of the fifth one are gradually increasing, where the actual formation of a transitional national alignment depends on the willingness of the Palestinian forces to overcome their hesitation and postponement.
The PA insistence on convening the PCC on 6–7/2/2022, without national consensus has contributed to deepening the Palestinian schism and increased the difficulties facing national reconciliation, rebuilding the PLO and resuming the democratic path, especially in light of the wide boycott by Palestinian forces and independent elites.
The 2007 schism was almost confined to Fatah and Hamas, however, now the Palestinian arena is witnessing a wide division of another kind between the leadership of the PA and Fatah and some of its supporting factions on the one hand, and a wide spectrum of active Palestinian forces and national elites on the other.
What complicated matters further, the PCC stipulated for those wishing to participate in the national unity government to commit to international legitimacy resolutions and the national program enshrined in the Declaration of Independence in 1988, which implicitly includes the recognition of the “State of Israel” and Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The PCC also suspended legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections to ensure Israel’s approval of including Jerusalem, which practically means the indefinite postponement of elections.
The PCC elected Hussein Al-Sheikh, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee and the head of the General Authority for Civil Affairs who is responsible for the relation with Israel, as a member of the PLO Executive Committee, succeeding Saeb Erekat. This was considered a prelude to his selection as Secretary of the Executive Committee and a step toward preparing him for the post-Mahmud ‘Abbas stage. The Council also elected Fatah’s candidate Rawhi Fattouh as PNC speaker, succeeding Salim al-Za‘nun who submitted his resignation.
Fatah’s Central Committee anticipated the PCC session, and held a meeting on 18/1/2022, in which it unanimously reasserted its confidence in Mahmud ‘Abbas as head of Fatah movement, chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee, and president of the State of Palestine. It also unanimously nominated Hussein al-Sheikh as a candidate for the PLO’s Executive Committee membership, and Rawhi Fattouh as a candidate for speaker of the PNC.
In response to the PA leadership’s unilateral call for the convening of the PCC, four Palestinian factions which are PLO members boycotted the meeting of the Council, namely: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Palestinian National Initiative (Al-Mubadara), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP-GC), and the Vanguard for the Popular Liberation War (Al-Sa‘iqa). The meeting was also boycotted by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) besides many independent figures. Hamas, the PIJ and the PFLP issued a joint statement confirming that they “will not recognize the appointments announced by the PCC in its last illegal meeting” and calling for the immediate start of a serious national dialogue at the level of the secretaries-general of all factions, to agree on the formation of a new transitional national council that would include all sides and pave the way for holding comprehensive elections, in addition to reforming the PLO and activating its institutions.
First: The PCC Crisis Deepens Contradictions
The convening of the PCC and its controversial and divisive decisions came days after the dialogue hosted by Algeria in late January 2021, in which six Palestinian factions, led by Fatah and Hamas, participated. Although there were no media statements concerning the dialogue and its outcome, convening the PCC without national consensus clearly highlights the lack of progress in Algeria’s dialogues, whether concerning reconciliation or the reform of the Palestinian political system.
In light of these new complications, the contradictions and disparities are increasing in the Palestinian arena on more than one level:
• Concerning the national vision and strategy to confront the occupation and manage the relation with it. On one hand, the PA, Fatah movement and supporting forces adhere to the Oslo Accords, security coordination and the peace process, perceiving them as the only realistic option available to the Palestinian people. On the other hand, Hamas, the PIJ, the PFLP, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) as well as many factions, independents and popular figures adopt resistance in all its forms, while refusing to proceed with negotiations or adhere to the Oslo obligations besides condemning security coordination and considering it a national crime.
• As for the joint institutional action, the leadership of Fatah and the PA insists on taking national decisions without the participation of the rest of the Palestinian forces, while disrupting national efforts to activate the PLO and rebuild it on democratic bases. In contrast, forces opposing the PA leadership’s exclusivity in decision-making and Fatah’s hegemony over national action institutions, urge the reform of the Palestinian political system and implementing the agreements signed in this regard. The last PCC session, which was boycotted by most of the Palestinian factions and the independents, came to exacerbate national division and reinforce the mentality of exclusivity and control, while further hindering attempts to achieve national consensus and undermining the chances for rebuilding the PLO and activating its frameworks.
• The democratic process: While most Palestinian factions and national elites adhere to holding elections and renewing the legitimacy of the executive and legislative institutions (the presidency, the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PNC), the PA leadership evades elections entitlements with weak and unconvincing justifications for fear of losing the elections. This explains the recent PCC decisions to put two impossible conditions for holding the elections and forming a national unity government.
Second: Possible Scenarios for the Future of Palestinian Action After the PCC Crisis
In light of the serious repercussions and difficult challenges imposed by the last PCC session, which may be the most dangerous in its history, the future of the Palestinian political system and national action seem to face a number of scenarios in the coming period:
First Scenario: Stalemate and the Continuation of the Status Quo
This means a deadlock, without achieving practical results including the aspired national consensus and the ending of schism, which is getting deeper and broader. Its most important consequences are the following:
1. The weakness and paralysis of national arena would continue, amidst the disruption of the PLO’s role as a reference and a comprehensive framework, the confiscation of political decisions and the monopolization of national action institutions.
2. Exhausting the efforts of the Palestinian people in managing the division, and occupying Palestinian forces with unproductive attempts to arrange the Palestinian political house and achieve national consensus.
3. Giving the PA leadership more time to pursue its political choices which have harmed the interests of the Palestinian people.
4. Negatively affecting the independence of national decision, while allowing the continuation of dependence on external influence, as well as the continuation of regional and international interference in the Palestine issue.
5. Obstructing the chances of developing a national consensus plan to confront the occupation and attain the rights of the Palestinian people.
Second Scenario: The PA Opponents Would Form a New National Reference
This scenario involves a fundamental change and transformation in the position of the Palestinian forces, which reject the status quo and oppose the PA’s unilateral management of national institutions and monopolization of Palestinian decision-making.
However, this scenario faces a number of challenges, the most important of which are:
1. Various Palestinian forces prefer rebuilding the PLO as a national reference, and the PLO factions strongly reject establishing any alternative national framework.
2. The difficulty of obtaining legitimacy and recognition to a new national reference on the Arab, Israeli and international levels, where these embrace the PA and the current PLO leadership, and refuse to deal with any other alternatives.
3. The expected grave consequences of establishing a new national reference, as this is likely to cause political confrontation between two national legitimacies and frameworks, and trigger a transition from a state of division to political confrontation that may develop into a more dangerous state.
Third Scenario: Keeping the PLO, Withdrawing Recognition of its Current Leadership and Holding New Elections of its Leadership Frameworks and Institutions
This scenario preserves the PLO as a national reference, and the PLO factions opposed to the leadership approach do not refuse to deal with this idea in principle. Yet, it faces most of the obstacles challenging the success of forming a new national reference, as it requires Arab, regional and international recognition of the newly elected PLO institutions. Also, proceeding with this scenario is dangerous. For it may lead to the political confrontation of two leaderships and legitimacies competing over the same position.
Fourth Scenario: Achieving Reconciliation, Attaining National Consensus and Rebuilding the PLO
This is the preferred scenario at the popular level, and its success achieves national interests, ends the weakness and paralysis of the Palestinian political system and enhances the ability of the Palestinian people to confront the occupation. However, this scenario faces difficult impediments, most notably:
1. The unwillingness of the PA and Fatah leadership to apply national consensus decisions, including holding of the presidential, legislative and PNC elections, as it is likely to lose at the present time. It also opposes the calls to rebuild the PLO and refuses to give up its dominance over political decisions and national institutions.
2. The Arab parties are not seriously interested in achieving Palestinian national consensus, renewing the legitimacy of Palestinian institutions and reforming the Palestinian political system. This is due to the fear of consequences, for the PA is weak due to its low popularity and the failure of its political options.
3. Israel and the US oppose the integration of Hamas and the PIJ in the Palestinian leadership institutions and prefer the continuation of the status quo that perpetuates the state of Palestinian weakness and prevents the strengthening of Palestinian political position towards greater opposition and independence.
Fifth Scenario: The National Transitional Alignment
It is a scenario based on keeping the PLO and activating it as a national framework, by forming a transitional or interim national body that overlooks sustainable cooperation and coordination between the forces, bodies, elites and national figures opposed to the PA approach. The program of this transitional body includes adopting resistance, the adherence to the rights of the Palestinian people and the rejection of the Oslo Accords and its political and security entitlements. It would pressure the PLO leadership to open the doors to a serious, transparent and truly representative reform process of the Organization.
The most important requirements for the success of this scenario are:
1. The readiness of the PLO affiliated forces to accept the option of a transitional body, and not to hesitate or procrastinate.
2. The ability of the parties participating in the new formula to explain their political and popular justifications, so as to be convincing concerning the feasibility and importance of this body, hence ensure political and popular support.
3. Achieving a minimum level of understanding among some Arab, regional and international circles, and explaining the justifications and objectives of this step.
4. Avoiding provocation or the entering into sharp political confrontation with the PA leadership and preventing exhaustion in an internal political conflict.
Third: Weighing Between the Scenarios and the Options of the Parties
It is clear from the above that among the most important determinants that would enhance or weaken the chances of success of any of the previous scenarios are:
1. The orientations of the Fatah and PA leadership and its organizational and political priorities: This leadership seems to adhere to its political choices and shows no willingness to abandon the Oslo Accords and their political and security entitlements. The PCC’s recent decision to suspend the recognition of Israel and stop complying with the agreements signed with it, does not carry anything new. For a similar decision was issued by the Council in 2018 and was ignored by the Palestinian leadership.
In terms of the organizational and leadership priorities, the PA leadership seems concerned with arranging its cards in preparation for the next stage, in particular dealing with the possibilities of Mahmud ‘Abbas’s absence. It does not seem concerned at the current stage with achieving national consensus, ending division, resuming the electoral process or activating the PLO and rebuilding its institutions, and it prefers the continuation of the stalemate.
2. The position of Hamas and the PIJ: The two movements are increasingly convinced of the difficulty of reaching consensus with the PA leadership regarding the political settlement and the resistance. The obstacles imposed by the PA leadership on their access to the PLO are also increasing. In addition, holding presidential, legislative and PNC elections seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Consequently, the scenario of the continuation of the status quo is very negative for the two movements. At the same time, they realize the difficulty of seeking to establish a new national reference to compete with the PLO, and they are also aware of the difficulty of holding new elections for PLO institutions in isolation from the Fatah movement under the current circumstances. Thus, the transitional formula is good and acceptable from their perspective in light of the current conditions.
3. The position of the PLO factions opposing the current leadership’s approach, and the extent these factions are willing to cooperate and coordinate: Despite the complex situation and the factions’ realization of the consequences of escalating the conflict with PA leadership, they are now more willing to abandon traditional options and deal positively with the idea of a transitional national alignment. For this option does not contradict their convictions regarding the adherence to the PLO, as an inclusive Palestinian framework and as a national gain that should be preserved. At the same time, it makes them avoid a heated confrontation with the PA leadership, if they engage in a sharp competition with it.
4. The position of the Palestinian people, their elites and national figures: Impartial opinion polls indicate a significant decline in the public trust and support of the PA leadership and its options. Less than 20% of the Palestinians believe that the PA leadership is qualified to represent the Palestinian people and is worthy of their leadership, while 75% of the Palestinians demand President Mahmud ‘Abbas to resign. This decline is attributed to the failure of the Oslo Accords and the peace process, the spread of financial and administrative corruption in its organs and institutions, its negative record in the freedoms and human rights issues, and its postponement of democratic elections.
In light of the growing feeling that matters have reached a dead end, it is unlikely that a large percentage of Palestinians would support the perpetuation of the current state of impotence and political paralysis.
5. The official Arab position: It is pro the status quo, supporting the current Palestinian leadership and refusing to discuss alternative options for Palestinian national action. With the tendency of many Arab governments to normalize their relations with Israel, it is unlikely that the official Arab position will support or accept other Palestinian pro-resistance alternatives.
6. The Israeli position: It supports the PA, strongly rejects undesirable changes in the Palestinian decision-making and representation institutions, and prefers the persistence of the status quo and the current political and security PA policies. There is a widespread belief among the Palestinian forces, opposed to the convening of the last PCC session, that Israel had an influence on who would fill the vacant positions in the PLO, in preparation for the post-Abbas phase.
7. The US position: Like Israel, the US prefers the continuation of the status quo and the current political and security PA policies, and refuses to deal with any new Palestinian formulas or references.
Fourth: The Likely Scenario
In light of the previous determinants, and the positions and options of the Palestinian and external parties, the chances for success of each scenario are as follows:
• Chances of the first scenario: Current conditions indicate that the chances of stalemate and the continuation of the current situation are strong, especially if the parties opposing the PA leadership continue with their postponement and hesitation.
• Chances of the second scenario: The chances of forming a new national framework and an alternative reference to the PLO, seem weak and unlikely at the present time. Despite their opposition to the orientations of the Palestinian leadership, the PLO factions adhere to the Organization as a national reference. In addition, the chances of any framework, alternative to the PA and the PLO, achieving legitimacy, recognition, or Arab and international acceptance cease to exist in light of the current conditions.
• Chances of the third scenario: The chances of withdrawing recognition of the current PLO leadership and holding new elections for its leadership frameworks and institutions, seem to be weak and unlikely. For although this scenario maintains the PLO as national gain and reduces the differences between the forces opposing the current leadership’s political approach and choices, its success depends mainly on these parties gaining Arab, regional and international recognition. This is currently impossible and may create a strong conflict and competition with the leadership of Fatah and the PLO, while plunging the Palestinian arena into a dangerous state of clash and confrontation.
• Chances of the fourth scenario: The chances of achieving reconciliation, attaining national consensus, rebuilding the PLO and holding elections are quite unlikely. For the current conditions, the behavior of the PA and Fatah leadership, the positions of Arab states as well as the Israeli and US positions do not favor such scenario. They prefer the current status quo. In addition, the repeated attempts made by various parties to achieve reconciliation and national consensus were aborted by the strict PA position, as has happened lately with the Algerian call for dialogue between the Palestinian parties.
• The chances of success of the fifth scenario are increasing: The chances of forming a pro-resistance transitional or interim national alignment for cooperation and coordination are more likely. They may be strengthened in the coming period for the following reasons:
1. Many Palestinian figures, activists and forces, including factions in the PLO, have become hopeless of the the possibility of modifying the PA behavior and reaching a national consensus concerning the activation of the PLO institutions and resuming the democratic path. For this contradicts the current behavior of the Palestinian leadership and its political and organizational priorities.
2. Lately, there was an increase in political and field coordination between the Palestinian forces opposed to the PA approach. This provides better platform for coordination during the next stage, allowing a qualitative progress. The Sword of Jerusalem battle has been an important opportunity for convergence and field coordination between these forces in the field of resistance and confronting the occupation. Also, the joint statement of Hamas, the PIJ and the PFLP refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the PCC session was an advanced step that strengthened their political coordination when dealing with the current Palestinian conditions.
3. The low costs of forming an transitional national alignment. For it doesn’t need the PLO factions to make fundamental changes concerning the PLO, which they consider a national framework and reference.
Such an alignment has important features and points of strengths that are likely to be taken into account by the forces opposing the Palestinian leadership, when thinking about changing the stalemate, the most prominent of which are:
1. Preserving the PLO framework as an important national gain.
2. This formula does not require official recognition by any regional or international party, as it is a formula of internal coordination and cooperation among those who believe in resistance and reject the Oslo Accords and security coordination. It does not present itself as an alternative to the PA or the PLO.
3. The new formula constitutes an important pressure card on the PA leadership to be resolute and abandon procrastination of democratic processes, rebuilding the PLO and activating its institutions.
4. If the PA leadership insists on its political approach, takes exclusive control of national decision and closes the doors to rebuilding the PLO and activating its institutions despite the collective pressures, then the new alignment would be an important test to its members if they would able to rebuild the Organization and activate its frameworks, without the participation of Fatah and the PA.
5. This alignment provides a better opportunity of cooperation and coordination for its members and a better chance of collective influential political action on the Palestinian and external levels. It is a common ground for expressing the political position on important national issues.
6. This new national formula does not trigger the same levels of provocation, reactions and problems raised by the pursuit of a new national reference.
In light of the foregoing, it is likely that the future of the Palestinian situation in the coming period will range between the scenario of stalemate and the continuation of the status quo, and the scenario of heading towards a pressing transitional national formula, whose chances are gradually enhanced. The matter will largely depend on the choices of the Palestinian forces and their willingness to overcome hesitation and procrastination.
1. Despite the difficulties and challenges of reaching comprehensive national consensus, achieving reconciliation and ending the state of political division, this option should be implemented by all possible means.
2. Given the negative repercussions of the continued weakness and impotence of the Palestinian political system, solving the current political impasse becomes urgent and extremely important. This demands the Palestinian forces, elites and national actors to assume their responsibilities, carry out their duties and take courageous decisions and bold steps to end the state of disability and paralysis.
3. The formula of the pressing transitional national alignment represents a realistic option that deserves serious and in-depth study by the Palestinian forces, personalities and actors, as it enhances coordination mechanisms and political and field cooperation in confronting the occupation. It also constitutes a necessary pressure on the Palestinian leadership to stop unilateral decision making, disrupting national institutions and postponing what national consensus has agreed on, as well as to resume the democratic process.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. ‘Atef al-Joulani for authoring the original text upon which this strategic assessment was based..