By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The Popular Conference for Palestinians Abroad (PCPA) held its second conference in Istanbul on 26–27/2/2022, with the participation of more than a thousand personalities from more than 50 countries. A day before that, the PCPA General Assembly held a meeting in which it discussed its administrative and financial reports and approved them.
The PCPA elected Munir Shafiq as its chairman, and elected its new General Assembly, consisting of 333 members, headed by Siman Khoury. The new General Assembly, in turn, elected Ahmad Muhaisen as chairman of the new secretariat consisting of 45 members.
There was a feeling of admiration and appreciation for the huge efforts made by the conference organizers to host such a large number of personalities and to implement a program full of seminars, art exhibitions and activities, which reflected the concerns, creativity and aspirations of Palestinians abroad. There was also a feeling of appreciation for Turkey for allowing this conference to take place after space to hold it in countries of the Arab and Muslim worlds had become too narrow and after the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) made strenuous attempts to prevent its convening, simply because the atmosphere of this popular action contradicts its policies and commitments to the peace process and Israel.
The second convening of this conference came five years after it was first held and launched in Istanbul. Its achievements during this period fell short of the aspirations of many, who perceived it a framework for organizing and activating the potentials of the Palestinians abroad, and for restoring their great role that had been neglected and marginalized, especially after the Oslo Accords in 1993, and after the decline of the role of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Some also hoped that it would make a breakthrough in the Palestinian conditions that would lead to the restructuring of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) on a just and transparent representative basis, where the Palestinians abroad would have a role that reflects their size and an effective influence in rebuilding the PLO and Palestinian decision-making, which has not taken place yet.
Some criticized the strong presence of “one color” which is the Islamic trend and resistance, and the inability of the conference organizers over the past years to expand the circle of members in the aspired manner, especially to include other currents, personalities and independent figures abroad. The conference also faced criticism for the lack of adequate representation of youth and women, particularly in its leadership frameworks, as well as the expansion of its General Secretariat (45 members), which has become more of a representative than an executive body which must enjoy high dynamism; in light of the logistical difficulties in managing it and holding its meetings, in addition to distributing tasks to its members and following up on them.
However, those, who are familiar with the details, know that those in charge of the PCPA are working according to very limited capabilities, and on voluntary basis. They have faced and still face difficulties on the ground, when working with the public in most Arab countries, especially where there are large Palestinian communities. For some countries do not want popular Palestinian activities with a political content (especially if it contradicts the peace process), or refuse for these gatherings to organize themselves into unions, professional federations and communities with elected bodies, since these countries do not practice the electoral process with their own peoples or because such work exceeds the limits allowed for Palestinians or residents in these countries, in general.
Moreover, the PLO and PA leadership, which was disturbed by this popular movement and still insists, unfortunately, on neglecting and marginalizing the role of Palestinians abroad, has used all means of pressure available to it, taking advantage of its official status, its embassies and its diplomatic and media capabilities, to prevent this work from advancement, and distort and disrupt it. This position has contributed to the restriction of the PCPA by many regimes. Also, it has caused reluctance among many Palestinian figures to join the Conference, either they did not want to antagonize the PA and its supporters, or because they did not want this membership to reflect negatively on their conditions in their places of residence, or because the PCPA has not yet reached their level of aspirations and hopes.
On the ground, there are many difficulties, including living in different environments and under different political systems, and the difficulty of contact, movement and face-to-face interaction. Some countries allow strong political language but hinder free Palestinian action among the communities and the formation of federations and unions, as in many of the Arab and Muslim countries; as opposed to environments which do not prevent popular Palestinian action, but criminalize resistance and strong political discourse, as in many countries of the Western world.
Moreover, the PCPA’s ability to mobilize more than a thousand known figures from more than fifty countries is a reasonable achievement, albeit less than aspirations. The Conference is credited with its success in South America and for being joined by one the unions most representative of the Palestinians of South America, with one of the members in this union assumed the presidency of the PCPA General Assembly. The Conference is also credited for forming twenty coordination groups of the Palestinian communities in twenty countries, having youth and women among its members and including more young men and women in the General Assembly and the General Secretariat compared to the previous conference. Perhaps, more representation of youth and women needs more time, during which they would show their potentials and people would get to know them more.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted the world for two years, the PCPA has held dozens of political, media and charitable activities within its available capabilities.
As for the issue of “one color,” this can be perceived from two angles. The first is that many in the PCPA leadership frameworks represent different movements, embracing a policy open to all sides, on the basis of maintaining Palestinian fundamentals and activating the role of Palestinians abroad. However, they are required to be more open, they must ease their “partisan” calculations, and be more proactive in communicating with figures and potentials, assigning them with tasks commensurate with their capabilities. The second angle is that those who belong or are inclined to “other colors” or are independents, are also required to put their fears, prejudices, partisan classifications and quota mentality aside. They are required to deal with the PCPA as a general umbrella for work and responsibility, and not expect it to be a platform for titular positions, or a crossroads for electoral seats in the PNC and others without putting efforts in the PCPA or serving Palestinians abroad and their aspirations, and bearing the costs of that.
The PCPA has presented an acceptable civilized example of Palestinians abroad; holding a meeting of people of various political, cultural, scientific and specialized levels, from more than fifty countries. It is a model which can be expanded and built upon. The PCPA has also achieved an electoral model which, despite procedural remarks, remains significantly ahead of what is happening in our Palestinian environment and the Arab and Muslim worlds. The participants have also agreed on a program that emphasizes the Palestinian national fundamentals and the liberation of all of Palestine; supports the resistance line and the formation of a broad national alignment that supports it; and activates Palestinians abroad and their popular and union work in their communities. This constitutes the basis for the restoration of the vital, central and pioneering role of Palestinians abroad in the project of liberation and return.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 14/3/2022