By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The Palestinian National Forum was held on Saturday and Sunday, May 20-21, 2023, organized by the Popular Conference of Palestinians Abroad in Beirut. It was attended by approximately 140 Palestinian national figures from dozens of countries outside Palestine, along with a selection of individuals from within the Palestinian territories and representatives from several Palestinian factions.
Furthermore, on Saturday, May 27, 2023, the 20th European Palestinians Conference is taking place in Malmo, Sweden. It is expected to be attended by around 15-20 thousand participants, making it the largest annual gathering of Palestinians in Europe over the past twenty years. The conference aims to reaffirm the Palestinian fundamentals, primarily the right of return for refugees to their homes and lands from which they were displaced.
The National Forum:
The National Forum, held over two days, discussed “The National Strategy for Safeguarding Palestinian Fundamentals,” developed by the Popular Conference of Palestinians Abroad. In an atmosphere of civilized and responsible dialogue, dozens of participants shared their inputs, criticisms and suggestions. The forum analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the Palestinian situation and the strategic vision calling for escalating resistance against Israeli occupation, establishing effective national partnerships, and integrating the roles of Palestinian entities inside and outside Palestine, This would strengthen unity and mobilize resources for the liberation struggle, and develop effective Palestinian networking at the Arab, Islamic and international levels.
The strategic vision called for enhancing the capabilities and potential of the Palestinian people, supporting their resistance, asserting the centrality of Jerusalem, insisting on the right of return, building a practical internal Palestinian front, putting the Palestinian political house in order, and rebuilding and activating the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It also called for enhancing Palestinian action abroad and in the 1948 occupied territories, prioritizing the liberation of prisoners, breaking the siege on Gaza Strip (GS), intensifying efforts to isolate Israel, and criminalizing its occupation and symbols, on a legal level and internationally.
This vision, agreed upon after extensive discussions and several amendments and improvements, provides a significant foundation for national action and the enhancement of the Palestinian situation. It is a crucial platform for anyone wishing to serve the Palestinian national project.
The European Palestinians Conference:
This conference is considered one of the most important and remarkable national events of the Palestinian diaspora. For twenty years, it has attracted around 1020 thousand Palestinians annually, who come from all over Europe. It brings together grandparents, parents and grandchildren, who pledge their love for Palestine, commitment to return, and dedication to upholding their rights in their blessed land. All of this occurs in a unifying national atmosphere that accommodates all Palestinian factions and segments, accompanied by cultural speeches, heritage programs, traditional costumes, songs and popular cuisine. It is a distinctive national celebration that is unparalleled globally.
Notably, this year, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA), PLO and Fatah figures launched an unjustified and lacking credibility attack against this conference. It was filled with false accusations and misinformation, simply because the conference operates independently and is not under their control. It should be noted that this independence has been a fundamental element of its success.
The PLO Executive Committee issued a statement following its meeting on 4/5/2023, against the conference, falsely accusing it of promoting division, suggesting fake and unacceptable alternatives, and tampering with the Palestinian conditions.
Rouhi Fattouh, the President of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and a Fatah leader, warned against any participation by council members in the conference and threatened to revoke their membership, considering the conference a suspicious call far from Palestinian legitimacy. Similarly, Hussein Al-Sheikh, the secretary of the PLO Executive Committee and member of Fatah’s Central Committee (responsible for coordinating with the occupation), warned against the participation in the conference, claiming that it aimed to undermine the unity of representation of the Palestinian people through the PLO. Sabri Saidam, the secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee, claimed that the European Palestinians Conference falls within the “liquidation schemes of the PLO.”
Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and the Secretary-General of the Popular Struggle Front (which is aligned with Fatah in its program), alleged that the conference served “suspicious” agendas and was a “poisonous” attempt to divide Palestinian communities. Anwar ‘Abdul Hadi, the Director of the Arab Relations Department in the PLO, launched a fierce attack on the conference, going as far as accusing it of serving Zionist agendas and claiming that Mossad funded it!
Others who criticized the conference include Faisal Aranki, the head of the Expatriate Affairs Department in the PLO, affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP); and Usama Al-Qawasmi, the chair of the PNC Expatriate and Diaspora Committee; and others.
This limited article does not allow for a detailed response to all the claims and false accusations made by the opponents of the conference, including leaders within the PA, PLO and Fatah. However, we will attempt to clarify a few points:
1. Throughout its history, this conference has been a unifying national event for all Palestinians in Europe, akin to a national celebration. It has never sought to undermine the legitimacy of the PLO or advocated for forming an alternative organization. Ambassadors and PA representatives have participated in the conference. However, its platforms have expressed the genuine pulse of the Palestinian people, both inside and outside Palestine, in calling for reform within the PLO, the activation of its institutions, and the inclusion of all Palestinians. This is a widely agreed-upon necessity, so why are the campaign of defamation and baseless accusations from leaders expected to possess at least a minimum level of credibility and self-respect?!
2. If anyone is weakening the PLO, it is its current leadership that has dominated it for decades. Under their watch, the organization’s institutions have collapsed and lost their effectiveness. The PLO has been reduced to a tool for the PA, used only to rubber-stamp the decisions and actions of its leadership. This leadership obstructs the organization’s reform, stands against some significant and influential Palestinian forces from joining, and prevents any fair and transparent elections for the Palestinian people. They also disregard the concerns and aspirations of Palestinians abroad and their communities.
3. If the PLO and PA leaderships truly care about national action in Europe and abroad, then they, in particular those in the PLO Refugee Affairs Department and the PA Expatriate Department, should report their accomplishments serving Palestinians outside Palestine. We know, and they know, the extent of the misery experienced by their departments and institutions. A simple challenge is for them to disclose their annual budget for supporting their work among refugees and Palestinians abroad (more than seven million Palestinians), and to compare it with the budget of the Office of the President or the budgets allocated to the security forces coordinating with the occupation.
4. Leaders of the PA, PLO and Fatah have warned against suspicious and toxic agendas of the conference, accusing it of dividing the Palestinian ranks and undermining the organization. We question whether this national conference, which upholds Palestinian fundamentals, defends the right of return, injects national spirit and uplifts the morale of Palestinians in Europe, while connecting them to Jerusalem and Palestine, can have such agendas. Meanwhile, the actions of the PLO and PA leaderships include compromising most of Palestine, engaging in security coordination with the occupation, pursuing resistance members and leaders, participating in conferences in Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh, enjoying “VIP” cards provided by Israel, and “kidnapping” the PLO leadership against the will of the Palestinian people. Is all of this what they consider “national action”?
5. To those who dare to spread slanderous accusations against the conference, claiming it has Zionist agendas and is funded by Mossad, we say: This is a disgraceful act of ignorance that no Palestinian official should engage in. It shows a lack of respect for the intellect of Palestinians in Europe and Palestinians in general. Israel relentlessly pursues the conference and seeks to tarnish its image, aligning with the agenda of those within the Palestinian leadership who hold grudges against the conference. Regrettably, the Palestinian embassy in Sweden has joined the Israeli ambassador in attacking the conference.
To these grudge-bearers, we say: If your house is made of glass, do not throw stones at others. If you are unable or unwilling to work, you should clear the path for those willing to do so. At the very least, you should exhibit “silence” where everyone can witness the incompetence of your performance.
Finally, we congratulate the Popular Conference for Palestinians Abroad and the European Palestinians Conference on their efforts and achievements. We look forward to more endeavors in serving our people, our cause and our nation on the path of liberation and return.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 27/5/2023