A REMARKABLE DEVELOPMENT
"Last week witnessed a remarkable development," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
It was revealed that PLO' Palestine National Fund (PNF) has ceased its funding for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and for the Popular Democratic Front (PDF) which they used to receive as founding PLO members. Until this article went to press, no spokesperson for either the PA Presidency, the PLO or the PNF had confirmed or denied this report. But both the PFLP and PDF had announced that the PNF's head had informed them that instructions had been issued by the president to stop their funding, but without giving any reason for that.
Despite this, a senior journalist, who is the director of a large media corporation, took upon himself to deny the report: 'There is nothing official or written on the part of the PLO's Executive Committee; what we are witnessing is no more than a media 'flare-up'.' By saying this, he has demonstrated he is 'more royalist than the king' ignoring the fact that such issues are not brought before the PLO’s Executive Committee and are not passed by official decision.
Instead of considering this measure that harms the relations between the Palestinian factions, Palestinian political circles were busy either trying to mediate to find a solution away from the PLO and the media, waiting for the president to return from his current foreign tour; or were focusing on the burning of the president's pictures in the Gaza Strip by some figures affiliated to the PFLP in protest against the loss of funding – despite the fact that a senior PFLP figure did declare that this act was unacceptable and did not reflect the PFLP's policies or culture when it comes to managing disagreements.
So burning pictures is unacceptable – although such things happen in democratic states without burdening them with more than they warrant. But this does not justify a cover up of the original event – that of severing the funding – or justify the preoccupation with the reactions to it.
All hell broke loose in protest against what was seen as a departure from Palestinian national values and traditions. But the majority of those criticizing the burnings did not pause to consider the action that caused them – as if severing the funding of patriotic fronts that have a historic partnership with Fateh within the PLO framework was an action that was in harmony with Palestinian national values and traditions.
Moreover, this decision was taken without any explanation or justification or admission or even clarification from the PLO Executive Committee, which is supposed to be the Palestinian people's leadership, and has been delegated to implement the Palestinian National Council (PNC) longstanding decision to set aside a sum in support of the factions that act under the PLO's banner. Furthermore, the PA’s president is elected by the Executive Committee, and is therefore supposed to be subject to it; he has no right to take such decisions without referring to it first. This assumes that the Executive Committee is actually fulfilling its role as the Palestinian people's supreme point of reference and leadership; however, like the rest of the PLO's institutions, the Executive Committee has been suffering from paralysis ever since the  Oslo Accords were signed, and will continue to do so until further notice.
Instead of rejecting this unilateral decision and demanding that it be rescinded, attention is now being diverted towards the burning of the president's pictures and the insistence that the PFLP should apologize for this behavior and not confine itself to distancing itself from it.
In light of all the above, we would like to stress the following points:
- First, we need to remind everyone that the funding for both the PFLP and the PDF was stopped before the president's pictures were burnt. This represents a continuation of a practice that we have witnessed in the past and that has usually been deployed as a means of punishment for criticism of the Palestinian leadership's political positions.
The preceding period had witnessed repeated criticisms of the president’s policies and decisions from both the PFLP and the PDF, including his readiness to convene a PNC meeting with whoever is able to attend; his failure to implement the PLO's Central Council resolutions; his insistence on security coordination [with Israel]; his failure to adopt the current intifada wave and the repression of many of the demonstrations in support of it; the continued normalization of relations with the occupation to the extent of sending a delegation to offer condolences on the death of an occupation general who was responsible for its policies; the manner in which he dealt with the teachers' strike, passing the social security law, the formation of the constitutional court, the assassination of 'Omar an-Nayif, and other issues.
- Second, it is not possible to accept the implicit or direct justification of the decision to cancel the funding on the grounds that the PNF benefits from Oslo's 'dirty money' that the PFLP and the DFLP should refrain from accepting. Nor is it acceptable to claim that these factions are now too ancient and calcified, and no longer deserve any funding, as if those who have decided to terminate the funding did so in order to offer the monies to the revolutionary vanguard of reformation, renewal, and correction.
Nor is it acceptable to justify this decision on the grounds that both 'Fronts' committed a mistake (which is true) when they failed to raise their voice high in protest against the catastrophes that have befallen the Palestinian people, but only made a fuss when their funding was halted. Nor is it acceptable to say that both factions have become hostage to the monies they receive from the PLO, which has undermined their independence of decision and their ability to oppose the [president’s] mistaken and dangerous unilateral policies, decisions, and practices on many occasions. All these important remarks may rightly be made in criticism of the PFLP and the PDF's policies and performance – and the left in general, in fact – but they do not make it right to end their funding, which has dwindled continuously over the past years anyway.
- Third, the monies that the PLO obtains from the PA's budget are public monies that have been secured in the Palestinian people's name. No one, whomever they may be, can grant them or withhold them in the service of their personal interests or political aims. They are not a favor from anyone, but the right of those meant to receive them. Moreover, the right to disagree and express one's opinion and oppose certain policies is sacred. It is totally improper to make loyalty a precondition for securing public funding that is supposed to back the people's steadfastness and the requirements of their continued struggle via its factions, leaders, and individuals.
- Fourth, the PFLP and PDF, as well as the rest of the so-called Palestinian 'left,' are urged to engage in an in-depth and courageous review of their past performance, that has led to severe diminishment of their role. They must introduce the renewal, change, and reform that is needed to rehabilitate the left's role in a manner that aids the emergence of a third current on the Palestinian arena that includes all those concerned for the cause and determined to struggle to achieve the patriotic and democratic aims within and outside these factions, including members of Fateh and Hamas.
The creation of such a current is a vital necessity, whose importance only increases in light of the sharp bilateral polarization between two major factions [Fateh and Hamas] that have been unable to salvage the cause – and are, in fact, responsible for the destructive division that it finds itself in now, a situation that does not gladden any of our friends but only satisfies all our enemies.
No need is more urgent than that of reconstructing the PLO's institutions on new patriotic and democratic foundations reached by accord and based on genuine partnership. This is necessary if the PLO is to contain all shades of the political and social spectrum inside and outside our occupied country. But those who benefit from the current situation cannot fulfill this mission; it must be carried out by individuals and groups from within the existing factions and from new factions that express overwhelming majority of Palestinians’ interest.
It was my impression when I returned to our homeland after Oslo – a return that is a natural right and not a favor from anyone and does not require those who have returned to sing the praises of an agreement for which the Palestinian people have and continue to pay dearly– that the time had come for changing and renewing the factions. I called for the formation of new factions and parties, only to discover that while the existing factions were getting older and their role was on the retreat, what was replacing them were not new and more vibrant and advanced factions, but individuals and groups that have revived individual, family, clan, and local interests. This has created centers of power inside and outside the PA, working to further individual interests at the expense of the national cause and the public interest.
I engaged in a self-review and concluded that despite their shortcomings, the factions represent the last bulwark against a complete descent into the abyss, and that we must safeguard them as we work towards and hope for their renewal and development, and towards the creation of new movements, factions and parties. I was certain that the one grave mistake that we could commit would be to help the old to pass away before it was time for the new to be born, and that if we were to do so, we would only regret this when it would be too late.
"For the new is always born of the womb of the old," concludes Masri.