The declaration stipulated that the committee should be made up of PLO Executive Committee members, the leadership of the Palestinian National and Legislative Councils, [PNC and PLC] as well as a number of independent politicians.
Years passed without this clause seeing the light of day – until the Cairo Agreement was signed in May 2011. The Cairo Agreement stated: ‘The committee entrusted with developing the PLO shall be completed and hold its first meeting immediately after this agreement is implemented.’
The Agreement went on to state, ‘Until a new National Council is elected, the committee entrusted with developing the PLO as stated in the Cairo declaration of 2005 will complete its formation and hold its first meeting as a temporary leadership framework. Its functions are summarized by: (a) Drafting the PNC’s framework and mechanisms (b) Dealing with critical political and national issues and making consensual decisions regarding these issues. (c) Following up the implementation of decisions made in the dialogue. The committee will hold its first meeting in Cairo during which it will highlight its mechanisms of action.’
Fateh and Hamas also agreed that the tasks and decisions of the temporary leadership framework (TLF) could not be annulled as long as they do not violate the authority of the PLO Executive Committee.
The TLF was eventually formed of representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and three independents: in addition to members of the PLO Executive Committee and the leaderships of the PNC and PLC. The TLF came to be known as the Committee to Activate the PLO (CAP), and the clause stating that its decisions cannot be annulled was ignored.
Why was the TLF not empowered in favor of CAP with the full consent of all its members? Some say that titles are not as important as substance, while others say that the body is advisory in function (ignoring what the agreement says to the contrary). At any rate, the result was that the TLF (or CAP) has not met since the Cairo Agreement was signed save for a few and infrequent times. It was effectively frozen, just as the reconciliation agreement was.
In the recent [Gaza] Shati Camp agreement, Fateh and Hamas agreed to activate the CAP within a period of five weeks – i.e. the same period in which a new unity government is supposed to be formed. Implementing the Cairo Agreement and dealing with the CAP as a leadership framework whose decisions cannot be annulled (so long as they do not violate the powers vested in the PLO-EC) is the appropriate means to create a unified leadership capable of confronting the threats and challenges facing the Palestinian cause. The PLO after all represents all the Palestinians, half of whom live in the Diaspora far from the Israeli occupation’s direct control – unlike the other half who live in the Palestinian territories.
The CAP should begin its work by outlining the bases of a genuine political partnership and common goals, the best means to deal with peace negotiations, resistance, and the PA especially after the virtual collapse of Oslo and after the Palestinians gained UN recognition as an observer state, with all the legal and political advantages that that entails.
President Abbas and Fateh do not want view the CAP as a provisional leadership framework, fearing that to do so would impinge on the PLO's legitimacy on the international stage. They fear that the U.S., the EU, Canada, and others would use the Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s participation in the CAP as an excuse to delegitimize the entire PLO, which could lead to sanctions. Also, Fateh believes that the PLO is the only Palestinian institution that Hamas has not yet entered. Fateh fears that Hamas' membership of the PLO would dilute its absolute leadership of the PLO, especially after Hamas contested local and legislative elections, and founded its own authority in Gaza.
This seemingly intractable problem could be resolved if the political will was there to give the national interest precedence over narrow factional and personal interests. One thing is clear: without solving this problem, it will not be possible to end the split and restore national unity on the bases of democracy and genuine participation.
The solution lies in giving priority to the reactivation of the leadership framework, even if under the CAP – on condition that CAP's decisions would be absolute and inviolable and that it carries out the functions of the Palestinian leadership until new legislative elections are held and new PLO Central Council and PLO-EC members are elected.
And in order to prevent those who wish to delegitimize the PLO from doing so, the present Executive Committee would carry on its functions and adopt all decisions made by CAP. In other words, CAP decisions cannot become binding and legal unless they were approved by the PLO/EC.
Another extremely important point: such an arrangement would foil attempts to delegitimize the PLO, because Hamas would not become an official member of the PLO unless elections are held. This gives ample time for the entire situation to change. Hamas cannot participate fully in the PLO via CAP as long as it continues to exercise sole control of Gaza. The agreement must be based on the premise of complete partnership in the PA and PLO, ending the split, and ending hegemony (by either party) on the West Bank and Gaza.
Agreement must also be reached on what could be termed ‘the pillars of the higher national interest,’ which outline basic goals and the means to achieve them as well as putting in place rules for domestic rivalry in the period of national liberation, ensuring equality between all Palestinians regardless of religion, gender, or color, and respect for public liberties and human rights.
In order to achieve all this, it is essential to avoid focusing on the procedural aspects of the reconciliation agreement such as forming a PA government and holding elections, while neglecting the substance and objectives of those aspects including sidestepping the political program and the bases for partnership, putting off dealing with the issues of security and the PLO (which would unify the security forces on national foundations and rebuild the institutions of the PLO such that they include all hues of the Palestinian political spectrum). Unless these steps are taken, it will not be possible to end the split – only to manage it through power sharing under the guise of reconciliation.
New strategies are required that do not envisage either negotiations or resistance as the only ways forward. The structure and function of the PA must be reviewed, as well as its obligations and its relationship with the PLO – especially as successive Israeli governments have effectively killed off the 1993 Oslo accords, and after the Palestinians gained UN membership.