A CRUCIAL DECISION
“For some time now, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has been saying that he will take a crucial and surprising decision in September,” notes Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Observers and followers have puzzled over this. Will he submit his resignation, or dissolve the PA, or reconstitute it and its functions and commitments based on international recognition and the fact that Israel has reneged on its obligations, or end [the PA’s] security coordination [with Israel] and implement the decisions of the last PLO Central Council meeting, or is there a new invitation to convene a Palestine National Council (PNC) in the president’s quiver?
Such critical issues need to be discussed in an institutional, collective manner with the participation of the people so that decisions are not made before they have been well prepared. Everyone bears responsibility for any agreement and its implementation, and it should not be treated as a puzzle or surprise.
Before discussing this matter further, we refer to the rumors that the PFLP and PDF [leftist factions] have been boycotting the PLO’s Executive Committee meetings, which have been proven to be untrue. However the two factions have strongly objected to the manner in which decisions are made and matters are run in the Executive Committee, which has led to discontent that must be addressed before it escalates.
Notwithstanding what has passed, this year has witnessed tension in relationships within the Executive Committee, coupled with the growing dangers and threats to the Palestinian cause. The situation was exacerbated by the draft resolution presented to the UN Security Council at the end of last year without being first brought before the Executive Committee, particularly after it became clear that this draft was prejudicial to Palestinian national rights as recognized by international law and UN resolutions and the resolutions of the PLO’s National and Central Councils.
In response, some leftist factions threatened to boycott the meetings of what is known as ‘the Palestinian leadership’ and that includes 50 people, which led to a response, and the Executive Committee reconvened at a time when the Duma crime [last week’s settler arson attack on a Palestinian family] occurred and ‘the leadership’ was called to meet.
This story repeated itself when the last Central Council resolutions were not implemented. These included a demand for ‘the cessation of security coordination and a reevaluation of the relationship with occupation authorities’, whereas security coordination was actually extended following the Duma crime in an attempt to contain Palestinian reactions and prevent a new intifada.
To add insult to injury, news broke of a meeting between [Chief PLO negotiator] Erekat and Silvan Shalom, who is the Israeli government’s official responsible for negotiations, to discuss the resumption of talks and other matters without first informing the Executive Committee. This constitutes a departure from the agreed consensus on the preconditions for resuming negotiations.
This offers conclusive proof that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Palestinian decision-making process. Decisions are taken individually, and if not taken by consensus and are incompatible with chosen policy they should not be adopted. The Palestinians’ institutions are more and more absent, taking with them what is left of an organization whose role has been diminishing ever since the  Oslo Accords and the establishment of the PA, which has become the center of gravity at the PLO’s expense despite having limited powers of self-government restricted by terms and commitments that prevent it from representing the Palestinian peoples’ interests, aspirations, and rights.
The essence of the problem does not lie in holding or failing to hold Executive Committee meetings, whether separately or under the wing of the Palestinian leadership. It stems from the fact that the Committee, and all the PLO’s institutions (including the National and Central Councils) have aged and withered away, and their legitimacy has been severely eroded after dozens of years without reform, change, or renewal.
The median age of PNC members is no less than 70, yet the organization’s institutions persist, despite losing their legitimacy and the failure of their chosen political path. As is known, the source of legitimacy is either the ballot box or resistance that adheres to an agreed national program that produces a unified strategy. The PLO has lost its legitimacy because elections have not been held and it has abandoned resistance and offered concessions on the national program in pursuit of successful negotiations.
The PLO’s institutions have lost their legitimacy, even if it is still formally recognized [as the Palestinians’ representative] in Palestine, the Arab world, and internationally. However, this recognition will not last forever and it will be lost if the organization’s institutions remain absent and absented, and if they do not incorporate new developments and realities.
The local, legislative, and presidential elections that have been held since the PA was established up until today have proven that decisive changes have occurred in Palestinian public opinion and in the balances and roles of power. Fateh, which led the Palestinian struggle for decades with other PLO factions, no longer has a stable and significant majority that grants it the right to lead.
Hamas competes with it now to the extent of securing majority votes in the Executive Committee, indicating that the PLO’s existing institutions no longer represent the Palestinian majority. This calls for either holding new elections for the PNC whenever possible, or for renewing its membership and forming a new council based on a consensus that reflects the changes and meets current needs and priorities, and that represents all colors of the political spectrum.
This is the context for the reports that the president and leadership circles are considering convening the PNC with its old membership in addition to the Executive Committee, or forming a new PNC based on the old quota system.
A few urgent questions arise:
The first: How does the PLO ‘activation committee’ agreed by the [Fateh/Hamas] Cairo Agreement relate to the role of interim leader for a fixed period to complete certain tasks, namely, to prepare for national council elections and the formation of a new PNC? The invitation to convene the old council, especially in the absence of a national consensus, constitutes a breach of the Fatah/Hamas reconciliation agreement, such that the old council will remain and does not offer a solution to this crisis, but entrenches it further instead.
Should the old council be convened and Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and perhaps other factions refuse to participate, as is very likely, will this call proceed until the end, even at the risk of the failure to meet a legal and political quorum, based on the excuse that Hamas will be invited to attend the Executive Committee with all its weight since it has 74 MPs who are automatic members of the PNC?
The second (and more important) question: What is the political purpose behind convening the PNC? Is it to discuss the status of the Palestinian cause today, and where do the Palestinian people wish to reach and how (as is only natural and expected)? Or is it to leave the Palestinian institutions even more subservient than they are today, merely to mollify certain individuals and [regional] axes?
Reviving the organization’s institutions, which entered the intensive care unit ever since Oslo, is a natural starting point for rebuilding the national movement and for embodying and redefining the national project by creating a new PNC that represents the Palestinian people in both word and deed. For this to happen, the initial step is forming a ‘Founding Council’ as an agreed-upon temporary leadership, while expanding it to include 100-150 members, thereby guaranteeing representation to all groups, and sectors, especially women, the displaced, and the youth.
Other suggestions old and new can be taken on board on condition that the Founding Council will create a national consensus that does not overstep or cancel out or replace the PLO, which will remain the authority until its institutions have been reconstituted, taking shape according to a social contract (national charter), that preserves the Palestinians’ narrative and historical rights.
This will allow for effective political action based on a minimum common denominator after which a new PNC may be formed by election when possible, or appointed based on consensus if elections are not possible, while adhering to objective criteria that drop the divisive quota system previously adopted. Decisions will then be made via such new mechanisms.
“For example, each group can choose its representatives and popular committees and unions and professional associations will be revived with elections, with branches wherever the Palestinian people are,” concludes Masri.