"Have the president and remaining PLO Executive Committee members tendered their resignation or have they not?" asks Hani al-Masri in Wednesday's leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Sa'eb 'Ereikat has denied the resignation – apparently to justify his election as Executive Committee Secretary at the same session in which the resignations were supposedly tendered; but if they have resigned, how was he chosen to a post that he had been already occupying even before the meeting?
And if they have not resigned, why was the Executive Committee invited to an extraordinary session? Ereikat denied the resignations despite the fact that Ghassan ash-Shak'a and other resigned Committee members have confirmed them. Others have also said that the resignations remained 'pending,' until the president decided the matter by confirming his and his fellow Executive Committee members' resignation.
What has been happening on the Palestinian arena for some time now indicates that the major issues are being lost amidst a tide of small events and interests. A state of schizophrenia has swept the Palestinian leadership and has been casting its long shadow over the forces and figures surrounding it. This has emerged from the statements made by PLO Executive Committee and Fateh Central Council members and is confirmed by the declarations of a number of forces, the secretary-generals of different factions, and various leading figures. They demand an ordinary (full) Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting, while they defend convening an extraordinary meeting at the same time – so much so that two different statements by two leftist factions contained an agreement to hold both an ordinary and an extraordinary meeting at the same time.
One such statement was issued before the Executive Committee meeting, and included the resignation of this faction's representative from the Committee, and the other was issued afterwards, and included agreement to hold an extraordinary meeting – after demanding that an ordinary meeting be held. At the same time, the statement stressed the need to abide by the PLO's bylaws, especially Clause (C) of Article 14, which permits holding a PNC regardless of the number of members attending in order to fill vacant posts in the Executive Committee. So does this faction really want us to believe that it is urging the president and the other ten members' resignation, as Mohammad Dahlan demanded publicly; or are there elements that remain ‘hidden behind the hill'?
The same appears in the manner in which the call to Hamas and Islamic Jihad to take part [in the official Palestinian power structures] is being dealt with. Certain leading Fateh figures, as well as marginal and not-so-marginal factions, say both one thing and its opposite. They say that Hamas does not want to participate, but that no serious invitation has been extended to it, nor is it included in the PNC’s Preparatory Committee. In fact, a leftist leader has explained why Hamas was not invited by claiming that if it were to decline the invitation, this would aggravate the inter-Palestinian split – as if failing to invite it will consolidate Palestinian unity!
The same problem appears in an even more tragic manner when speaking of the next PNC meeting's agenda. Everyone knows that the extraordinary session's agenda is not complete and is almost totally restricted to filling the vacuum resulting from the resignations. The most the meeting can witness would be a political debate. For it is not the extraordinary session's job to assess the previous phase and derive the necessary lessons and morals, or to ask questions, insist on accountability and change the PLO’s political program. The most that can happen is a quick political debate followed by a statement that is akin to those issued by the PLO Executive Committee and Fatah’s Central Council –that in many cases remain 'mere ink on paper.'
Another issue being discussed behind the scenes about which a number of Palestinian leading figures have spoken, is that, by calling the PNC to meet, the president wants to renew the PLO's legitimacy and protect it against the domestic and foreign dangers that threaten it, including that of Hamas reaching an agreement with Israel over a long-term truce, as a prelude to his departure and passing on the legacy to his successor or successors who will carry on the march. In other words, he is in a hurry for this reason and has chosen to call for an ‘extraordinary’ session this sole purpose; for an ‘ordinary session’ requires many months of preparation, while preparing for an extraordinary session only takes a number of weeks.
Is it strange for the representatives of the microscopic forces represented in the current PLO Executive Committee, and other forces that aspire to being represented in the next Executive Committee, to be at the forefront asking for a speedy PNC meeting in order to safeguard their factional interests? For they would no longer remain members if a PNC session were to be held in which all shades of the political spectrum take part.
Is the aim to achieve a speedy exit for the president, or a safe exit for the nation and its cause led by the president, and to permit him to be assured that the Palestinian ship can move forward despite the strong winds and storms?
Would it not be better for this to occur after inter-Palestinian unity is restored, or at least after a serious effort is exerted to reunite the nation with all its currents, placing its feet at the beginning of a new path that can achieve the victory that the other tracks or marches have failed to achieve?
Hasty and unrehearsed preparations for an extraordinary PNC session will produce disagreement and discord inside the PLO, inside every faction, and among the independents. This has already occurred against the background of the heated individual competition over who will secure membership of the Executive Committee and Fateh Central Council. The competition is between individuals each of whom believes him or herself more worthy of such membership, and not between those who can actually forge a new path towards national salvation.
At best, this will lead to an Executive Committee whose legitimacy is suspect because it was chosen by a PNC held in the absence of major forces and the exclusion of others. This would give a pretext for a boycott of the PNC by forces that carry a considerable weight that cannot be denied. For in light of their boycott and without providing a genuine opportunity for them to take part, it would not be possible to claim that the PLO represents the Palestinian people wherever they are after this extraordinary session whose legitimacy is suspect.
The fear is that giving priority to designing institutions that are tailored to fit any particular person or shade of the Palestinian spectrum will not lead to a safe and speedy exist, but to the long presence and renewal of the pledge of allegiance [to the old policies], or to an exit that is neither safe for the president, nor his people, nor his cause.
Most likely, what prevents convening an ordinary PNC session is that this would require a full agenda. And that would require the Executive Committee to present a comprehensive report about its work. It will have to explain why it agreed to diminish the PLO's role. It will also raise the need for changing the Palestinians' political program because that of negotiations and Oslo has brought us to the catastrophe of deepening the occupation, expanding the settlements, an inter-Palestinian split, and marginalization of the Palestinian cause.
Moreover, an ordinary session would require a quorum of two-thirds of PNC members – that is, around 500 members. But the attendance of so many members is not guaranteed, especially if Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and independent PNC members were to boycott the meeting, not to mention those who will be unable to attend because they have not received an [Israeli-endorsed] national identity number, or because they refuse to attend under the occupation, or because they are not given permission by Israel, since the session will be held in Ramallah, according to previous announcements.
The solution lies in insisting on an ordinary session and the formation of a committee charged with preparing for it; one formed from the PLO's Temporary Leadership Framework, or with the participation of all shades of the political spectrum, and especially the signatories to the  Cairo Agreement. This committee will then have to prepare the necessary legal and political files. And an Arab capital must be chosen that all PNC members can reach so as to take part in the session. And if a quorum were not achieved for one reason or another, for example, because of Hamas's boycott, then the boycotters would be held fully responsible for the situation.
It is only then that the exceptional conditions mentioned in Clause (C) of Article 14 that allow for holding the PNC session with whoever is able to attend would be satisfied. The solution does not lie in violating the PLO's bylaws by leaping to the exceptional case (Clause (C) of Article 14) before trying to respect the general rule mentioned in Clauses (A) and (B) of the same Article. These require Executive Committee vacancies to be filled by a PNC session where the required quorum is satisfied and in an ordinary session. At any rate, under no conditions is it permissible to elect an Executive Committee in an extraordinary session; what is possible is to fill the vacuum resulting from resignations.
Partnership on the basis of a new social contract and a new political program to which all abide is the 'password' and key to national salvation. The fact that certain forces, especially Fateh and Hamas, are not ready for partnership, and the fact that other forces – especially the microscopic ones – give priority to their factional interests and the interests of their individual leaders and secretary-generals over the public interest, is what is preventing the formation of a new PNC as required by the Cairo Agreement, because the current PNC's term has long expired.
"Alternatively, the old PNC can be called to a meeting while seriously ensuring that the Palestinian people's various currents and forces can take part wherever they are present," concludes Masri.