By Dr. Hani al-Masri
Has the Palestinian president — and the rest of the PLO executive committee members who announced their resignation — actually resigned or not? Saeb Erekat denied that he has (perhaps to justify his appointment as the new head of the committee) despite the fact that Ghassan Shakaa and a number of other ExCo members who resigned confirmed the news. However, the president resolved the matter by confirming his resignation, along with the resignation of his executive committee colleagues.
What has been happening in the Palestinian arena recently suggests that the bigger picture is being missed while we focus on relatively minor events. The Palestinian leadership is almost schizophrenic in its behaviour and this is casting a shadow on surrounding forces and figures.
This is evident in the statements made by the PLO and Fatah executive committees, as well as those issued by various secretary-generals and leaderships. They called for having regular Palestine National Council (PNC) meetings at a time that they are defending the decision to hold an extraordinary meeting. We’ve even had two different statements being made by two left-wing factions accepting an invitation to a regular and an extraordinary PNC meeting at the same time.
Similarly, we saw how they dealt with inviting Hamas and Islamic Jihad to attend the meeting. Some Fatah officials (and those belonging to marginal factions) say something and its exact opposite at the same time. They said that Hamas does not want to attend unless there is a serious invitation for it to participate and unless it is involved in the preparatory committee, while a left-wing official explained that Hamas was not invited because its refusal to attend if invited will intensify the division, as if not inviting Hamas would reinforce unity.
The same is seen in a more tragic manner when referring to the upcoming extraordinary PNC session agenda. Everyone knows that it is not a complete agenda and it is almost fully focused on filling the gap resulting from the resignations. The most that may happen is a political debate, as extraordinary sessions do not normally evaluate events and the lessons learnt, accountability and changing the political programme.
Another issue is happening more behind the scenes than in the open — several Palestinian leaders have spoken to me about it — and that is the president’s wish to renew the legitimacy of the PLO and protect it from internal and external threats by means of calling for a PNC meeting. Such threats include Hamas agreeing on a long-term truce with Israel, thus allowing its successors to continue on the same path. This is why Mahmoud Abbas is in such a hurry and called for an extraordinary session, because an ordinary session requires many months of preparations instead of just a few weeks.
Isn’t is odd, though, that the less prominent factions represented in the current executive committee and seeking to be represented in the next cohort are those who are calling for the meeting to be held quickly? This is so that they can maintain their factional interests; they will not be able to do this if it is truly representative of all factions across the political spectrum.
Is the goal to secure a safe and quick exit for the president or a safe exit for the people and cause led by the president, which will allow him to ensure that the Palestinian ship will be able to carry on despite the storms? Wouldn’t it be better, if the president wants a safe exit, for him to leave after unity has been achieved? Or at least after he takes serious action to unite the people from the various factions and set them on a new path after the previous failures?
The improvisational preparation for the extraordinary PNC session will lead to the spread of discord and controversy within the PLO and the factions and independents; indeed, this has already happened, with their competition to see who would win membership in the executive committee and central committees. In the best case scenario, this would lead to the election of a committee with questionable legitimacy because the process was held by a group of chosen, not elected, participants who excluded other factions. This would lead the latter, who have great popular influence and weight, to boycott them.
The worry is that if the national institutions are structured on the basis of one person’s whims or those from a particular dominant faction, Abbas may not have a safe and swift exit from office. He may thus decide to stay on, or leave in a way that is damaging for him, his people and the cause.
If a normal session was called it would have to have a complete agenda, which means that the executive committee must present a comprehensive report on its work. There may also be the need to change the political programme, as the negotiations path set by the Oslo Accords has led to the disaster of reinforcing the occupation, expanding illegal settlements, political division and the marginalisation of the cause. In addition, a normal session would require the participation of two-thirds of the council members — around 500 people — and this is not guaranteed, especially if Hamas, Islamic Jihad and independent members boycott it. There are also those who cannot attend due to the fact that they have not been issued a national number or the Israelis refuse to issue a permit to enter Ramallah, which is where the meeting will be held.
The solution lies in committing to the option of holding a regular session and forming a preparatory committee made up of the members of the PLO’s interim members or members of the various factions across the political spectrum, especially those who signed the Cairo Agreement. This committee will handle the legal and political portfolios. An Arab capital accessible to all members of the PNC must be chosen as the venue. If the minimum number of members do not attend, for one reason or another (such as Hamas boycotting the meeting, for which the movement would bear the full responsibility for its actions), this would constitute the extenuating circumstances outlined in paragraph (c) of Article 14 of the PLO charter. This allows for holding an extraordinary session with the number of those who are able to attend. The solution would not be to violate the charter by jumping straight to the exception outlined by Article 14, because the general rule set out in paragraphs (a) and (b) stipulates the need to fill the gap in the executive committee by means of a complete committee in attendance of all of its members through an ordinary session.
A partnership based on a new social agreement and political programme followed by everyone is the key to national salvation. The mutual unwillingness of Fatah and Hamas to cooperate and the fact that the minor factions give priority to their own and their leaders’ interests over and above the national interests is what hinders the formation of a new PNC, as stipulated by the Cairo Agreement. It also prevents the current council from convening and making sure that the various Palestinian groups and forces participate in a place to which they can all travel.
(Translated by Middle East Monitor from Qudsnet, 26 August, 2015)