The Stalemate in the Palestinian Political System

Abed Rabbo (L) was one of those closest to Mahmoud Abbas in his political circle.

By Majed Kaylai 

The Palestinian political system is characterised by a statute of limitations due to the fact that the same factions have formed the ruling elite and the same tactics have been implemented for decades. At least, this is what can be said since the establishment of the Palestinian territories over the course of the past quarter of a century. The majority of the Palestinian establishment, from the Palestinian Authority to political factions to popular organisations, are exhausted and no longer hold the same standing in Palestinian communities. The PLO no longer holds the same prestige as it did before it transformed itself from a liberation movement into a political party.

Since the situation continues to deteriorate, the Palestinian political system is at an impasse; moreover, the prevailing political elite have now become too conservative in terms of their policies. The reality on the ground has remained the same. The political elite has not thought to change their policies despite Israel’s blatant decision to derail the Oslo Accords and despite the PA Central Council’s vote in March to halt negotiations and security coordination with Israel and mobilise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The ruling elite within Palestine has a monopoly over decision-making mechanisms. At this point in time, the Palestinian Authority no longer has anything left to add or offer and threatens the vitality of society. We must recognise the rate of Palestinian educational achievements and the increase in military resistance over the decades.

The reason for such a discussion is the removal of Yasser Abed Rabbo from his post on the Palestinian Authority’s executive committee in a way that suggests the decision was done both in haste and a bad mood. More importantly, the reactions to this decision reveal that that this particular layer of Palestinian policy makers are in conflict amongst themselves but ultimately care about maintaining the prevailing status quo, which includes the dynamic present among different Palestinian political factions. Members of the PA care only about preserving their place within the political system and within society despite the fact that they no longer have anything new to add. They have previously gone so far as to announce publically their failure and their inability to provide any new solutions. Abed Rabbo admitted to the failure of the Oslo Accords and he was one of those closest to Mahmoud Abbas in his political circle. Abbas himself even went so far as to threaten Israel with the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and said that he would hand the occupation the key and go home (rather than answer to the Palestinian people).

The question that begs an answer at this point has nothing to do with the legitimacy or lack thereof of Abed Rabbo’s removal, or anyone else for that matter, because this has happened before and with Abbas himself when he was the president of the first government during the Arafat era. The question has to do with the legitimacy of the PLO, keeping in mind that the last official meeting of the national council took place in 2006 and it is the only meeting to have taken place inside the 1948 territories after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. This meeting was held in response to the US request to amend the National Charter and it resulted in a majority of 504 votes in favour of the motion, 54 in in opposition and 12 abstentions. The story did not end there as it led to another unofficial meeting, known as the Palestine National Conference (in Gaza, late 2008), which was conducted in the presence of former US President Bill Clinton.

One must note that President Arafat gave a speech at that time, in which he said: “Our people stand for a just and comprehensive peace… we will not tolerate or allow anyone to tamper with the security of the two sides… I would like to remind everyone that the National Council decided in 1996 to change and amend our charter by abolishing any items that counter our dedication to peace. We reject and condemn terrorism. On behalf of the PLO I would like to send a message to President Bill Clinton to consider the amendments that we have made. I call on members of the government, the national council and the central committee to raise their hands in approval.”

It is also useful to note that the Oslo agreement did not derive its legitimacy from that of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (nor was this the case during the Fatah conference that was one of a kind and took place in 2009). It is well known that this unfair agreement reduced Palestine to the 1967 territories, therefore limiting the struggle to a fraction of the Palestinian population, and the entire Palestinian liberation movement to nothing more than a political authority. At that time, Yasser Abed Rabbo was a participant and a lead actor in what allowed these developments to pass. It was also revealed that he partook in secret negotiations that were based on an illegitimate framework.

On top of all of this, all of these situations lead us to question the legitimacy of the Palestinian system, which has built its platform at the expense of other existing Palestinian factions. We must keep in mind that we are speaking of factions that do not possess any real historical, objective or resistance-based justifications and of a political system that has been monopolised by Fatah since the 1960s. In fact, many of the individuals in question are now in their seventies and eighties. Abed Rabbo has been a member of Fatah’s executive committee for nearly four decades. The same applies to Mohammad Zuhdi Al-Nashashibi, Abu Al-Lutuf and even Mahmoud Abbas himself, who has enjoyed a leading role in the PLO for more than 25 years. Abbas has been president of the PA and the PLO simultaneously for ten years and we have yet to see him appoint or nominate a vice-president.

It is important for us to ask the following question on this occasion: why have certain people remained in power? How have they remained in the lead and why? Furthermore, how were the Oslo Accords agreed upon and signed behind the backs of the Palestinian people more than twenty years ago? What was the framework for Oslo’s legitimacy?

Yasser Abed Rabbo’s “resignation” is not the first of its kind; the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and the director of the PLO’s office in Beirut, Shaifq Al-Hout, both resigned from their posts in response to the Oslo Accords and the way that the agreement was implemented. Others also resigned at the time, including chief negotiator Haider Abdul-Shafi as well as Hanan Ashrawi. At that time Darwish wrote the following: “Look at the Palestinian Liberation Organisation carefully for its organisations, its circles and its offices are all out of service and they are all up for sale… I ask for nothing more than an organisation that, in the end, negotiates on the behalf of its people while maintaining its humanity and dignity. This organisation has reached its end and you all must admit to this whether you choose to follow this settlement to the end or leave it now. What is left is for the PLO to sign this agreement with Israel and at that point it will be transformed into something else…”

According to Shafiq Al-Hout, “It is no secret to anyone that the PLO is suffering from political, organisational, and economic crises. The current leadership must take responsibility for all of these crises. I must admit that I am no longer capable of taking responsibility for decisions that are implemented in the name of the PLO without my permission or the permission of other members. They are doing this on our behalf and in our name and there are many others who are also not willing to take responsibility for such decisions. We cannot accept this nor can we take responsibility for such actions…”

Yet, the resignation which had the biggest effect was that of Mahmoud Abbas when he stepped down as prime minister in 2003, and from any leadership position within Fatah (which he later recanted). Abbas notoriously sent an angry letter to Arafat, which stated: “This government has come under the worst kinds of incitement and distortion and put obstacles and barriers in the way… including bloodshed, humiliation, accusations of treason and the compromise of our reputation. As the prime minister of the government, I can no longer take any responsibility for these occurrences, I leave them to you to figure out how best to deal with these matters.”

Abbas also gave a lengthy presentation to the Palestinian Legislative Council during which he claimed that he was subjected to questioning and accused of working against the interests of the Palestinian government. There are three conclusions to be made here. The first of them is that Palestinian organisations that were launched in the sixties have now come to their end in terms of the speeches that their members have given and in terms of their means of resistance. This has definitely proven to be the case when it comes to the Palestine Liberation Organisation and its transformation into the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We are currently witnessing an entirely different entity.

Second, Palestinian leadership functions completely independently of the will of its people due to the lack of a regional framework of support and the dysfunctional balance of power in Israel’s favour. The status of the Palestinian political elite does not depend on the influence it has on its people.

Third, the Palestinian problem has very little to do with following this option or that option, but instead can be credited to the deteriorating situation within the organisation itself, which lacks a tradition of democracy and representation, the spirit of struggle and any semblance of political accountability. In fact, the current status quo has gone so far as to deter Palestinian leaders from their goal of national liberation because their sole concern at this moment in time appears to be to maintain their political status.

(Translated by Middle East Monitor from Quds net, 21 July, 2015.)

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