On 27 August, global headlines splashed on the news that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and nine other top officials had resigned from the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Talks about an emergency or a regular session of the Palestine National Council (PNC) followed. Although PNC Chairman Salim Al-Zanoun announced that a meeting would be held on 14-15 September in the West Bank city of Ramallah, he then announced that it has been postponed for three months. These developments raised many questions, the most important of which is simple: what was the actual reason for convening this meeting in the first place?
In fact, observers are wondering if Abbas is really quitting, or if it is a tactical move to shake-up the stagnant organisation. It is worth pointing out that although news reports suggested that the resignations were final, they weren’t. Al-Zanoun said that he received a letter from Saeb Erekat, the new secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee, stating that the ten members “vowed to resign”. Thus, it is a promise, and elections will only replace the ten.
Technicalities aside, reality brought attention to the upcoming parley. First and foremost, the PNC – a 776-seat parliament-like body representing Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the diaspora – is to convene for the first time in nearly 20 years. Second, it comes amid fierce domestic quarrels in the PLO’s largest factions – within Fatah on one side and between Fatah and Hamas on the other. Furthermore, the meeting follows the relieving from duty of Erekat’s predecessor at the Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was widely accused of being anti-Abbas.
It must be said that convening the congress is on its own an accomplishment. Now, whether or not the meeting aims to serve certain political goals by one party or another, it will definitely usher a new beginning as it seeks to reorganise a languid body that many Palestinians see as helpless.
Aside from any PLO domestic issues, the relationship with Israel; deadlocked peace-making; the fallout from the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the most right-wing cabinet ever; as well as the tepid way that the US is dealing with the Palestinian cause; all cast a shadow on the agenda of the PNC get-together. These issues were reflected in a recent decision by the Palestine Central Council (PCC), a significant 124-member body that liaises between the PNC and the PLO Executive Committee, to review political, economic and security relations with Israel.
In the same context, the Saudi Watan newspaper said on 10 September that Abbas will tell the UN General Assembly at the end of the month that he is reviewing relations with Israel at all levels. Having said this, with Abbas frustrated by the Israeli-imposed status quo, the meeting may discuss the possibility of dissolving the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be replaced by a new government-in-exile.
This idea has been floated in Palestinian circles, not least because Israel has stripped the PA of almost all of the authority that it once had. The recent decision by the Israeli high court to demolish Palestinian houses in Area A (which is supposed to be under the control of the PA) is just one case in point. This decision was interpreted by the PA as Israel’s official declaration of the death of the Oslo Accords.
According to the Palestinian narrative, based on the Geneva conventions, if the PA is dissolved, Israel must shoulder responsibility for the people and land it occupies, as it did before the PA emerged in 1993. Thus, Israel will pay a high cost and begin to feel the financial pinch of its military occupation, the longest in modern history.
Time is ticking, with just three months until the PNC meeting where the Palestinian leadership is expected to take fateful decisions. When the Israeli government fails to act for peace, the real responsibility of the international community must come to the fore.
Fadi F. Elhusseini is a Palestinian diplomat and an associate research fellow (ESRC) at the Institute for Middle East Studies-Canada and a doctoral candidate at the University of Sunderland in Britain. His articles have appeared in scores of newspapers, magazines and websites.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.