The main Palestinian secular movement, Fatah, which dominates the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) accused regional powers on Sunday evening of supporting its Islamic rival Hamas to carry out a coup against the umbrella body and the Palestinian Authority which it controls. The reason given is that such regional powers are trying to ease, or lift, the Israeli-led, internationally-backed, siege on the Gaza Strip.
In several official press releases, Fatah named Turkey and Qatar. They claimed that these two countries are planning to help Hamas and its supporters in the occupied Palestinian territories and diaspora to supersede the PLO and the PA.
According to Fatah spokespeople, Turkey is hosting a pro-Hamas conference for Palestinians in the diaspora, the preparations for which are going ahead without the PLO's knowledge. However, a spokesman for the organising committee, Ziad Al-Aloul, has said several times that PLO members are among the organisers.
Fatah has also accused Turkey of supporting a military coup against the PA in the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege for more than ten years, simply because the government in Ankara sent its minister of energy and other officials to conduct a study on how they can help to solve the electricity crisis in the coastal enclave. The accusation is really unbelievable, not least because the Turkish delegation met with PA officials in the West Bank before entering the Gaza Strip. In fact, Turkey has been cooperating with the PA in the West Bank regarding a fuel grant for Gaza's sole electricity plant.
Qatar stands accused by Fatah of the doing the same thing as Turkey, possibly because it is the only international state which has faithfully fulfilled its pledges made during the International Donor Conference held in Cairo in the wake of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on Gaza. The conference aimed to collect donations to rebuild the Gaza Strip.
Since the Cairo conference, Qatar has rebuilt thousands of homes destroyed by the Israelis during the offensive, and built thousands of new homes for the poor and homeless in Gaza. On Saturday, the latest batch of Qatari-built properties were handed over officially by a representative of the Gulf State. Mohamed Al-Emadi also announced a commitment to build a new hospital in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
These are the Turkish and Qatari acts that Fatah, which dominates the PLO, apparently regards as illegitimate efforts to help Hamas to supersede the PLO and the PA. The movement has overlooked the simple fact that every single Turkish or Qatari donation for the Palestinians in Gaza is handed over to the beneficiaries either through the PA or directly from official Turkish and Qatari bodies working in the territory.
The latest remarks by Al-Emadi have complicated the situation even more for Fatah, the PLO and the PA, which are more or less considered to be the same body. He is the man responsible for the supervision of the reconstruction projects in Gaza. Qatari representative told the Israeli Walla website that his country has offered to pay all of the costs needed to help solve the Gaza electricity crisis, but the leader of the PA, Fatah and the PLO, President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Qatar's offer. Fatah denied this and said that Al-Emadi and his government are working to support Hamas in Gaza; the movement cited the $100m grant for the new hospital in Rafah as "evidence".
All of this leads me to wonder if the PLO and PA have any legitimacy any more. I am also wondering about Hamas's role in the Gaza Strip.
Is the PLO the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people as claimed by the UN and Arab League in 1974? The Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories and the diaspora have never recognised the PLO as any such thing. The designation arose when the late Yasser Arafat went to the UN holding an olive branch in his hand. Both of these international bodies recognise Israel, which is a state built on about 78 per cent of historic Palestine; the Palestinians have been waiting for almost 70 years to fulfil their legal right to return to their land. In 1993, the Israeli occupation state also recognised the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people after signing the now notorious Oslo Accords.
Regarding Hamas, which swept Fatah — and thus the PLO and Ramallah-based PA — out of the Gaza Strip in 2007, having won the previous year's elections, there has been no clear-cut evidence that it represents more than half of the Palestinians in occupied Palestine. Hamas refused to take part in the first Palestinian parliamentarian elections in 1996, when Fatah, its allies and a number of independent candidates won all the seats. However, in the following ten years, Hamas — whose roots in Gaza go back to the early 1970s and in the West Bank to the 1980s — won most of the elections for student councils and professional syndicates in both territories.
It became very clear that Hamas is the real and legitimate representative of the Palestinians in the territories in 2006, when the Islamic movement achieved an overwhelming victory in the municipal and parliamentary elections in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Fatah, the PLO and the PA, as well as Israel, the UN and the Arab League, have always refused to recognise the subsequent Hamas-led Palestinian Authority which has been the de facto government in Gaza ever since.
Supported by Israel and backed by the most effective Arab states and the international community, Fatah, the PLO and the PA have tried to topple Hamas. They could do this in the West Bank, where Israel arrested most of the democratically-elected Hamas MPs and mayors, but in Gaza, where there is no Israeli existence on the ground, Hamas could sweep Fatah out and control the Palestinian institution.
Since then, the internal political division has been dominating the Palestinian political process. Hamas and Fatah have met together several times in various countries, but they have been unable to reconcile their differences. That is why, to all intents and purposes, the Gaza Strip controlled by Hamas has been under a strict Israeli, Egyptian and international siege supported tacitly by the Fatah, PLO and PA.
As a result, any national or international effort to facilitate a better life for the Palestinians in Gaza is considered to be "aggression" against Fatah, the PA and the PLO from their point of view. Such is the involvement of the secular Fatah in the stranglehold on Gaza that Qatar's Al-Emadi, during his current visit to the Strip, said that the construction of a seaport and an airport under international observers are still proposed as solutions for the Gaza crisis should Israel, the world and Fatah agree.
According to the Assistant Professor of US and Middle East History at Syracuse University, Osama Khalil, in a four-year-old study, the PLO is a "shield and a cudgel against internal and external foes and competitors." He added: "What remains of the PLO today — its name, its international status, and the few vestiges of its bureaucratic institutions, offices, and titles — have and continue to be used by a small, unelected, and unrepresentative clique to further their own agendas."
It is fairly obvious to most reasonable people, therefore, that the PLO has little, if any, claim to be the "sole, legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people. Its leaders appear to be representing the interests of nobody but themselves.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.