Twenty-seven years after the Palestinian National Council (PNC) was put on ice, after its last legitimate meeting in Algeria in 1991, a decision was suddenly made to bring it back to life, if it still does have life in it. Based on its charter (Article 8), it should be held periodically once a year, and since first meeting in 1964 in Jerusalem, and up until its meeting in Algeria in 1991, it was held 21 times in 27 years. It was then absent for about the same amount of time. Throughout this time, attempts were made to utilise it politically, but it did not receive enough support.
In 1996, the PNC members were invited to a meeting in Gaza, attended by US President Bill Clinton. The purpose at the time was to amend the PLO Charter, and this is what the PNC announced. However, one notices in the PNC’s literature published on its website indicated that the council’s chairman, Salim Zanoun, considers that what was discussed were purely recommendations that must be approved by the Palestinian committees, which did not happen. There is a consensus that it was not a session in the parliamentary sense, as much as it was a formality to welcome the US president and his wife.
The number of PNC members rose on the day of the meeting, going from 483 members at its last session to 730 members. Minutes before it convened, attendance was taken and those absent were replaced by those in attendance, despite invitations already being issued. I am one of the members who were absent in protest, and I was replaced. In 2015, there was an attempt to hold an extraordinary PNC meeting based on compelling circumstances. After a major political and legal debate, the PNC chairman caved in and went against the will of the political leadership, and spared the Palestinian people from a great division that would affect the legitimacy of the PLO and its internal system.
There is no doubt that there is a need to keep the PLO as a home for all Palestinians in Palestine and the diaspora, as well as a legitimate representative for them. There is also an urgent need to hold a new PNC meeting in which all popular factions, forces and organisations, as well as their places of existence, are represented. This was agreed upon when a preparatory committee was formed, tasked with preparing for a new PNC meeting. This meeting must begin with evaluating the world of the political leadership and building a comprehensive national Palestinian project. This was not achieved, as the PNC was suspended and the decision to build a unified leadership framework was ignored.
There is news that the reason the PNC is being convened is to restructure the PLO Executive Committee, under the pretext of bringing in new blood. This alone does not require holding a PNC meeting, as the required conditions to hold such a meeting are not met. Despite it not being a particularly good solution, they could resort to the same solution resorted to in 2009 when the PNC members held an extraordinary meeting without reaching quorum, according to Article 14 paragraph C of the charter. In this case, we would be maintaining an undesirable situation until serious preparations are made for a real national council, which would mark the beginning of a new phase in the Palestinian struggle.
There are others who believe that the goal is to dissolve the PLC, whose term ended on 18 January 2010, which is allowing the president, whose term ended on 8 January 2009, to remain in his position. This decision is of no importance since the PLC has been suspended since the Palestinian division, unless the purpose of this is to legitimise the election of a new council operating in part of the country. There is also a prevalent belief that dissolving the PLC based on a decision by the PNC spares the PA from challenging the decision if done by the president whose term is over. Moreover, if the position of president is vacant, for whatever reason, it will open the door to allowing the PNC chairman to act as president temporarily. At this point the concerned parties will have time to decide on an alternate president and completely close the door to any possibility of the outgoing PLC speaker, who is affiliated with Hamas, becoming the Palestinian president.
The procedures for holding the PNC meeting have been ambiguous. Which council will be held? Will it be the Algeria council (483 members) or the Gaza festival council (730 members)? Since the Algiers meeting, 88 members died and the rest have aged 27 years, i.e. the effects of ageing are prevalent amongst them. Moreover, what happened to the members in the popular organisations whose members are supposed to change based on the democratic elections taking place in their ranks? Who will replace them and appoint replacements for the deceased? What is going to happen to the military quota? Will they be replaced in the PNC by leaders of the security coordination agencies? What about the factions that have collapsed and whose leaders, who are under the umbrella of the PA, are no longer able to rally 100 people in a peaceful demonstration? As for the representation of the diaspora, they have been pushed out by the Oslo Accords, and are still absent from any arrangements related to them. In the PLO, they are referred to as the department of expatriates, forgetting the fact that our people in exile were forcibly displaced from their country and are banned from returning.
Who are the members of the next council? Have any of the old members been excluded? This ambiguity has prompted a member of the PLO Executive Committee, Taysir Khalid, to ask whether three members of the Executive Committee were excluded from membership in the new council. These members are Farouk Kaddoumi, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Ali Ishaq. He stressed that members of the Executive Committee have fixed membership in the National Assembly. Hence, if even the members of the Executive Committee, do not know who the members are, just days before the council is meant to meet, nor do they know the fate of their colleagues in the Executive Committee, then who would know? I must point out that there has been talk of bargaining with new members (who chose them?) before they are appointed to make sure they agree to attend. Furthermore, conditions have been imposed on the participating factions stipulating that they choose their members from within the occupied territories or choose individuals who can obtain approval from the enemy to enter these territories. This is an attempt to reach quorum.
The most dangerous campaign is that against the opposition, which, at the very least, prevents the Palestinians from maintaining internal cohesion. The words said by the martyr Yasser Arafat in the face of Palestine’s enemies, “whether they like it or not” are now being said to our own people. As for Hamas, those who coordinate with the enemy on a security level claim that Yitzhak Rabin founded the movement. Meanwhile, the Gazans and the PNC members located there, including the independents and those affiliated with Fatah and other parties, they are forced to drink from the part of Gaza’s sea that has been contaminated by sewage. The sea has been increasingly polluted given the Palestinian Authority’s sanctions that include cutting off electricity from refineries. In addition to this, they have been suffering from the provocation of sectarian tensions and attempts to stir up the situation in order to justify excluding others.
The Palestinian people are in dire need of a unified Palestinian national council that preserves the PLO as the legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people. They need a council that restores and reformulates their national project in order to resist and defeat the occupation, as well as take serious and effective actions to thwart the “deal of the century” as well as attempts of Arab normalisation with the occupation. A unified council is the way to liberation and a tool for building. We do not need a council that will add another level to the structure of division and weaken the PLO that has already been swallowed by the PA and paralysed by negotiations and the Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, the PA caused the PLO’s representational capacity to be doubted after monopolising it.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 29 April 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.