For decades, the focus of the Palestinians and world powers supporting the Palestinian people has been on accepting the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of them and their struggle. However, the Palestinian leadership's move inside Palestine and the establishment of an entity under Palestinian leadership removed the PLO from the equation. Despite the division and the decline in the possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state, though, the PLO has remained a framework that provides the Palestinian president with a stamp of legitimacy, while not actually having any role itself.
Politically, the PLO's role became devoid of any meaning, especially with regard to the right of return for Palestinian refugees, which was one of the most important and contentious points in negotiations with Israel. The PLO was following this issue carefully, but then it was no longer prioritised on the Palestinian agenda. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's statements about his lack of desire to return to his home town of Safad and giving his Israeli visitors assurances that the Palestinian people do not intend to swamp the state with refugees are the best examples of the decline in the importance of the refugee issue as far as the leadership is concerned.
In practice, the organisation's role in representing all Palestinians in the world has also declined, as the reference points have become embassies, representatives and the foreign ministry. The word "expatriates" was used when the Palestinian communities file was taken away from the PLO's Executive Committee and transferred to the PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ramallah.
When holding negotiations with Israel and signing the Declaration of Principles in 1993, the Palestinian leadership made sure that it was signed between the PLO and Israel, and in all of the official documents it put the name of the Palestinian National Authority. After 2014, the leaders put the state of Palestine under the name of the PLO to indicate the leadership of the organisation. However, the truth is that things have changed, and the position of the President of the nominal State of Palestine (which is neither recognised by the Israeli occupation authorities nor the UN Security Council) is much more important than the position of the Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee. Despite this, the PLO remained a tool in the hand of the PA president, who used it to obtain blessings for any decision he wanted, without any attention to the role of the Chairman of the National Council (absent from any matter) Salim Zanoun, 87, or its independent members.
Nevertheless, there remained a romantic dream of restructuring and reviving the PLO and making the necessary adjustments to reform it from within. This was one of the terms of Palestinian reconciliation, but there was no desire or intention to make any real reform, as the president is comfortable with the existence of a weak PLO that is dependent on him and on funds from the Ministry of Finance.
Last week's resignation of Hanan Ashrawi from the PLO Executive Committee refocused attention on the organisation's parlous position and its absence from any influential role. Major decisions have been taken by the PA president and his team without discussing the matter in the committee, including the cessation of coordination with Israel and refusal to receive the tax funds collected by the occupation state earlier this year. Then, suddenly, this decision was reversed, again without even informing the PLO, indicating the presidency's indifference to the institution that is supposed to make strategic decisions. At the very least there should be some coordination with the elected committee of the Palestinian National Council to follow up on daily decisions.
According to one member of the PNC, Hamada Farana, Ashrawi resigned because of the clear rejection of the leaders of the first intifada, of which she was part, alongside Faisal Al-Husseini, Sari Nusseibeh and others. According to Farana, her resignation is a blow to the Palestinian independents, who are the majority among the people of Palestine, and a slap in the face of Palestinian women, as Ashrawi was the only representative on the Executive Committee of half of society. She also represented Palestinian Christians, who are an essential part of the national struggle.
Hanan Ashrawi's resignation was definitely a blow to the Palestinian leadership, providing clear evidence that the PLO is no longer important, and that national decision-making is left to one man, without any meaningful involvement of the representatives of the people.
"The Palestinian political system needs renewal and reinvigoration with the inclusion of youth, women, and additional qualified professionals," said Ashrawi in her resignation letter. Indeed, it should represent all of the 13 million Palestinians inside and outside occupied Palestine. Reform requires the reconsideration of the Palestinian institutions, including the PLO, that is no longer able to play the role it set for itself to liberate Palestine. The sooner that the organisation is reformed, the sooner that we can be liberated and see the establishment of an independent, free and sovereign nation state in our homeland.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.