PLO Sunday meeting deepens internal Palestinians divide

Letter from Jerusalem

Photo was taken on May 25, 2021, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gives a joint statement with the US secretary of state, at the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Photo: POOL / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to convene the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Committee was dealt a massive blow when most of the Palestinian factions decided not to attend. Only a few factions that have a minor following decided to attend, stripping the 86-year-old president whose term ended in 2009 of the legitimacy he had hoped to get to show the world.اضافة اعلان

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is boycotting, and Islamic factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are not part of the PLO, have decided not to take part in the meeting.

The PFLP stressed, in a press statement: “The danger of holding this meeting without consensus represents a transgression of the previous national consensus to arrange the Palestinian house and to hold comprehensive elections, and blocks the way for efforts to end division and restore unity, which deepens the Palestinian internal crisis that the occupation (Israel) exploits by escalating its Judaization and settlement measures on Palestinian land, especially in Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

The Palestinian National Initiative announced that it will not participate in the meeting of the Palestinian Central Committee (PCC) on Sunday. Mustafa Barghouthi, who leads the PNI, said that without a national dialogue, his party finds it difficult to take part in the meeting that will exacerbate internal divisions.

“Participating in this meeting without a date for Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections constitutes a violation of the democratic right of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Barghouthi also said that the PCC took many political decisions in past meetings that have “never been implemented and this meeting will repeat the same scenario”.

“We feel there is a very serious violation of democratic participation. There has been no consultation before having the meeting and the PA decided to cancel the election of the national council of the PLO,” he said.

The PLO National Council serves as the Palestinian parliament and represents all Palestinians inside and outside the Palestinian territories.

One faction that decided to take part in the gathering is the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and that sparked a huge backlash from its members who publicly rejected the faction’s political committee decision to participate.

According to a source, the DFLP was offered lucrative political and financial incentives for attending.

Esmat Mansour, a Ramallah-based political analyst and former member of the DFLP, told Jordan News that the meeting was a severe blow to the PLO and its narrative that it represents the entire Palestinian spectrum.

“It is managed according to individuals to re-create the atmosphere and re-appropriate the institution to be in line with certain political appointments serving in the post-Abu Mazen era.”

Mansour said the DFLP participation will most likely hurt its political standing with its followers.

“Active factions are absent from this meeting, which weakens it and puts serious doubts on its ability to reflect the general Palestinian situation.”

Dimitri Diliani, Fateh’s Revolutionary Council member and a leader in the Democratic Reformist Faction within the movement, told Jordan News that the failure to convene this meeting represents “another nail in Abbas’ political coffin”.

“President Abbas’ inability to gather the majority of the Palestinian factions who represent the majority of the Palestinian people at the meeting represents a clear weakness and a lack of legitimacy,” he said.

The PCC top item on the agenda is to fill several vacancies in a session that will likely further deepen the internal division. PCC makes policy decisions when the Palestinian National Council (PNC) legislature is not in session.

The votes for top PLO posts may provide clues as to who will succeed Abbas down the road.

There are several major vacancies in the Palestinian executive committee, most notably the position left vacant by Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinians who died in November 2020 after contracting the coronavirus.

Palestinian Authority Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh is expected to win the big prize and be elected to fill Erekat’s shoes, making him the front-runner to succeed Abbas as head of the PA.

Another vacancy in the PLO’s decision-making executive committee is that of spokesperson, which was held by veteran senior official Hanan Ashrawi, who is also boycotting the planned meeting, until December 2020. Ashrawi said at the time of her resignation that the Palestinian political system needed “renewal and reinvigoration”.

In recent years, Abbas’ critics became more vocal against his autocratic rule and reliance on a small inner circle of men in their 70s and 80s.

Former PA minister Ziad AbuZayyad told Jordan News it is “unfortunate” that there are factions that will not take part in the meeting.

“It is not only the division between Fatah and Hamas, but it is also becoming a division between Fatah and all the other national factions,” he said.

That is troubling news for the Palestinian political system, AbuZayyad said.

“To make this only for Fatah and to ignore the other national factions affects the ability and credibility of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people,” AbuZayyad said, adding: “I think that President Abbas should reconsider what he is doing and try to create conditions to allow all the national factions to join the meeting and be part of it.”

The absence of other factions greatly diminishes the importance of the meeting, and will not provide Abbas with the legitimacy he desperately needs to prove that he has a mandate to govern.

Nour Odeh, a Ramallah-based writer and political activist, told Jordan News that the fact that several factions will not attend is troubling news for the Palestinians.

“I think what is happening is that the Palestinian political system is being rewritten in a way that is deformed, and does not serve the Palestinian people,” she said.

“The decision to attend is basically throwing a lifeline for Abbas,” says Odeh.

The PLO was established in 1964 and is known internationally as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. However, it has lost much of its significance since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 as a result of the PLO’s signing the Oslo Accords with Israel, which were supposed to serve as a precursor to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Many Palestinians say the political system has been hijacked by a few people with the goal of staying in power at any cost.

“This is about a group of people who are intent on surviving politically and staying in power politically. They do not really care about any other details,” said Odeh who accused Abbas of weakening Palestinian institutions.

“Abu Mazen (Abbas) will be remembered as the person who buried, or at least tried to bury, the PLO and emptied it of all meaning. All you have to do is take a look at the judicial system within the PA, the position of the prime minister; he turned all the Palestinian institutions into a tragic joke,” Odeh said.

Abbas, who was elected in 2005 for a term that expired in 2009, has maintained power without elections. His popularity has taken a nosedive, with opinion polls showing that most Palestinians want him to resign.

Last April, Abbas canceled presidential and legislative elections scheduled for May, which were to be the first in 15 years, arguing that Israel would not allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in the voting.

“Our existence as a political entity is in deep crisis, and this will be entrenched by this meeting next week,” Odeh said.

Like many Palestinians, she blames the world powers for the situation, saying that the US and Europe bear a huge chunk of the responsibility for the internal political chaos in the Palestinian arena.

“The international community is a partner in this dysfunctional and very dangerous situation that we are in. My concern is that the international community, particularly the Biden administration, and major players in the EU, are enabling this. They are not serious about seeing elections or a real change in the conduct of policy or of the status quo of the occupation,” Odeh said.

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