The main message conveyed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership (the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah) upon holding the 31st Palestinian Central Council (PCC) meeting (6–7/2/2022) is that it is determined to manage the Palestinian situation with the same mentality, which has caused deep crisis to the national project, and has had disastrous consequences on the Palestinian people and the conflict management with Israel. This mentality was seen in the Oslo Accords, the disruption of the Palestinian reconciliation process, the disruption of the April 2021 elections, the decline of the PLO and its institutions, and in the PA erosion, increased security role and in being a functional tool for Israel. This mentality has made the leadership fail to assimilate the Palestinian people and their huge potentials at home and abroad. It has made the leadership insist on the PLO to block large and active Palestinian forces and has failed to manage the peace process, it adopted and imposed on the Palestinian people.
The PCC met after more than three years since its last session. Its goal was not to unite the Palestinian ranks against Israel, but to perpetuate the state of schism and the dominance of one faction in the Palestinian arena and the official institutions. Four Palestinian factions from within the PLO boycotted this meeting: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP-GC), the Vanguard for the Popular Liberation War (Al-Sa‘iqa), and the Palestinian National Initiative (Al-Mubadara), in addition to a number of independent figures. It was also boycotted by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which are not PLO members. This practically means that the meeting was held in the absence of forces whose popular bases at home and abroad comprise more than half, or even two thirds, of the Palestinian people.
This meeting was convened to “legitimize” Fatah arrangements, especially for the post-‘Abbas era, so that it would be able to continue to hold the reins of the PLO and PA leadership. Thus, Hussein al-Sheikh was appointed in the place of Saeb Erekat (who died on 11/11/2020) to fill the vacancy for the Fatah movement. Fatah’s candidate, Rawhi Fattouh, was also elected president of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) to succeed Salim al-Za‘nun. This election was in contravention of the PNC’s rules of procedure, an abuse of the PCC powers and an encroachment on the prerogatives of the rest of the PNC members and their right to nominate and elect members to the Executive Committee and the presidency of the Council itself.
It was ironic that the PCC decided to “halt all forms of security coordination” at a time when it elected Hussein al-Sheikh for the Executive Committee membership, who is considered by many the “champion” of security coordination or its “grand coordinator.” This means that the decision to stop coordination came for “mere local popular effect,” like similar decisions previously taken by the same council (in 2015) that were stillborn.
The PCC decisions included terminating the PLO and PA commitment to all agreements with Israel, foremost of which is suspending the recognition of Israel until it recognizes the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders, in addition to the cessation of settlement building, the identification of practical steps for the transition from an authority to a state, the rejection of economic peace and the rejection of The Deal of the Century besides activating Israel’s accountability before international courts, including the International Criminal Court, etc. These are good decisions if dealt with sincerely; however, observers of Palestinian affairs, who are familiar with the behavior of the current Palestinian leadership over the past years, know that these decisions lack seriousness. They know that the leadership has gone far in the peace process, it has embraced the PA functional role, and it lacks the vision and the will to enforce any paths that challenge or conflict with the Israeli and US set dimensions. Thus, such decisions are also meant for “mere local popular effect,” especially since the PCC itself has pledged their enforcement by tasking the Executive Committee to develop adequate mechanisms. This means they will be “shelved,” in line with the usual behavior of the current leadership.
The above also applies to the PCC decision to seek an end for the schism and form a national unity government, while tasking the Executive Committee with developing the adequate mechanisms to implement it. Indeed, this is a strange decision by an institution, which is supposed to respect itself and the minds of the Palestinian people. For the causes and obstacles of the “schism” as well as the mechanisms for overcoming it do not need to be explored; the practical experience, in the first half of 2021, has revealed to the Palestinian people, movements and factions that the party impeding the reform of the Palestinian house and obstructing reconciliation has been the same party leading the PLO and controlling its executive and legislative bodies (including the PCC and PNC). To demonstrate seriousness, it would have been better for the PCC to hold accountable, prosecute and punish the PLO executive leadership, because it has caused the collapse of the Organization, and its management of the reconciliation dossier has caused frustration, distrust and lack of credibility. However, ironically, it handed the file over to the leadership itself… Isn’t this an act of “contempt” to the Palestinian people and movements, who are looking forward to change and liberation?!
Among the decisions, which appear to carry a patriotic feeling and a political escalation, there is a sentence that puts a “wedge” in the path of reconciliation and allows the dominant leadership to take it an excuse to remain in power, and keep the crisis of the Palestinian national project unchanged. The decision to seek the schism end and establishment of a national unity government was conditional on adherence to “international legitimacy” and the national program declared in the 19th session of the PNC in 1988. This practically means, excluding the factions that refuse to recognize Israel from reconciliation, specifically Hamas and the PIJ.
The question for the PCC and the PLO leadership is: If you are truly keen on reconciliation, why don’t you leave such decisions to the will of the Palestinian people, and why don’t you wait until the Palestinian people elect their PLC and PNC representatives who will decide whether to agree on the peace process you adopt, or will choose another path?!
The second question for the PCC itself: If Israel, the US and all the world forces, even the normalizing Arabs, have failed to subdue the resistance trend, which refuses to recognize Israel over the past 74 years, why are you trying to subdue the resistance on their behalf, under the sword of “national reconciliation” and under the umbrella of the PLO or “Palestinian legitimacy.” Drop this task, it will not work; do not include it in your requirements if you are serious about reconciliation, and if you are in harmony with the PLO and its charter and statute, which allow every Palestinian to become a member of the Organization, regardless of his/ her political views. This is in addition to the fact that whoever adheres to this condition (international legitimacy that includes recognition of Israel) violates the provisions of the National Charter of the PLO itself.
Finally, the leadership’s insistence on the PCC meeting in Ramallah under the occupation is a miserable message about independent Palestinian national decision-making. If serious in resisting the occupation and in the liberation project, this leadership would not have held the meeting under the bayonet of the occupation. In the same sense, if Israel knew for a moment that the Palestinian leadership was serious about the liberation project or in mobilizing the elements of its strength, unity and vitality, it would not have allowed such a meeting to convene in the first place.
It appears that the Palestinian people still need more effort to persuade this leadership to reconsider its behavior and respect popular will. The Palestinian people also need to further organize their active forces at home and abroad to form a national front or a national pressure alignment, for the establishment of a transitional leadership or a neutral body, which would genuinely enforce reform and rebuild the Palestinian political house.