Middle East Monitor / February 18, 2022
The situation in Palestine gets worse by the day. However, this is not only from Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, including Sheikh Jarrah, but from the behaviour of the now self-proclaimed Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. A matter of a few days has separated the illegitimate meeting of the Palestinian Central Council and the most recent announcement that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is now a unit under the State of Palestine.
I say the ‘self-proclaimed- leadership’ because none of the Palestinian institutions under the PLO have legitimacy and, therefore, the leadership of these institutions is illegitimate. Mahmoud Abbas considers himself to be the President of Palestine, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO and the President of the Palestinian Authority. He also considers himself the Chairman of Fatah and the President of the State of Palestine. The last election he participated in to carry out any of these roles was in 2005, when he was elected the President of the Palestinian Authority. No supporter of democracy can consider Abbas a legitimate leader 17 years after his election.
In January of last year, Abbas issued an elections decree, setting the stage for elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), followed by elections for the Office of the President of Palestine, and then the ‘completion’ of the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Parliament for 14 million Palestinians across the world.
The PNC has never seen elections of its membership and has rarely met since its first meeting in Jerusalem in 1964 when it consisted of 422 representatives. It was held during the time when the fight was for the liberation of Palestine and elections could not be held. In its most recent meeting in 2018, it saw numbers rise to around 700, though it is a struggle to find the names of the current members. The scenes on TV from Ramallah, when different lists were pushed to the high table and people added to replace members who had passed away or were unwell, were shambolic and embarrassing.
At this same meeting, the PNC delegated its powers to the smaller Palestinian Central Council (PCC). A smaller body, which was supposed to consist of 60 members but they now number more than 120. Abbas called it to meet on 5 and 6 of February, which was met with an outcry from Palestinians when it became clear that the real purpose in holding it was to replace members of the Executive Committee, who had either passed away or resigned – and bizarrely and illegitimately to appoint a new speaker for the PNC. I say ‘bizarrely’, because the PCC cannot elect or appoint the Speaker of the PNC, or those around him in the committee that leads the PNC.
Several Palestinian factions including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PFLP, the Palestinian National Initiative, boycotted the meeting. In addition, key individuals, including former EC member, Hanan Ashrawi, and former Deputy Speaker of the PLC, Hassan Khreisha, also boycotted the meeting. The following day, Israel assassinated 3 members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in broad daylight in Nablus. Palestinians smelt a rat, as many believe this could not have happened without security cooperation between the PA security forces and the Israeli army.
The final statement from the PCC was not issued for a further 24 hours. Ironically, perhaps, it contained a decision to suspend security cooperation with Israel.
It is legitimate to ask the question: What are Abbas and the leadership in Ramallah up to?
It is important, in my view, to go back to another incident that angered Palestinians, that of the meeting which took place in Tel Aviv at the home of Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, which was attended on the Palestinian side by Mahmoud Abbas and the now new member of the PLO EC, Hussein al-Sheikh, believed to be the person being lined up to inherit Abbas’ various positions.
Reports from the meeting were at opposite ends of the spectrum, depending on who you believe. If you believe Al Sheikh, it was a heroic meeting by the leadership and that the political situation was uplifted. However, if you believe the Israeli side, the meeting was about easing the economic restrictions on the Palestinians and issuing family reunifications for Palestinians that some have been waiting for many years. It is also alleged that the Palestinians agreed to halt, or put on the back burner, the cases being brought to the International Criminal Court against Israeli leaders, including Gantz himself.
Let us ask ourselves the following question: Would Gantz have received Abbas and exchanged gifts with him in his home – built on the ruins of a Palestinian village – if the latter oversaw the compiling of a file on Gantz that could result in him appearing before The Hague?
As I said in a recent article, Abbas thinks he can continue to take the Palestinians for fools. Well, no more.
The Palestinians are organizing, not only to bring Israeli crimes to the attention of the world but to dispose of the illegitimate leadership in Ramallah, which is, in itself, not only putting the Palestinian cause at great risk but also working to make the PLO an extinct organization.
This latest attack on the PLO, that of naming it a unit under the State of Palestine effectively ending its role as the top dog, the umbrella for Palestinians, not only in historic Palestine but across the world. How can the State of Palestine, which Abbas defines as on the 1967 lines of which he is the President, have as one of its units the PLO which represents all Palestinians across the world? It seems Abbas is hell-bent on ending the role of the PLO, but also maintaining its PNC and PCC and EC as instruments to use as when he believes it serves a purpose.
It seems, also, that Abbas has completely sold out to the Israelis. In the past, he met his opposite number, the Prime Minister of Israel; now he meets the war (defence) minister and the man responsible for countless deaths and the horrendous destruction of Gaza, particularly in 2014. The extremist Prime Minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett, has declared that there will be no Palestinian State and that he will not meet Abbas face-to-face or re-start negotiations.
By cooperating with the Apartheid state, while calling on the world community to sanction it for its policies and by holding warm meetings with Israeli war criminals, Abbas is accepting that the Palestinian issue is an internal Israeli issue, rather than a world issue. This comes at a time when report after report after report calls Israel an Apartheid state, and people across the world stand in solidarity with the Palestinians.
Abbas and those around him are now complicit, not only in security cooperation but in handing Palestine to the Israelis on a plate and accepting self-rule over the 1967 areas, or parts of them.
The Palestinian people reject this and are insisting on rebuilding the PLO. Remember what the L stands for in PLO – Liberation – not Loyalty to the occupier. Recent moves to form a coalition to demand the rebuilding of the PLO through elections in the PNC are gathering pace and the decision to unitize the PLO will spearhead us on. Palestinians cannot sit back and let a bunch of sell-outs accept defeat to the settler colonialist Apartheid state. They only represent themselves and must now go.
Whilst initiatives for rebuilding the PLO have insisted on preserving the body as the sole representative of the Palestinians rather than setting up an alternative, this move may be the turning point that puts all options on the table.
If the choice is leadership or Palestine, it appears that, for the Leadership, it is leadership; however, for Palestinians, there is no choice – it is Palestine.
Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham; he is a commentator on Middle East affairs, Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), and a founding member of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC)