By Fadi Elhusseini
On 27 August, headlines splashed global newspapers that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and nine other top officials resigned from the ruling Executive Committee (ExCo) of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Talks about an emergency or a regular session of the Palestine National Council (PNC) followed. Although PNC Chairman Salim Al-Zanoun announced a PNC meeting on 14-15 September in the West Bank town of Ramallah, he announced the postponement of the meeting for three months. These developments raised many questions, including on the actual reason behind announcing this meeting in the first place.
In fact, observes were wondering if Abbas is really quitting, or if it is a tactical move to shake stagnant water. It is worth clarifying that, although the news suggested that the resignations were final, the fact is the resignations are not official. Al-Zanoun said he received a letter from Saeb Erekat, the new secretary general of the ExCo, stating that the 10 members “vowed to resign”. Thus, it is a promise and elections will only replace the 10.
Technicalities aside, realities brought attention to the upcoming parley. First and foremost, the PNC congress – a 776-seat parliament-like body representing Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the diaspora – will convene for the first time in nearly 20 years. Second, it comes amid fierce domestic quarrels in the PLO’s largest factions – Fatah on one side, and between Fatah and the militant Hamas on the other. Furthermore, the meeting follows discharging the former ExCo secretary general, Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was widely accused as being anti-Abbas.
One must concede, however, that convening the congress is on its own an accomplishment. Now, whether the meeting aims to serve certain political goals by one party or another, it will definitely usher a new beginning as it seeks to reorganise a languid body that many Palestinians see as helpless.
Aside from any PLO domestic issues, the relationship with Israel, deadlocked peacemaking, the fallout of re-electing Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the most hard-line right wing religious cabinet ever, and the tepid US dealing with the Palestinian cause, shadow the agenda of the upcoming parley. These issues were reflected in a recent decision by the Palestine Central Council (PCC), a significant 124-member body that liaises between the PNC and the ExCo, to review political, economic and security relations with Israel.
In the same context, the Saudi Watan Newspaper said on 10 September that Abbas will declare before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 30 September reviewing relations with Israel at all levels. Having said this, with Abbas’s ultimate frustration with the Israeli-slapped status-quo, the upcoming meeting may discuss the possibility of dissolving the Palestinian Authority (PA) and instead forming a new government-in-exile.
The idea has been floated in Palestinian circles, considering that Israel stripped the PA literally of all the authority it commands. The recent decision by the Israeli high court to demolish Palestinian houses in areas A (which are under the control of the PA) is just one case in point. This decision was interpreted by the PA as an official Israeli declaration of the death of the Oslo peace accords between the PLO and Israel
According to the Palestinian narrative which relies on the Geneva conventions, if the PA is dissolved, Israel must shoulder the responsibility of the people and the lands it occupies, as it did before the PA emerged in 1993. Thus, Israel will pay a high cost and, in that case, it will feel the pinch of its prolonged 48-year occupation, the longest ever in modern history.
Time is ticking; three months separate the date to the upcoming PNC meeting where the Palestinian leadership is expected to take fateful decisions. When the Israeli government fails to act in order to save peace, here exactly comes the real responsibility of the international community.
Fadi F. Elhusseini is a Palestinian diplomat and an associate research fellow (ESRC) at the Institute for Middle East Studies-Canada and a doctoral candidate at the University of Sunderland in Britain. His articles have appeared in scores of newspapers, magazines and websites.