Going for the jugular
Meshaal's call to replace the PLO is met by alarm, and not only among so-called moderate Palestinian and Arab players, writes Saleh Al-Naami
There is no love lost between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), but no one in Doha, Qatar, expected Khaled Meshaal to go for the jugular, at least not during a festive event to celebrate the Gaza "victory". But soon after the Hamas political bureau chief took the podium, it was clear that this wasn't going to be just another run-of-the-mill speech.
The Palestinians need to form a new umbrella organisation to speak for all of them, Meshaal told a stunned audience. Although he didn't call this new umbrella organisation a substitute for the PLO, few doubted that this was his real aim. The PLO was no longer representing the Palestinian people and its leaders were Israeli collaborators, he stated.
The next day, thousands of Hamas supporters took to the streets in Gaza, shouting anti-PLO slogans and calling for the key Palestinian organisation to be replaced with another one. The PLO's leaders were conspiring against the nation and selling Palestinian rights down the river, Hamas supporters claimed. Some pointed out that Yasser Abed Rabbo, the PLO secretary who signed a document called the Cairo Agreement with Yossi Beilin, practically abandoned the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
Although Meshaal's statements were not met with the approval he had expected, not even among opposition groups, a chord has been struck. Many now want to see the PLO drastically restructured, but the call for the PLO to be scrapped altogether is not popular yet.
Some of Hamas's close associates resented Meshaal's statement, fearing it may deepen the rift in Palestinian ranks. The Islamic Jihad, which is politically on Hamas's side, was alarmed by the call.
Khaled Al-Batsh, a key figure in the Islamic Jihad, said that his movement sees no reason for the replacement of the PLO with another organisation. Such a step could only heighten levels of anxiety and division on the Palestinian scene, he told Al-Ahram Weekly. "We need national unity. Divisions are cutting through the flesh of the Palestinians like a knife, and we mustn't allow the knife to reach the bone. We want to unify the people who have been suffering for decades."
Al-Batsh, however, supports the creation of a national Palestinian organisation to manage the resistance, coordinate its operations, and supervise the effort for liberation. "We need to implement the provisions of the 2005 Cairo Agreement, which calls for the PLO to be restructured and for membership to be extended to both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad," he said.
Al-Batsh believes that some Arabs and Palestinians don't want to see the PLO streamlined or acting as a forum for all Palestinians. He wants to see an end to "the bickering between the West Bank and Gaza... and the media war between Fatah and Hamas."
Saleh Zeidan, member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) is against the substitution of the PLO with another umbrella organisation. The PLO is in need of reform, but it must remain "the national voice of the Palestinian people", he told the Weekly.
The dismantling of the PLO would undermine the rights of a nation that sacrificed so much to get the world to recognise that organisation as their sole representative, Zeidan said. He added that all shades of views are given a voice within the PLO. Once national dialogue is resumed, it would be possible to sail past this controversy, he noted.
Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas postponed a European tour because he had to go to Cairo to discuss "sudden developments". The visit, some believe, may have to do with Meshaal's remarks.
After a few days of mulling over Meshaal's remarks, Hamas now denies having proposed a substitute for the PLO.
Amin Maqbul, member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said that Meshaal's remarks undermine Cairo's efforts to restart national dialogue. Any attempt to bypass the PLO is bound to fail, for no other organisation can match the PLO's stature, he added. The PLO has been "baptised by Palestinian blood" and is irreplaceable, he said.
Ghazi Hamad, a key figure in Hamas and former spokesman of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, is opposed to Meshaal's view. During a conversation with the Weekly, in which he said he was expressing his own personal views, Hamad said that the problem was not in the existence of the PLO but the nature of the Palestinian political system, its components, and the current security apparatus. All differences between Fatah and Hamas must be resolved through national dialogue, for Israel wants to play one faction against another, he said.
The rejection with which Meshaal's remarks were met prompted Hamas leaders to change tack. Now the official Hamas view is that Meshaal didn't mean for the new organisation to supplant the PLO, but to act as an umbrella for all groups that haven't joined the PLO.
Abdel-Sattar Qassem, political science professor at An- Najah National University, believes that the formation of a new organisation for the Palestinian people doesn't necessarily mean the end of the PLO. What the PLO needs is a new charter, one that is approved by all Palestinians, he told the Weekly.
"If Meshaal wants to create an umbrella organisation for the opposition, this is his right, but it doesn't mean the abrogation or abandonment of the PLO," Qassem said. The formulation of a new PLO charter is necessary for guiding the resistance and reversing the "clinical death" of the PLO, he added.
The problem is not in Meshaal's views, but in PLO leaders who resist reform because they know that there is no place for them in a reformed organisation, Qassem remarked. The survival of the PLO in its current shape is exactly what the Americans and Israelis -- and some Arabs -- want, he added.