Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Abbas resigns: Political move, or preparing succession?

Following the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas as PLO chairman, the Palestinian arena is awash with speculation on the move, and what will come next, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The resignation of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), alongside with nine other members, calling for an extraordinary meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) to restructure the committee, triggered broad debate on the Palestinian arena. There has also been speculation about Abbas possibly leaving the political scene within the next few months. After hours of uproar and conflicting reports about the resignation, Abbas ended the ruckus and said during a meeting with a Polish media delegation at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah Sunday that he did indeed render his resignation along with nine others.

“The Executive Committee is the government of the State of Palestine and represents the Palestinian people at home and abroad,” he stated. “We need to activate the committee.” He said he would hold a meeting for the PNC within one month.

The committee decided during its meeting headed by Abbas Saturday to begin preparations for holding an extraordinary session of the PNC as soon as possible. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was elected secretary of the committee in place of Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Fatah, the party led by Abbas, defended convening the PNC to activate the Executive Committee in order to renew the mandate of the Palestinian leadership, and deal with Israeli escalation and the stalemate in the political process. However, other Palestinian factions  both Islamist and leftists  warned against the risk this bodes of entrenching divisions. Also the risk of excluding Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and others who may not participate in the upcoming PNC meeting, especially those demanding the PLO’s reform and development.

Azzam Al-Ahmed, member of Fatah’s Executive Committee, told Palestine TV Sunday that his group “suggested holding a special PNC meeting out of concern over Palestinian legitimacy, with the PLO as a cornerstone. Our main motive is making it stronger in light of serious political confrontations with the occupation state, the suspension of the peace process, and possibility of escalation in the political process in the coming months.” Al-Ahmed added: “We called for a PNC meeting because of Hamas’s attempts to impose its will and unilateral decisions. Fatah suggested the PNC meeting and will not allow unilateral decisions, and Hamas has no veto on decisions.”

Analysts and observers of Palestinian affairs believe the recent resignations are “procedural” in order to call for the PNC to elect a new PLO Executive Committee, which requires the resignation of one third of the committee’s members. They added that Abbas wanted to ensure Erekat becomes the secretary of the committee and to introduce more figures who are close to him to replace his opponents  most notably Abed Rabbo, who was dismissed last month from the secretariat of the committee because they disagree on many issues, such as Abed Rabbo’s ties to Abbas’s political rivals, including former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee is considered the president of Palestine and the Palestinian people in the territories under control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Palestinians in the Diaspora.

By resigning and calling for the election of a new Executive Committee, Abbas is applying Article 14, Section C of the bylaws of the PNC, which stipulates calling for an extraordinary session if one third of the 18 Executive Committee seats representing Palestinian factions  except for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad  are vacant.

The PLO is a political entity recognised by the UN and Arab League as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine. It was created in 1964 after the first Arab Palestinian Conference in Jerusalem, based on a decision at the Arab summit that year in Cairo, in order to represent Palestinians on the international stage. It includes most Palestinian factions and parties, except for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Fatah’s rival Hamas, which still controls the Gaza Strip despite the formation of a coalition government, believes calling up the PNC and restructuring the Executive Committee is evidence of continued unilateral decisions, rejecting consensus, and lack of any true intentions to achieve Palestinian national reconciliation.

In a statement, the group said that restructuring the Executive Committee is a preemptive step to prevent any real effort to restructure the PLO, and that the step “represents backtracking and rejection of the reconciliation agreement, and a clear invitation to continue divisions which is consistent with the policies of [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu.”

It added that it is studying its options in confronting what it described as “a policy of unilateralism and [Fatah] turning its back on national agreements.”

Moussa Abu Marzouq, member of Hamas’s politburo, wrote on his Facebook page: “Anyone who acts this way can never ask the temporary leadership [of the PLO] to restructure the organisation based on democracy, to include Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. This move by comrade [Abbas] is understandable because he likes to take unilateral decisions without any challengers. What is strange, are those who are helping him do this. I suggest they and others over 80-years-old should not be re-elected.”

Marzouq was surprised Hamas was being “ignored” because it is not a member of the PLO, stating: “Where are the signals [that they want] national unity, closing ranks, ending divisions, and all these slogans, when the largest Palestinian faction is excluded from the system?”

The PNC is the PLO’s parliament of 719 members representing the Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine. It has not met since 1996 when it convened an extraordinary session to amend its charter, based on a request by the US.

Sheikh Khaled Al-Batsh, a leading figure in the Islamic Jihad, believes the meeting of the Executive Committee focused on restructuring the PLO and how to fill all its seats, rather than revive its role and stature in managing and leading the liberation of Palestine and return of refugees by focusing on ending divisions, reuniting national ranks, and grounding true partnership.

In a statement issued by the group’s media office, Al-Batsh said: “Reforming the PLO is not only done by meeting membership quotas and reshaping the structure, but restoring national unity, the role of the PLO and its status in leading the plan of liberation and return.”

He urged reuniting ranks and upholding fundamentals by calling for a meeting of the united leadership  a broader entity that includes everyone  until the PNC is restructured and the PLO is reconstructed on the principles of partnership and unity. Although important, the call for general elections cannot be held without national unity. “If we are keen on stopping the dissolution of the Palestinian cause, why are they worried about convening with the united leadership?” asked Al-Batsh.

The temporary PLO leadership created by the Cairo reconciliation agreement includes the general secretariats of Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. It is based on the need to overhaul the PLO and PNC, and agreement on a single political platform (the minimum requisite platform).

Rabbah Mehanna, a leading figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is the second largest faction in the PLO after Fatah, criticised the call for the PNC to convene in order to restructure the Executive Committee. Mehanna charged: “[Abbas] wants to reshape Palestinian institution as he pleases.”

In press statements, he raised several questions. “Where is a strong stance and action by the PLO which disagrees with this move? What are the negative repercussions of this meeting on Palestinian interests? Did not all Palestinian forces agree on forming a temporary leadership and a committee to develop the PLO, whose duties is to form the PNC through elections and full proportional representation at home and in diaspora, and through consensus when elections cannot be held?”

The leading figure in the leftist PFLP believes “[Abbas] and his entourage are flouting the decisions of national consensus.”

These developments coincide with unconfirmed leaks that Abbas is preparing to resign in the next few months  a rumour his opponents doubt is true. The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted “informed” Palestinian sources as saying that Abbas is preparing to withdraw from politics in the next few months, and has started by preparing and restructuring Palestinian institutions to continue managing the PA and PLO after his departure.

The sources said the reason behind the resignation is the failure of the political process. “This resignation is in protest against all those who caused the political process to fail. The US administration failed to force Israel to implement its most basic obligations in the political process, such as stopping settlement building and releasing old detainees; Israel undermined the peace process in order to continue its settlements scheme in a way that leaves no possibility of a two-state solution; Arab countries chose new priorities and neglected the Palestinian cause.”

The source added that Abbas believes ongoing negotiations between Israel and Hamas under the auspices of regional powers is the final blow to the nationalist plan, because any truce in Gaza between Hamas and Israel means forever entrenching divisions. They added Israel is offering incentives to Hamas to separate the Gaza Strip, in order for Tel Aviv to continue its plot to annex a large swath of the West Bank. The source added that Abbas is preparing Erekat to become his successor, and is preparing for a gradual departure to ensure a smooth power transfer.

According to Al-Hayat, opponents doubt the seriousness of all this and say it is an attempt by Abbas to pressure the US administration and European Union to take decisive steps to revive the political process and protect the two-state solution by ending settlement building. Another opposition camp believes Abbas is preparing a resignation similar to that of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser after the 1967 war; namely, a resignation followed by mass protests demanding he remains in power.

One such opponent told the newspaper: “President Abbas will announce his resignation, but the next day we will see masses of government employees, especially from security agencies, take to the streets demanding he withdraws his resignation.” The unnamed source believes, “This will escalate until security commanders and officers also offer their collective resignation, and link their return to Abbas withdrawing his resignation.” The source believes Abbas is plotting to become a president with absolute powers.

Proof of this is that the president recently dismissed critics inside the PA and PLO, including Abed Rabbo, former premier Fayyad, leading figure Mohamed Dahlan, and others, and replaced them with those loyal to him.

Hani Al-Masri, a Palestinian writer and political analyst, said: “Yes, President Abbas is tired, disappointed and let down, especially by Americans and Israelis who abandoned him despite all the flexibility and compromises he has offered. He has put all his eggs in the peace process basket, and has only reaped settlement building, discrimination, aggression, Judaicisation of Jerusalem, and successive Israeli governments doing all they can to block the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Al-Masri added: “What is most disappointing for the president is his despair at the possibility of restarting negotiations and reaching a peace agreement. Also, the fact that Netanyahu’s government is close to signing a long-term truce with Hamas that would entrench divisions, undermine the PA and strengthen [his] rival Hamas.”

He noted: “The president should consider handing over power because continuing to carry this burden would only mean sustaining the farce called the ‘peace process’ and the status quo, which will lead to more and more marginalisation of the Palestinian cause, undermine legitimacy, more occupation, settlements and divisions. In light of all that has happened, this is not only wrong, but also a sin. The alternative is to surrender and accept Israel’s terms or confrontation.”

Al-Masri said Abbas “does not want to surrender or go into confrontation. Continuing the status quo has become very costly and threatens serious repercussions. Thus, withdrawing after renewing legitimacy by convening the PNC and Fatah’s 7th Congress is the best decision.” The dilemma, he added, is that “leaving what is old would maintain the status quo.”

He warned against convening the PNC hastily and without guarantees of participation by all Palestinian factions that signed the Cairo agreement. “Otherwise, this would lead to the PLO becoming one camp, and not the legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people. The selection of new institutions will be made by the old institutions that have no mandate, and thus cannot face the challenges and dangers threatening the Palestinian cause. Instead, it would further exacerbate, fracture and divide the Palestinian issue.”

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