Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Controversy continues about PNC meeting

It remains unclear whether Palestinian President Abbas’s threat to resign is real or a manoeuvre. But change is on the horizon in the Palestinian political arena in either case, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Palestinian National Council (PNC) will meet in Ramallah 14-15 September to elect the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) new Executive Committee (EC), amid quarrels between factions over the vote and talk about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not nominating himself once again to chair the EC.

The PNC meeting comes amid extensive disagreements, wars of words and media attacks between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas views the meeting as a “unilateral and partisan move aiming to increase Abbas’s influence inside the PLO”, while Fatah argues that the goal is to renew the legitimacy of Palestinian leadership, confront escalation by Israel and the stalemate in the peace process.

On 24 August, Fatah leader Abbas resigned from the EC considered the government of the State of Palestine along with nine other committee members. The move was viewed by some observers as a manoeuvre to justify holding a PNC meeting according to the PLO Charter.

Abbas referenced Article 14, Paragraph C of PNC bylaws to hold new EC elections, which calls for an extraordinary meeting of the PNC if one third of the EC’s 18 seats are vacant. All Palestinian factions are represented in the EC, except for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

According to analysts, Abbas is facing several challenges because of EC elections. First, they fuel his dispute with Hamas, which has said it wants to form a new entity to replace the PLO. Second, inside his own group, Fatah, there are muted rivalries among Fatah members about who will be elected to the EC. There are also disputes with his PLO partners, especially leftist factions most notably the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

Hamas warned of “the risk of holding a PNC meeting unilaterally that contradicts all national agreements”, saying that Abbas is “erasing national agreements and destroying national unity, and forming the PLO according to his personal and partisan taste”. It called on Palestinian factions and PNC members to boycott PNC meetings to block “these absurd policies”.

Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, member of Hamas’s politburo who is known for his strong criticism of Abbas, said that Abbas’s invitation to hold a PNC meeting aims to eliminate several figures the president does not approve of. At a seminar titled “The Palestinian National Plan: Convening and the possibility of partnership” sponsored by the Islamic Jihad on Saturday, Al-Zahhar said his group does not recognise Abbas’s legitimacy, and that any PNC meeting that is held in the absence of the resistance is “void”.

He added that if Fatah continues to rely on groups that are nothing more than hollow names, then “an all-encompassing national framework must be created based on the principles of the PLO, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and resistance groups.”

Al-Zahhar reiterated that Hamas wants to achieve conciliation based on an inclusive foundation and honest intentions, describing Abbas’s move as “unilateral and contrary to the conciliation agreement that has not been applied in any part”.

The PNC is the PLO’s parliament of representatives of the Palestinian people inside and outside Palestine. It was created in 1948 and has not held an ordinary session since 1996, and is the highest authority representing the Palestinian people inside the territories and in the diaspora.

There are 740 PNC members, representing all Palestinian factions except Hamas and Islamic Jihad, members of the Palestinian parliament and representatives of unions, syndicates and independents.

Hamas sources said that the group is looking into several options to respond to the PNC meeting, including preventing PNC members in Gaza from leaving to the West Bank through the Erez Crossing, under Israeli control. This would reduce participation and quorum at the session since there are some 100 PNC members in Gaza, especially officials in factions that are members of the PLO. There are also independent representatives, institutions, unions and MPs.

The London-based Ray Al-Youm newspaper quoted an unnamed senior Hamas official as saying that his group is discussing creating an alternative to the PLO and it is being explored by senior group officials. According to the newspaper, the official revealed that Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal, who lives in Qatar, gave Saeb Erekat, member of Fatah’s Central Committee and EC General Secretary, who met Meshal at the behest of Abbas, a message of anger and reproach to the Palestinian leadership especially the Palestinian president. The message also categorically rejected all decisions that will be issued by the PNC, and the elections of the new EC.

In a brief statement, Hamas said that Meshal met with Erekat on 3 September in Doha, and discussed with him the latest political developments on the Palestinian scene and exchanged views.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad called for postponing the PNC meeting and holding a meeting of the temporary leadership framework of the PLO to reach consensus on reorganising the Palestinian house. This would cement the unity of the Palestinian people, protecting their cause and Palestinian national interests.

Member of Islamic Jihad’s politburo, Mohamed Al-Hindi, said that, “hastily inviting factions to attend the PNC session will deepen Palestinian divisions and exacerbate disputes.” Al-Hindi wondered whether this is the best timing and whether PLO entities are prepared for the session. “Will a hasty invitation resolve problems of the PLO, or Palestinian cause?” he pondered. “How can Hamas and Islamic Jihad be incorporated during this phase?”

He stated that his group “is very keen on the PLO and we don’t want to hammer another nail in its coffin. It would be better to hold a meeting of the leadership to reform and restructure the organisation. And then we can hold a PNC session.”

PLO member the PFLP has not yet decided if it will go to the meeting in Ramallah. Statements by some leaders indicate that so far the group is likely to boycott. The PFLP and DFLP called for an ordinary PNC meeting with the participation of all Palestinians by holding a meeting of the PLO leadership framework in any Arab country to decide the place and time, and prepare a full agenda that includes membership, platform and a united stand.

The two factions, which are the largest leftwing groups and members of the PLO, said in a joint statement that if the PLO’s temporary leadership is unable to meet, a preparatory committee should be formed to include all national and Islamist forces, the EC and PNC leadership in order to decide the place, time and agenda of the PNC meeting.

Meanwhile, Fatah is trying hard to hold the PNC session in order to elect a new EC, in the belief that this would renew the legitimacy of the PLO, boost its stature and effectiveness on all levels. It said this would also block Hamas’s negotiations for a long truce with Israel in Gaza, accusing the group of presenting itself as an alternative to the PLO. Mohamed Ashteh, member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said that, “President Abbas will go to the UN this month and address the General Assembly in his capacity as the president of the State of Palestine that is if he decides not to nominate himself to lead the EC.” Ashteh added that, “the PNC will reject the president’s resignation, or if he refuses to nominate himself for the EC. The PNC will generate a new leadership for the PLO and will work on separating the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) by giving the PLO its due political stature at the expense of the PA after the power scale had tipped in favour of the PA.”

He emphasised the importance of the ordinary PNC session with the participation of all PLO member factions. “Hamas is welcome to attend if it wants to be part of the Palestinian camp.” He explained that Hamas MPs are automatically considered PNC members according to PLO bylaws.

Debate over the PNC meeting coincides with Abbas hinting he will resign as president. But some see this as a political manoeuvre and test balloon to garner support from the people, renew his legitimacy and measure the reaction of the US, Israel and Arab world to such a move. Others believe his intention to resign is genuine and has evolved from a threat to a fact, after the collapse of the political process.

According to reports in the Palestinian media, Abbas said he intends to resign and not nominate himself as chairman of the EC. He told Jordan’s King Abdullah II his intention to resign as president comes because of dim peace prospects and Israel’s intransigence.

Amin Maqbool, secretary general of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, said that Abbas told Fatah’s Central Committee he does not intend to run in EC elections. “Abbas told the meeting what he told King Abdullah: he wants to leave the stage for other leaders, that he is 80 years old and is tired. We asked him to reconsider and said that we want him to continue, especially at this difficult point.”

According to Maqbool, there was a long discussion about Abbas’s decision “and we asked him not to resign, especially at a time when rivals and enemies are working to remove him from the scene”. He added that Fatah nominees for the EC will be announced soon and that consultations are still in progress.

The chairman of the PLO’s EC is considered the president of Palestine and the Palestinian people in the territories under PA control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Palestinians in diaspora. Abbas has been chairman of the EC since he was elected president in 2005.

The media reported that sources close to the Palestinian presidency said US Secretary of State John Kerry asked Abbas not to resign or urge for definitive decisions against Israel during the PNC session. According to these sources, Kerry told Abbas the region cannot afford a Palestinian political vacuum under current circumstances, and that such a vacuum now would be taken advantage of by extremist forces.

Kerry spoke to Abbas by phone on 3 September. Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Redeina said Abbas briefed Kerry about developments in the Palestinian territories, and the two men spoke directly and clearly about all issues. They also agreed to meet in New York at the end of September during the UN General Assembly, to continue their discussion.

The UN announced Saturday it would sponsor a meeting of foreign ministers from Arab and other countries this month to find a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A UN spokesman said that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to attend a meeting with counterparts from Russia, the US and the EU on 30 September, on the fringes of the UN General Assembly. He added that Arab League Secretary General Nabil Al-Arabi would also attend the meeting.

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