Istanbul, Turkey – After two days of meetings here, the organisers of the Palestinians Abroad Conference have established a new political entity to represent Palestinian diaspora communities and strive for greater Palestinian rights.
Conference leaders said on Sunday that they aspired to play a bigger role in the struggle against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, alongside the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
They insisted that their new organisation does not aim to replace the PLO – the organisation that has been representing the Palestinian people since 1964.
“We are trying here to create a supporting structure to be an asset to the PLO, not against it,” said Ribhi Halloum, a former PLO ambassador.
Though still without a formal name, the new organisation called for the end of the Oslo agreement signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993, the restructuring of the PLO on a more representative basis for all Palestinians, and the formation of a democratically elected Palestinian National Council, which is the PLO’s legislative body in exile.
The conference leaders said that the Oslo agreement has destroyed the PLO and created a new class of Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories beholden only to Israeli military will.
The final statement read by Anis al-Qasem, a legal scholar, blamed PLO leaders for squandering Palestinian historic rights in agreements with Israel that it said prolonged Israeli occupation and worsened Palestinian suffering.
They also asserted the right of Palestinians to resist Israeli occupation, called for the return of refugees to their homes and towns in historic Palestine and said they would strive for Palestinian statehood.
Mounir Shafiq, a Palestinian scholar, said that while Palestinians have the right to all of historic Palestine as a matter of principle, it is not obligatory for individual diaspora communities to adhere to this vision.
“Palestinian diaspora communities are free to work within the norms of their adopted countries,” said Shafiq, who will head the newly established General Secretariat of the Conference.
Khalid Turaani, a spokesman for the conference, said that while Palestinians insisted on their right to return to their lands, it was up to Israelis to decide their future, not the Palestinians.
Fatah, the main Palestinian faction, issued a statement Sunday attacking the conference accusing it of being an “attempt to divide the Palestinian people.” Other small factions based in Ramallah also criticised the conference calling it “an attack on the PLO.”
“This kind of criticism is unfounded. We as Palestinian diaspora have the right to organise and tell the traditional Palestinian leaders what we think is the best way forward,” Said Ziyad al Aloul, the conference spokesman.
The conference established a General Commission headed by Palestinian historian Salman abu Sitta and Majed al-Zeer, a Britain-based activist, Naela al-Waari, a scholar and women’s rights activist, and Saif Abu Kishah, a youth activist, as his three deputies.
Leaders of the conference said that this was not “yet another Palestinian faction” rather, an independent organisation open to all Palestinians.
The new organisation will be based in Beirut, Lebanon .
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