PLO must be resuscitated one way or another

Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to resign before, but this time he’s serious.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas joins a reading of the Koran prior to a meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah [REUTERS]
Abbas joins in a reading of the Quran prior to a meeting of the PLO executive committee in Ramallah [REUTERS]

Palestinian cartoonist Khalil Abu Arafeh’s comic summarised the feelings of many. He drew an old man in a hospital bed in need of new blood and called the patient the Palestine National Council (PNC). 

The nearly irrelevant Amman-based legislative body of the PLO was suddenly reanimated when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and 10 members of the executive committee handed in their resignations on Saturday, forcing an emergency meeting of the PLO’s top officials.

As a result, the PNC is now obliged to meet within a month under Clause 14C of the PLO charter. The meeting, which will most likely take place in Ramallah, will be held without the need for quorum to elect a new – and hopefully much younger and more active – executive committee.

Palestinian factions to form unity government

The action and suspense caused by the unexpected mass resignation follows years of Abbas threatening to exit the political scene. However, some, especially within Fatah, don’t expect these to be the president’s last threats.

Honourable exit

Abbas’ threats of resignation began as far back as 2009, but sources close to the 80-year-old Palestinian Authority president say this time, he is serious. Many suggest that this is the most democratic way for him to have an honourable exit after decades of service to the Palestinian cause.

But the move is unpredictable and risky. It comes on the heels of failures both on the local and international fronts and the inability to hold national elections. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Palestinian leader was convinced that Hamas was not interested in reconciliation and was instead looking for a separate long-term deal with Israel.

Abbas’ possible exit from the political scene follows a major Palestinian failure to execute an internal agreement that would end the split that took place in June 2007. The split was both geographic and political. It cemented the separation of the West Bank and Gaza and kept Hamas and Islamic Jihad outside the national political consensus and the various bodies of the PLO.

Khaled Meshaal [AFP]
Khaled Meshaal [AFP]

Instead of new elections in the occupied territories and a reconstituted PLO, the split was deepened further in Abbas’ eyes with talk of a possible truce between Hamas and the Israeli government. The deal is said to have been engineered by former Quartet peace representative, Tony Blair. Because the former UK prime minister has not held an official title since May, he has been able to hold meetings with Hamas officials as an independent actor. He made two visits to Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, in Doha, Qatar, within six weeks.

The deal engineered by Blair enraged Abbas and many Palestinians and reportedly includes the end of the Israeli-imposed siege on Gaza by means of allowing a water corridor to Cyprus in return for a long-term ceasefire. Israel has denied that it is having either direct or indirect talks with Hamas, and while Meshaal confirmed that talks are going on, there are no indications that any deal has been reached.

Succession issue

Without elections, Abbas had little choice but to resort to his larger nationalist base. The expected emergency meeting of the PNC in September will not resemble the reconstituted PLO (agreed to in the Hamas-PLO reconciliation agreement, but never materialised). Representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are unlikely to attend. 

The future Palestinian leadership should not be tied to any single individual. The succession issue should be left to evolve naturally and decided on within the existing political structure. It appears that many, including Abbas, prefer an open democratic mechanism, whereby the position of president would be filled via some type of elections or a consultative process.

With outside actors taking on more of a role in determining Palestine’s future, the person or entity to fill the power vacuum could hail from anywhere and should no longer be restricted to the Oslo-mandated Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

Many argue that a more logical process would be to mobilise the larger PLO structure to create a kind of global leadership search that can represent, support and benefit the 12 million Palestinians around the world. Perhaps only through such a framework could the final push for Palestinian statehood and liberation be accomplished.

Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.