Edition 30 Volume 5 - August 02, 2024

The future of the PLO

A pressing need for reform -   Ghazi Hamad

The development, reform and re-empowerment of the PLO will be to the benefit of the Palestinian cause.

Vital until statehood - an interview with  Tayseer Nasrallah

If Hamas wants to include itself in the PLO it has to recognize the charter of the PLO.

Hard to revive the PLO -   Danny Rubinstein

The PLO represents the past, whereas the PA symbolizes the present and future.

A Jordanian perspective -   Nawaf W. Tell

The PLO is the only umbrella that can provide "Palestinian legitimacy" to a peace settlement.

A pressing need for reform
 Ghazi Hamad

The issue of reform of the PLO is one of the most complex and important issues on the Palestinian political agenda. The organization is considered the "sole, legitimate" representative of the Palestinian people, but it currently suffers from an inability to translate that theory into a practical reality that is accepted by all Palestinian factions. Over the past 40 years, the PLO has undergone several political and administrative changes that have left several question marks over its ability to perform its designated duties. Hence all the major factions, including Fateh and Hamas, agree on the importance of restructuring and undertaking serious reform of the organization to save it from the negligence and inertia that has characterized its functioning in recent years.

One of the biggest problems in the PLO's structure is how to resolve the competition for influence and representation by the many Palestinian factions while avoiding unnecessary bureaucratic and administrative bloating or rendering the organization's decision-making capacity impotent. The strict control exercised by the late President Yasser Arafat--imposed partly as a result of his strong personality--led to the impression that the PLO was his private domain or that of his Fateh party. It is partly a result of that state of affairs that the PLO's Oslo solution caused such a deep rift within the organization, pushing already integrated factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine into the opposition.

The establishment of the Palestinian Authority as a result of the Oslo agreement also created a huge crisis for the PLO since the PA effectively stripped the PLO of many of its important functions and caused the latter to sink beneath the political horizon even though it was still the signatory to important agreements. Since 1993, in fact, the role of the PLO has been regressing and its decline is continuing today. Some have gone so far as to say that the PLO is in terminal decline.

When Hamas decided formally to participate in the nation's political life, it focused on reforming the PLO and restructuring its administration and political programs. In the Cairo meeting of 2024 both Hamas and Fateh agreed on the importance of beginning with practical changes. That was reaffirmed again at the Mecca accords and in the National Conciliation document. However, to this moment no serious practical steps toward reform have been taken.

Nevertheless, Hamas believes that the PLO, properly reformed, can play an important and effective role on the political front. The eighth article in the program of the Hamas government of March 2024 spoke about reform of the PLO stating that, "the government affirms the agreement between the Palestinian factions in the Cairo dialogue in March 2024 concerning the subject of the PLO, and it emphasizes the importance of moving ahead with the proper measures needed to be taken." More recently, the head of Hamas' political office, Khaled Meshaal, has affirmed that Hamas will join the PLO if serious reforms are undertaken.

To this end, Hamas has laid out a number of proposals for reform. These include reconsidering the PLO's political program in a way that will preserve the national constants and guarantee the rights of the Palestinian people. Hamas has stressed the necessity of having all factions participate so the PLO can truly lay claim to being the sole representative of the people. Finally, Hamas has suggested administrative reform to the various bodies of the PLO--the National Council, the Central Council and the Executive Committee. Hamas believes that regular elections, rather than the policy of executive appointments and factional bargaining that has held sway for all these past years, are the best way to choose representatives to those bodies.

The development, reform and re-empowerment of the PLO will be to the benefit of the Palestinian cause. It is a collective responsibility that starts with the many different forces and continues right up through the government and the presidency. No one today can deny the international legitimacy and recognition the PLO has forged for itself in the international arena. Reforming and developing the PLO as the home of all Palestinians and every Palestinian faction is a duty that thus falls to us all.- Published 2/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ghazi Hamad is a Hamas official from the Gaza Strip.

Vital until statehood
an interview with Tayseer Nasrallah

BI: In March 2024, there was an agreement between all Palestinian factions in Cairo to reform the PLO. Since then nothing has happened. Why has there been no progress?

Nasrallah: First, the Cairo agreement was a reaffirmation of reform of the PLO. There was also discussion about Hamas and Islamic Jihad joining the institutions of the organization. No immediate measures were taken because everyone was satisfied initially with just having an agreement to reform the PLO and include Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The steps that were since taken were very few, which slowed down implementation of the agreement.

BI: Will this process continue?

Nasrallah: After what happened in Gaza, I believe that any discussion to include Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the PLO is useless. The mentality of those behind what happened in Gaza is a mentality that does not aspire to share power or even to work within a Palestinian unity. What we need now are new guidelines to replace those agreed in Cairo.

BI: So are you saying that the Cairo agreement no longer applies?

Nasrallah: Yes. No one speaks about that agreement any longer. In the past two months there have been two sessions of the PLO's Central Council in Ramallah and no one from any of the PLO factions even discussed including Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the organization. The only discussion was about restructuring the PLO around the factions currently in it.

BI: Can any negotiation or agreement with Israel be of any value without reform of the PLO and especially the inclusion of Hamas?

Nasrallah: If Hamas wants to include itself in the PLO it has to recognize the charter of the PLO. This is the thing that Hamas refused to do from the start and is partly what slowed down implementation of the Cairo agreement. But I also believe that without Hamas, President Mahmoud Abbas' ability to reach and implement agreements with Israel signed on behalf of the PLO will be weakened since people will actively try to break them. This is what happened with Yasser Arafat, when Hamas would greet any agreement with a suicide bombing inside the green line. It is very possible that Hamas will now do this again with any agreement Abu Mazen may sign in the future.

BI: What reforms need to be undertaken to strengthen the PLO?

Nasrallah: First of all there must be a meeting of the National Council and a new procedure for choosing representation must be agreed upon to avoid the old quota system of power sharing among the factions. We have to take into consideration the new realities on the ground inside and outside Palestine. People have to take the Palestinian communities outside Palestine seriously. The factions themselves must consider their current representation in the PLO, where some exist in name only and many are no longer as popular as they were, whether here or abroad. A chance must be given to independents and Palestinian exile communities to be represented in the PLO.

BI: How important is reforming the PLO in bridging international Palestinian divisions?

Nasrallah: It is very important to reform the PLO because it is the internationally recognized sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Reforming the PLO will strengthen the Palestinian cause and will allow Palestinians to present their plight better than under the Palestinian Authority, since the PLO represents Palestinians everywhere. Palestinian liberation has still not been accomplished. The PLO will continue to be vital until an independent Palestinian state is created and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people are upheld.- Published 2/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Tayseer Nasrallah is a Fateh leader from Nablus and a member of the PLO's National Council.

Hard to revive the PLO
 Danny Rubinstein

In mid-July, more than a month after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) convened the PLO Central Council in Ramallah. The meeting began at dusk in the hall of the famous muqataa in the presence of a few journalists, mostly Palestinian. I asked them why representatives of the local and foreign media were not attending in larger numbers as I'd witnessed at similar meetings in Ramallah. The reply was that this meeting was not interesting. One of the journalists spoke out more bluntly: "Abu Mazen is trying to revive the dead body of the PLO but it won't work, therefore this is not important."

Indeed? Above the presidential dais of the Central Council, where its chairman Salim Zaanoun sat next to Abu Mazen, hung a large cloth sign that proclaimed "Homeland Unity Meeting". The objective of the meeting was to announce publicly that the Palestinian homeland, the West Bank and Gaza, was united under the banner of the PLO, the national movement whose institutions are of higher status than those of the Palestinian Authority. In other words, Hamas, having taken over Gaza by force, could perhaps boast of having won elections to the Palestinian parliament but it must not forget that this parliament represents only the residents of the West Bank and Gaza, or about half the Palestinian people, whereas the PLO's institutions represent the entirety of the people wherever they are dispersed.

Hamas, of course, is not a member of the PLO. Hence the Ramallah gathering could present the image of unity among all national factions--as against the subversion and rebellion represented by the Islamist fanatics of Hamas.

Abu Mazen and his followers will have a hard time reviving the PLO and its institutions. One reason is that since the PA was established in the West Bank and Gaza, the PLO's stature has declined. This is evident, for example, in the declining frequency of meetings of PLO institutions. The Palestine National Council with its 700 members, the highest ranking body, used to meet once every year or two; in recent years it has not been convened at all, with the exception of 1998 when it was pressured by Israel and the US to meet in Gaza to amend the National Charter. The Central Council too, with over 100 members, has seldom met. Only the PLO Executive Committee, the effective government of the organization, meets frequently--but with the notable absence of the left-wing organizations that have boycotted many meetings.

The PLO's place in the Palestinian political reality has been taken by the Palestinian Authority with its Legislative Council or parliament, a series of governments, and additional institutions established under the Oslo accords--all attempting to function as the instruments of a sovereign government. There is no room for misjudgment here: the PA, which rules a major part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has become the dominant element in the Palestinian national collective. The PLO represents the past, whereas the PA symbolizes the present and future.

The PLO retains a few formal functions. It deals with issues like refugees in Lebanon and maintains embassies all over the world. In particular, it is in charge of negotiating a final status agreement with Israel. Yet it may be symptomatic that all of these functions have become problematic. In Lebanon, the Palestinian refugee problem is becoming more acute: witness, for example, the recent clashes at the Nahr al-Bared camp. Many PLO embassies have been closed or have ceased functioning. And most important, negotiations with Israel deteriorated to a point where the peace process collapsed entirely.

An Israeli observing these developments in Palestinian politics cannot escape the comparison between what happened to PLO institutions after the establishment of the PA and what transpired with the Zionist movement's institutions after the establishment of the state of Israel. In both instances, the veteran national institutions became anachronistic and failed to keep up with the pace of new political realities emerging in the homeland.

Against this backdrop, it is only a successful political process leading to a peace agreement that can both rescue the unity of the Palestinian national movement and enable Israel to avoid a serious crisis. Without such a process and agreement, neither the PLO nor the PA has a chance of success; nor does Israel have a bright future.- Published 2/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Danny Rubinstein is a member of the editorial board of Haaretz and teaches at Ben Gurion University in the Negev.

A Jordanian perspective
 Nawaf W. Tell

In 1974, the late King Hussein's pleas to Arab leaders to preserve the unity of the two banks of the Jordan and to give Jordanian diplomacy a chance to reach a disengagement of forces on the Jordanian front following the 1973 war fell on deaf ears. The Arab summit in Rabat recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. But in the absence of mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel, discussion over an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank ended for nearly two decades.

A mirror image scenario of that of 1974 is taking place today. No matter how much Jordan stresses its dismissal and rejection of any discussion of Jordanian-Palestinian relations prior to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the areas occupied in 1967, many analysts, activists, and some politicians still insist on discussing and debating these relations, and even designing recipes and formulas for them--as if Jordanian rejections have been falling on deaf ears.

Thus it was no surprise that King Abdullah II stated in the most clear and forthright manner that "this suggestion, at this particular stage, is a conspiracy against Palestine and Jordan ....and it is out of the question that we accept such settlements no matter what the extent of the pressures."

The suggestions regarding Jordanian-Palestinian relations came against the backdrop of the Hamas coup in Gaza last June that created a geographic and political separation within Palestinian ranks. The objective behind these suggestions is far from a just and comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Rather, they introduce a partial quick fix that will neither provide Israelis with security nor bring the Palestinians closer to realizing their national aspirations of statehood and independence in the territories occupied in 1967.

Since 1974, Jordan's position has been to bring the Israelis and the PLO, as the sole legitimate representative of Palestinians, to the negotiating table. The formulas suggested recently, of federation or confederation, were no more than agreed-upon maneuvers between Jordan and the Palestinian leadership in the mid-1980s to bypass the argument of the absence of a Palestinian peace partner and bring the Palestinians and the Israelis to negotiate a settlement.

The 1993 accords between Israel and the PLO further reinforced the Jordanian interest in a two-state solution. This position is inspired by Jordan's national interest in ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is based on the firm belief that this conflict is the root cause of the many ills of the region.

In realizing the Jordanian national interest in a two-state solution in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the sole legitimate vehicle has been and will continue to be the PLO. From a Jordanian perspective, any deviation from this approach will lead to a return to the pre-1993 situation regarding the search for a peace partner, with all that this involves in terms of regional competition, rivalry, outbidding and intervention in Palestinian decision-making--historically one of the main negative factors preventing a just and comprehensive settlement. The PLO has been the only umbrella that unites Palestinians everywhere and can provide "Palestinian legitimacy" to a peace settlement. Thus Jordan sees positively all steps within the PLO that lead to strengthening and enhancing that organization and that allow Palestinians to speak in a united and recognized voice in order to reach their national objective of statehood.

One of the main pillars of Jordanian foreign policy today rests in Jordan's perception of the historic opportunity presented by the Arab peace initiative. That initiative provides for an end of conflict scenario to be reached through negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In addition the initiative, launched at the Beirut Arab summit and reaffirmed and re-launched at the recent Riyadh summit, has provided the most comprehensive formula in the history of the conflict that is backed by a collective Arab position.

This necessitates maintaining the focus on the two-state solution as the basis for fulfilling the opportunity presented by the Arab peace initiative. It requires all parties concerned to demonstrate further commitment to legitimate Palestinian institutions. Hence any deviation from the two-state solution, whether through Palestinian infighting and rivalry or through suggestions of federation or confederation with Jordan, can lead the region to miss this historic opportunity and allow radical trends to dominate discourse at the expense of regional peace and security.- Published 2/8/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org

Nawaf W. Tell is an associate research fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

Email This Article

Print This Article