The call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold a full session of the Palestine National Council (PNC) is long overdue and badly needed. But the meeting of the top Palestinian body will only produce the desired results if it is allowed to reflect the people’s aspirations, help plan an agreed-to strategy and elect new leadership that will help carry these plans forward.
Abbas’ move might have been made for a whole host of reasons, but this should not stop all Palestinians from supporting the call, while at the same time ensuring that true representatives of Palestinian everywhere are able to gather and make important decisions.
The first obstacle to holding the slated PNC session is the location.
Abbas prefers to hold it in Ramallah, but some Palestinians are unable to reach Ramallah and video conferencing was not, in the past, accepted as valid attendance.
To reach quorum, two thirds of the over 700-member council must attend in person.
Alternatives to Ramallah are Amman and Algiers.
Delegates to the PNC are most unlikely to include Hamas, whose members are yet to join the PLO.
Although the 70 pro-Hamas elected representatives are automatically members of the Palestinian parliament in exile, it is unlikely that any of them will attend without prior political agreement that will most likely include demands that Hamas members be represented on some kind of quota in all locations or associations that will have PNC representatives.
Hamas is like a hot potato for the Palestinian leadership, which would like the Hamas attendance to give legitimacy to the PLO as that umbrella representing all Palestinian factions.
While the upcoming PNC will only include PLO factions and independents, the friction within various PLO organisations could sabotage the holding of the top decision-making body.
Abbas needs to convince members of the Popular and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine to attend.
Abbas has in recent months angered these two small but important factions within the PLO, yet as the date comes closer, it is very likely that Abbas will attempt to reconcile with them and all other factions.
Having Hamas attend would be a boost, but it is unlikely to happen without a comprehensive agreement.
That does not look likely soon and it was decided not to wait any longer to give legitimacy to the PLO’s work and leadership.
Some argue that holding the PNC meeting without Hamas will worsen the split and make the possibility of reconciliation much harder.
Many would prefer the PNC to be held after new West Bank and Gaza general parliamentary and presidential elections. But this idea is not working out due to Hamas’ continued refusal to implement the reconciliation agreements.
The relations between Ramallah and Gaza have worsened recently as Hamas continues to reject these calls and Ramallah is refusing to continue to subsidise the Gaza electric bill; Hamas operatives collect the fees from the people in Gaza and keep the money in Hamas coffers.
Of course, holding the PNC will most likely require consensus or near consensus on how to proceed with the liberation movement.
Will the PNC’s new strategy include more or less emphasis on the armed struggle and will it exert serious effort in building up non-violent protests that are dubbed by the PLO as popular struggle actions?
In this respect, will the PNC take a positive decision in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement?
In the past, Abbas called on the world to boycott the settlements and settlement products, but refused to endorse calls to boycott Israel with which he signed the Oslo accords at the White House in 1993.
Perhaps the elephant in the china shop is the question of succession to Abbas.
Unlike Yasser Arafat, who had prepared Abbas for the presidency, Abbas has refused to handpick his successor, insisting that it should be the people’s choice not his.
Whatever happens, it is crucially important that a full session of the PNC be held and that as wide a representation of Palestinians as possible be honoured.
The PNC witnessed a hostile takeover in the late 1960s when Fateh’s Arafat decided to take control of the Arab League-suggested group called Palestine Liberation Organisation.
It is not clear whether waiting for reconciliation to take place before moving ahead with the Palestinian agenda is viable.
It might be helpful to give a period of some six months in the future to hold the closing session, as columnist Oraib Rantawi has recently suggested.
Rantawi opined that a general timeframe be set during the coming months and announced, and all efforts be pursued to hold elections and resolve the internal Palestinian problems.
When the date comes without Hamas making a positive move, Rantawi suggests then the current leadership move ahead without fear or concern that it did not give everyone a chance to contribute to the welfare of the Palestinian people.
The PNC has held some 22 sessions since its establishment in the late 1960s. While such sessions are supposed to be held every three years, that target has rarely been reached in recent years.
Palestinians must vouch to meet regularly, review policy plans and strategies, and give the leadership mandate to implement these plans.
While it is crucial that all delegates representing the 13 million Palestinians attend, it is unacceptable that one party should hold the council hostage.
Even if some fail to show up, once given time and opportunity to make amendments, the session should be held anyway.
Holding the PNC meeting must now be the top priority since the current strategies and leaders have failed to deliver on the promise they committed to.