The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has always prided itself as the leader of the Palestinian national movement and as the sole representative of the Palestinians. This title has eroded in time with the rise of the Islamic Hamas movement and the inability of the PLO to find a way to reconcile with it, especially in the last 11 years since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.
Now, the PLO plans to revitalise itself, albeit with less fanfare and a reduced staff. Nearly 600 PLO employees will be cut in time for the convening of the Palestine National Council (PNC) in Ramallah on April 30th. The employees, who will be asked to take early retirement, consist mostly of members of various factions that make up the PLO. In addition to Fateh, the PLO is made up of small factions that used to have a fighting guerilla movement and have been living on the basis of those earlier fighting days in Jordan and Lebanon. While some of these PLO factions, like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have genuine independent opposition members, most of the other factions are nothing more than shell organisations backed by different Arab countries.
Nearly 24 years since the creation of the Palestinian National Authority and its governmental structure, there is clearly no need for a parallel organisation that contains departments, such as education, military, youth, social affairs and others when much larger well-staffed and budgeted ministries with those same titles exist today in Palestine.
The reduction in staff and departments also comes at a time when the Palestinian leadership, which at one time wanted to dismantle its government and “throw in the keys”, is boasting that the Palestinian Authority is a great national achievement and that it will not give up on it.
Downsizing the PLO is also an admission that the idea of Palestinian unity within a restructured PLO that will include Hamas and other movements is not going to take place. Although 13 factions, including Hamas and independents, met in Beirut in January 2017 to try and hammer out the concept of a restructured and reformed PLO, that single meeting has not been followed up on. With the Fatah-Hamas talks having literally blown up with the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, it is clear that this lofty national unity goal is still hard to reach.
Palestinian leaders say that the convening of a regular meeting of the PNC is necessary to replace deceased and aging members and to inject young blood into the organisation. But at present, it is clear that the new PNC will not be different than the current one in terms of its relationship with the Palestinian diaspora and the worldwide solidarity movement Palestine.
The Palestinian government, which is technically subservient to the PLO, has become much more important and has practically replaced the PLO as the address of Palestinian nationalism, negotiations and even Palestinian diaspora affairs, which was recently added to the title of the Palestinian foreign ministry.
There are those in the PLO who believe that a leaner organisation will be more effective than the current one, which has lots of staff members who sit around drinking coffee and playing solitaire on their computers, not to mention the even larger staff who receive salaries but do not even show up to work.
Regardless of the size of the PLO in the post-PNC meeting, it is important that special attention be given to three important areas that are outside the daily reach of the Palestinian government in Ramallah. The majority of Palestinians still live outside of Palestine, and neither the PLO nor the Palestinian government has met their needs.
While many have formed local groups and NGOs to remind the world of the cause of Palestine, this energy needs to be utilised and energised. The Ramallah-based leadership has largely ignored the issue of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that has assumed power and effectiveness. A clear position needs to be taken on BDS, and a strong mechanism to support it must be implemented.
Finally, the many individuals and groups who support Palestinians need to be nurtured, supported and utilised in the liberation struggle. If the PLO wants to downsize its ineffective staff, that is great. But at the same time, the PLO must pay attention to its own diaspora and the worldwide solidarity movement, and must also come out with a clear position on the issue of the BDS movement.