Palestinian National Council holds first meeting since 2009 amid ongoing divisions between the West Bank and Gaza Strip
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas convened the first meeting since 2009 of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the top legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella organization recognized by the international community as the official voice of the Palestinian people. Among the Council’s top objectives is to elect new members to the PLO’s Executive Committee, an 18-member group tasked with implementing policy; devise a comprehensive approach for dealing with the Trump administration, which the PA shunned following the American recognition in December of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital; decide whether to engage in U.S.-led peace negotiations, or, perhaps, revoke recognition of Israel; and discuss ways of resolving the decade-long division with rival Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
As regards the latter goal, every delegate of Hamas, which holds 70 seats in the 700-strong Council, boycotted the meeting; in addition to members of Gaza-based Islamic Jihad who were invited to attend despite the Iranian proxy not being formally represented in the forum. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine likewise did not show up, over objections regarding the location and timing of the meeting.
Muwaffaq Matar, a current member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, Abbas’ political faction that dominates the PLO, shrugged off the criticism, instead asserting to The Media Line that “wisdom in politics is making the right decisions in the right moments and that time is now given the U.S. plot to assassinate the Palestinian cause [by moving its embassy to Jerusalem on May 14].”
With respect to Hamas, Matar accused the group of turning against the “Palestinian legitimacy” a long time ago and therefore expressed no expectation that it would participate in an event that represents the “heart, soul and ideology” of the Palestinian movement. “Whether Hamas is here or not, the PLO will only consider the best interests of the people,” he concluded.
Uri Davis, an Israeli-born Jewish pro-Palestinian activist who is a member of the PNC, echoed these sentiments, reinforcing to The Media Line that “the PLO is the official representative of the Palestinian people and therefore Hamas’ rejection of the body should be considered stupidity.”
For their part, Hamas and Islamic Jihad explained Sunday at a joint meeting, dubbed the “National People’s Conference,” that they would not abide by any decisions made by the PNC. In this respect, hours before Monday evening’s opening session, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, decried the uniqueness of the PLO, the strongest political entity in the PA, which was referred to by the Hamas chief as “a state of exclusivity.”
Haniyeh likewise announced that Gaza’s rulers will no longer tolerate “the continuation of the vicious cycle” and will thus begin building their own national consensus by reforming Palestinian institutions in accordance with previous agreements.
Fakhri Al-Barghouti, a senior Fatah official, told The Media Line that no sanctions would be imposed on those elements that refused to attend the meeting. However, he added, “we [the PLO] call on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to fulfill its national duties and to join in future events.”
In terms of the peace process, Sultan Abu Al-Anen, a former senior PLO member, revealed to The Media Line that the PNC will be “reconsidering all agreements signed with Israel and potentially withhold recognition of Israel until it reciprocates and accepts Palestine. Israel picks and chooses according to its own interests and then steps on the Palestinian dream,” he elaborated, “and if the Palestinian National Council does not do something about this it will lose its reputation. This whole conference proves that we will never give up our principles.”
The formation of the Palestinian National Council was overseen by Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1948 in the wake of the establishment of Israel; this, given the then-prevailing belief that the Palestinians would have to begin having representation in the Arab League and at the United Nations and its affiliated international organizations. The Council was later incorporated into the PLO after its founding in 1964.
But since its inception the Council has faced difficulties that prevented it from carrying out its mission. The most significant of these problems has been a constant challenge to its legitimacy by those who contend that it does not represent all Palestinians, a position that some still maintain today given that national elections to fill the body have not been held since 2006.