PLO Meeting Sunday To Fill Key Posts, Minister al-Sheikh Expected To Win Big Prize
Central Council meeting stirs division among Palestinians as Islamists, PFLP boycott
The PLO’s Palestinian Central Council (PCC) will meet on Sunday, to fill several vacancies in a session that will likely further deepen the internal division.
The PCC makes policy decisions when the Palestinian National Council (PNC) legislature is not in session.
The votes on top PLO posts may provide clues as to who will succeed President Mahmoud Abbas, 86, down the road.
The leadership of the PLO, which is recognized internationally as the representative of Palestinians in the Palestinian territories and diaspora, will meet in Ramallah in the West Bank.
There are several major vacancies in the Palestinian umbrella executive committee, most notably the position of Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians who died in November 2020 after contracting the novel coronavirus.
Palestinian Authority Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh is expected to win the big prize and be elected to fill Erekat’s shoes, making him the front-runner to succeed Abbas as head of the PA.
Another vacancy in the PLO’s decision-making executive committee is that of spokesperson, which was held by veteran senior official Hanan Ashrawi until December 2020. Ashrawi said at the time of her resignation that the Palestinian political system needed “renewal and reinvigoration.”
In recent years, critics of Abbas had become more vocal of his autocratic rule and reliance on a small inner circle of men in their 70s and 80s.
Islamic factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not part of the PLO and they have decided to boycott the meeting. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also decided not to attend.
The PFLP stressed, in a press statement, “the danger of holding this meeting without consensus, as it represents a transgression of the previous national consensus to arrange the Palestinian house and to hold comprehensive elections, and blocks the way for efforts to end division and restore unity, which deepens the Palestinian internal crisis and the existing state of laziness that the occupation [i.e., Israel] exploits by escalating its Judaization and settlement measures on Palestinian land, especially in Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Former PA minister Ziad AbuZayyad told The Media Line it is “unfortunate” that there are factions that won’t take part in the meeting.
“It is not only the division between Fatah and Hamas, but it’s also becoming a division between Fatah and all the other national factions,” he said.
It is troubling news for the Palestinian political system, AbuZayyad said.
“To make this only for Fatah and to ignore the other national faction, this affects the ability and credibility of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people,” AbuZayyad said, adding, “I think that President Abbas should reconsider what he is doing and try to create conditions to allow all the national factions to join the meeting and be part of it.”
The absence of these factions greatly diminishes the importance of the meeting, as it won’t provide Abbas with the legitimacy he desperately needs to say that he has a mandate to govern.
Aside from Fatah, a few other factions that lack a large number of followers will attend, such as the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP), the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), and the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF).
Nour Odeh, a Ramallah-based writer and political activist, told The Media Line the fact that several factions won’t attend is troubling news for the Palestinians.
“Personally, I think what is happening is that the Palestinian political system is being rewritten in a way that is deformed, and it doesn’t serve the Palestinian people,” she said.
The PLO was established in 1964 and is known internationally as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. However, it has lost much of its significance since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 as a result of the PLO’s signing the Oslo Accords with Israel, which are supposed to serve as a precursor to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Many Palestinians say the political system has been hijacked by a few people with the goal of staying in power at any cost.
“This is about a group of people who are intent on surviving politically and staying in power politically. They don’t really care about any other details,” said Odeh.
She accuses Abbas of weakening Palestinian institutions.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] will be remembered as the person who buried or tried to at least bury the PLO and emptied it of all meaning. All you have to do is take a look at the judicial system within the PA, the position of the prime minister; he turned all the Palestinian institutions into a tragic joke,” Odeh said.
Abbas, who was elected in 2005 for a term that expired in 2009, has maintained power without elections.
His popularity has taken a nosedive, with opinion polls showing most Palestinians want him to resign.
Last April, Abbas canceled presidential and legislative elections scheduled for May that were to be the first in 15 years, arguing that Israel won’t allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in the voting.
“Our existence as a political entity is in deep crisis, and this will be entrenched by this meeting next week,” Odeh said.
Like many Palestinians, she blames the world powers for the situation, saying the US and Europe bear a huge chunk of the responsibility for the internal political chaos in the Palestinian arena.
“The international community is a partner in this dysfunctional and very dangerous situation that we are in. My concern is that the international community, particularly the Biden administration, and major players in the EU, are enabling this. They are not serious about seeing elections or a real change in the conduct of policy or of the status quo of the occupation,” Odeh said.