The PLO's central council meeting won't achieve anything. Is it not time for a real change?

The PLO's central council meeting won't achieve anything. Is it not time for a real change?
6 min read
17 Feb, 2022
The outcome of the PLO's Central Council most recent meeting signal more inaction towards ongoing Israeli assaults by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Is it not time for him to step aside? writers Ali Adam.
The dead body of Nehad Bargouthi, a 20-year-old Palestinian killed by Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, is being carried during his funeral in Kafr Ein village northwest of Ramallah, West Bank on 16 February 2022. [Getty]

A four-day convention of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) Central Council was held in Ramallah for the first time in four years based on the PA president Mahmoud Abbas' instructions. 

In the weeks ahead of this convention, Fatah leaders touted the council meeting as an effort to craft a new national vision in the wake of Israel's continued settlements expansion and mounting violations against the Palestinians. 

The meeting, according to them, was held to make crucial decisions with regards to the relationship with Israel, the suggestion that the PA will end its agreements with Israel. 

"The central council meeting was aimed at consolidating power in Abbas' hands within the PLO, and the only tangible result of the meeting was the appointment of Abbas' trusted advisers to senior positions in the PLO"

Palestinians, however, were unmoved by the convention as they have seen this movie before. Abbas holds these PLO bodies meetings every few years in the name of abandoning Oslo and starting a new strategy in dealing with Israel's occupation. Yet, it ends up being a charade often aimed at quelling people's anger over the PA's inaction. 

The conference adopted decisions such as suspending recognition of Israel until it recognizes the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and suspending security coordination in all its forms with Israel.  

Most Palestinians were not fazed by those decisions since they were taken for the first time back in 2015 by the same council, and again in 2018 by the Palestinian National Council. However, Abbas never implemented them despite the mounting escalations and attacks by Israel on Palestinian lives and land. 

Clearly these new decisions will not be implemented, exemplified by a clause that was added to the council's final statement, which notes that the PLO central council assigns the PLO's executive committee the powers to implement these decisions under the requirements of the National Interest. This means, once again, that these decisions are at the mercy of Abbas. 

Perspectives

This PLO convention was boycotted by the PFLP as well as many Palestinian independent leaders. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are still not represented in the PLO, also turned down an invitation to attend the convention. 

The central council meeting was aimed at consolidating power in Abbas' hands within the PLO, and the only tangible result of the meeting was the appointment of Abbas' trusted advisers to senior positions in the PLO. 

The most important position filled was a seat on the PLO's Executive Committee, the PLO's highest decision-making body. The seat was held by the late Saeb Erekat, who died in late 2020, and also held the position of the top Palestinian negotiator. The PLO's Central Council appointed Hussein Al-Sheikh, one of Abbas' closest advisers, to assume his seat. Al-Sheikh is also expected to assume Erekat's job as the chief Palestinian negotiator. 

Hussein al-Sheikh enjoys very close relations with his Israeli counterparts and to a lesser degree to his US counterparts. His mere appointment belies the decisions announced by the central council, and in fact, serves as a further indication that Abbas is set to continue in the same direction of pursuing talks with the Israeli leaders, as well as maintaining security coordination with Israel. 

Al-Sheikh earlier this month held a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He also accompanied Abbas to his meeting with Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz in late December. 

Palestinians always hope for these PLO leadership conferences to be an opportunity for ending the division and reviving the PLO's democratic institutions. The Palestinians also hope for these meetings to be an opportunity to adopt a new national vision and strategy to confront the Israeli occupation and activate the Palestinian national struggle.  

Abbas  has simply done the opposite. By appointing loyal and like-minded leaders, he further consolidated power in his hands, and he emphasized the continuation of the same failed policies that have devastated the Palestinians over the past decade and a half. 

Once again, Abbas had the chance during this Palestinian leadership meeting to adopt a new strategy to uplift the Palestinian national struggle after years of division, aimlessness, helplessness, and lack of resistance to Israel's assualts. These are all the characteristics of his rule as the Palestinian leader. 

Since Abbas assumed office as the PA president in 2005, he has adopted an approach of ardent commitment to the US-sponsored agreements with Israel, as well as an ardent commitment to appeasing both the US and Israel. Abbas thought, through this strategy, he will be accepted as a viable peace partner by the US and Israel, and this will lead to significant progress in the peace process. 

These Oslo and post-Oslo agreements with Israel, and Abbas' commitment to it, has not only brought the Palestinians anything, but it has also cost the Palestinians dearly as Israel, over the years, used these agreements as a cover to expand its settlements and entrench its occupation in the occupied territories. 

Now nearly, 17 years after Abbas first assumed control of the PA, he is still dragging the Palestinians through the same futile circles, and he is still chasing empty talks and agreements with Israeli leaders. 

"The Palestinians can no longer afford to remain stationary, strategy-lacking, and visionless in the face of the escalating Israeli crimes against the Palestinians"

The PA was established, as a part of the Oslo accords, in principle to help the Palestinians transition from occupation to independence in their own state. However, Israel has always looked at the PA solely as a tool that will carry for it the financial burden of the occupation. Israel has also mobilized the PA, with Abbas' aid, as a security partner to the Israeli occupation forces. 

Instead of quickly countering Israel's schemes early on and turning the situation around, Abbas has now, for 17 years, continued in the same direction and has helped Israel to mobilize the PA as a colonial tool against his own people. 

Abbas has failed miserably, and continues to fail, in formulating a strategy that will make Israel's occupation costly, as well as in making the PA a tool of resistance as opposed to a de facto subcontractor for the occupation. 

The Palestinians can no longer afford to remain stationary and visionless in the face of the escalating Israeli crimes, the most dangerous of which are the recent Israeli settlement assaults. It is time for Abbas to acknowledge his failure, to step aside, and let the younger generation of the Palestinians lead the Palestinian national struggle. 

Ali Adam is a journalist and researcher whose work focuses on issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Follow him on Twitter @_AliAdam_

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.