Palestinian leadership faces crucial decisions

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (center) prays at the start of a meeting for the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in Ramallah, West Bank. — Courtesy photo

By Daoud Kuttab

THE 80-plus members of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) who are expected to convene for a two-day meeting Jan. 14 in Ramallah face potentially monumental choices. Yet, on the eve of this crucial meeting, nothing resembling consensus can be discerned. The choices range from dissolving the Palestinian Authority (PA) to ending security cooperation with Israel to withdrawing Palestinian recognition of Israel to the declaration of Palestine as a state under occupation. Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages, its supporters and opponents.

While the location of the meeting has been set, two logistical unknowns remain. They are whether Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives will attend (either as full members or in a symbolic manner) and whether members unable to reach Ramallah (whether from Gaza or from outside of Palestine) will be able to participate via video conferencing.

Press reports have suggested that Hamas will participate symbolically as it did, along with Islamic Jihad, in the last PCC meeting, held in March 2015. Both organizations have been officially invited by the secretariat of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the highest body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Hani Almasri, a well-respected Palestinian pundit and former director general of Masarat — The Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, feels strongly about the need for meeting and for using video conferencing. Almasri said PCC meetings should be held more regularly and that it is crucial to deliver a message of unity among the Palestinian people regardless of where they live.

For a column published Jan. 9 on the Wattan website, Almasri wrote, “Between holding the PCC under the clutches of the occupation or holding it outside, the best combined option is to hold it inside but use the video conferencing option, similar to how the Palestinian Legislative Council was allowing members from Ramallah and Gaza to participate in deliberations.”

The last PCC meeting was held three years ago, at which time members decided to have regular meetings, every three months. PLO officials have not indicated why such meetings have not been held.

While the attendees and the logistics are a sign of the PLO's seriousness, the issue facing delegates will be how to respond to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and what direction the Palestinian leadership should take.

For PLO Executive Committee member Tayseer Khaled, the point of departure for the meeting must be to honor previous resolutions. In a Dec. 26 Arab News report, Khaled is quoted as saying of the 2015 meeting, “It was decided to end our connection with the Oslo Accords and the security coordination with Israel, but this has not happened.”

Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, Fatah spokesman for international affairs, told Al-Monitor, “In the beginning of the PCC meeting, it is expected that members will discuss the matter of withdrawing recognition of Israel as a reaction to the US decision on Jerusalem.”

In 1993, the PLO and Israel agreed to mutual recognition. The move gave Israel legitimacy, but the PLO not so much. Members of PLO factions remained in jail for membership in a “terrorist organization,” and in March this year, Israel declared the Amman-based Palestinian National Fund, essentially the PLO’s treasury, a terrorist organization.

In a Jan. 7 column on the PCC meeting, Nasser Laham, a Palestinian television commentator and editor-in-chief of Maan News, called for suing the United States for violating international law and argued that every Arab state should expel the US ambassador. In addition, he wrote, the Palestinians should end security coordination with the Israelis.

Nabil Amer, a Fatah leader, believes that such an escalation would be a mistake. Speaking to Raya FM radio in on Ramallah Jan. 8, Amer said such moves would be painful for the Palestinian people. “I don’t add my voice to the calls for escalation,” he said. “Any such escalation will be costly. We have boycotted meetings with the US, that was a good decision and that is enough.”

Even the left-wing Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) was critical of the voices of escalation. Senior ideologue Iyad Joudeh wrote Jan. 3 in the DFLP’s flagship publication, al-Houria, “It is illogical to dissolve the PA, because Israel has been doing its utmost to weaken it, because it knows that the PA is the nucleus of the Palestinian state. We should think logically and retain our national accomplishments.”

Oraib Rantawi, director of Al Quds Center for Political Studies, also argued in a Dec. 15 column in the Jordanian daily Ad-Dustour that there is no realistic option of voluntarily dissolving the PA and giving the Israelis the keys to the West Bank. Rantawi believes such issues require deep and serious thought because Israel's reaction would be brutal.

“Whatever decision the Palestinian people take, it is highly unlikely that Israel will allow the PA to continue if the latter decides to move to the popular resistance option and end security coordination,” Rantawi wrote. “At such time, Tel Aviv will ‘assassinate’ the PA in the same way it did the PA’s founder and first head Yasser Arafat.”

The Palestinian leadership will indeed be confronted with some tough decisions when it meets. It needs a show of unity and resilience, but must also be careful not to burn all its bridges. Any choices made would likely have a major impact on the trajectory of the Palestinian struggle, so that could mean the leadership will delay any major decisions with the intention of putting them before the PNC.

— Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab