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Will Palestinian Authority revamp PLO?

For Palestinian reconciliation to succeed, the PLO may have to make substantial changes to draw in Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED        (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — On Nov. 27, the two rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas delayed to Dec. 10 the final transfer of power over the Gaza Strip from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority (PA) — which was set for Dec. 1 under the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo Oct. 12. This comes as Fatah argued that Hamas is not empowering the national consensus government from taking over its missions in the enclave.

Moreover, the Palestinian reconciliation round of talks held in Cairo Nov. 21 had also failed to resolve important points of disagreement, which include the reform of the PLO.

Palestinian factions have been calling on Fatah to overcome all organizational and political disputes in the Palestinian arena and to reform and rehabilitate the PLO on a common democratic basis, under a comprehensive Palestinian political framework.

Ever since its establishment on May 28, 1964, the PLO has been facing numerous stumbling blocks amid a state of Palestinian disintegration and the lack of national political partnership, in addition to the division between the West Bank and Gaza and the feud among Fatah’s ranks that further crippled the PLO. Fatah’s popular base seems to be torn between those who support President Mahmoud Abbas and those loyal to dismissed Fatah-leader Mohammed Dahlan.

The PLO is the sole representative of the Palestinian people and is currently headed by Abbas. It was established in 1964 through a resolution issued by the Arab League in Cairo as a paramilitary political organization aimed to represent Palestine in international forums. Its main objectives are to liberate Palestine through armed struggle and reorganize the ranks of the Palestinian people as one population rather than scattered populations of refugees.

However, the PLO needs a national endorsement that serves as a unified political framework to become a strong Palestinian authority capable of countering the crippling challenges facing the Palestinian people at home and abroad. The PLO has been marginalized and subjected to external pressure. This has led to the continuation of Israeli expansion of settlements in the West Bank, the Judaization of villages and their residents, and the repeated incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque. To revive and reorganize the PLO — led unilaterally by Fatah — concerted efforts are required by all of the Palestinian political spectrums.­­

“The PLO with its 120 embassies around the world is the sole representative of all the Palestinian people, and not reserved for a specific Palestinian segment,” Mahmoud al-Zaq, Palestinian Popular Struggle Front political bureau member, told Al-Monitor. “But now, amid the turbulent events in the region and the attempts to undermine the Palestinian cause, reforming the PLO requires a joint political framework. To face all challenges and risks the PLO should rebolster its role by including all Palestinian factions and forming a national Palestinian council that brings together all political spectrums.”

Zaq said, “All Palestinian factions are entitled to be united under the PLO’s umbrella. This was stipulated in the PLO Charter, which stated that the PLO represents all Palestinian movements and factions. The political disintegration and Fatah’s unilateral decisions subjected the PLO to a string of crises. Add to this the PLO’s weak capabilities in steering Palestinian national action."

He added, “The entry of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad as major political factions into the Palestinian arena will have a significant impact on any decision or step taken, especially as they spearhead the Palestinian resistance and represent one of the most influential Palestinian movements. Meanwhile, Hamas has been promoting its international relations, such as its relations with Iran and Russia and recently with Egypt.”

Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said the PLO and its institutions must be reconstructed on new bases away from the Oslo agreement. In an interview with the Dunya al-Watan newspaper Nov. 25, Radwan said all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, are entitled to be part of the PLO so that the organization represents all Palestinian people.

Walid Awad, a member of the political bureau of the Palestinian People's Party, told Al-Monitor, “Our constitution must receive broad international attention — through the formation of a unified political action with a collective vision of the entire Palestinian political presence at home and abroad, under the umbrella of the PLO, the real representative of Palestine.”

He added, “Factions believe Fatah will reform the PLO again, especially in light of the state of global arrogance undermining the Palestinian cause. They want the PLO to hold elections as soon as possible, to enable all factions to participate in political action and come out with collective decisions in times of war and peace.”

Awad talked about the different political orientations of some Palestinian factions. “The Palestinian cause and the obvious threats and regional changes in the region require moving forward without looking back, keeping in mind the best interests of the Palestinian people and the need to overcome challenges and obstacles through unity and political partnership. Under the umbrella of the PLO all obstacles hindering the Palestinian cause could be thwarted.”

He noted, “The regional developments require a single Palestinian presence with a unified decision and under one slogan. This would be achieved by restructuring the PLO, so as to become the protective shield against any plots woven for the Palestinian cause.”

However, it seems that the PLO is already feeling strong pressures. On Nov. 25, the US State Department decided to reverse its decision to close the PLO office in Washington. This comes after the Trump administration had said Nov. 18 it would shut down the office to pressure the PA into resuming direct negotiations with Israel and making a breakthrough in the US-sponsored peace process.

Indeed, the United States allowed the PLO office to continue to operate but advised it to restrict its work to matters related to permanent Palestinian-Israeli peace.

The move came as a surprise to the Palestinian leadership. Nabil Abu Rudeina, the spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, said in a statement Nov. 19, “This closure decision was an unprecedented step in the history of US-Palestinian relations. This entails serious consequences for the peace process. It is a blow to peacemaking efforts, and a reward for Israel, which is obstructing US efforts by maintaining its settlement policy.”

Writer and political analyst Youssef Hijazi told Al-Monitor, “The years of division since 2006 and the state of internal dispute in addition to the evident Arab normalization with Israel have jeopardized the PLO. To preserve the PLO’s legitimate rights acquired by the Palestinian leadership over the years, Fatah has to reform the PLO, turn the page on the past and look to the future.”

In light of the desire to bring in all Palestinian factions into the future PLO, obstacles still impede the PLO’s international action. The entry of two factions — Hamas and the Islamic Jihad — classified by the international community as terrorist organizations, could harm the PLO, which could find itself boycotted and shackled.

Joining the PLO could be a risky venture for Hamas as well, since it could entail the group having to recognize Israel — as the PLO did under the Oslo Accord — something it has long opposed.