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Abbas tightens grip on Palestinian governmental bodies

Some Palestinian factions claim President Mahmoud Abbas' recent appointments for Executive Committee posts show that he is tightening his grip on the PLO.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has tightened his grip on the PLO after he officially approved the distribution of tasks and departments among the Executive Committee’s members on Aug. 1.

Under the new distribution, Abbas, who heads the PLO’s Executive Committee, assumed the position of chairman and head of the National Fund, which serves as the PLO’s Ministry of Finance. Abbas also appointed his adviser for foreign and international affairs, Nabil Shaath, as the temporary head of the Department of Expatriate Affairs, although Shaath is not a member of the Executive Committee.

These appointments sparked a wave of criticism from Palestinian factions and forces, particularly since the position of chairman of the National Fund is normally elected by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) rather than the Executive Committee. Shaath replaced Tayseer Khaled, who had been the head of the Department of Expatriate Affairs for the past decade.

The current Executive Committee was formed May 4, with Abbas urging members of the PNC to approve the new structure without resorting to elections. However, Article 13 of the PLO’s Basic Law states that “all members of the Executive Committee shall be elected by the [Palestinian] National Council.”

The PNC is the supreme authority of the Palestinian people locally and abroad. It is responsible for making decisions regarding PLO policies and political programs. It is also the legislative authority that represents the Palestinian people.

The PNC unanimously elected Abbas as president of the Palestinian state on May 4, and on the same day, the Executive Committee elected him as its chairman.

Qais Abdul Karim, the head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told Al-Monitor, “Abbas’ decisions are hasty and not well studied. They do not reflect the opinion of the majority in the leadership circles of the PLO. These decisions are an extension of the mindset of monopolizing decisions and prevailing over other parties and messing with the foundations of political partnership between the parties within the organization.” He hoped Abbas would take back these decisions.

The PLO’s Central Council is set to convene in Ramallah on Aug. 15 and 16 to discuss the decisions and how they were made.

Abdul Karim stated that Abbas' decisions are disorderly. “There were no real reasons to change the head of the Department of Expatriate Affairs, which Khaled headed for 10 years," he said. "It should have been given to a member of the Executive Committee.”

As for the chairmanship of the Palestinian National Fund, Abdul Karim said that “the PLO’s Basic Law states that the fund chairman should be independent and elected by the PNC, thus becoming, in his capacity as chairman, a member of the Executive Committee. But this did not happen during the PNC meeting.” He noted that the Executive Committee and its head are not responsible for appointing the head of the National Fund.

Fatah condemned the stance of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine regarding Abbas’ decisions, saying in a press statement on Aug. 1, “The statements of several Palestinian leaders who accused Abbas of practicing a policy of monopolization and domination, among others claims, have nothing to do with advancing national work.”

A leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Omar Chehade, told Al-Monitor, “The decisions taken recently to tighten the noose and monopolization in the PLO bodies are dangerous for the Palestinian cause.” He added, “Abbas’ monopolization of the chairmanship of the National Fund opposes the PLO’s Basic Law.”

He said, “This step reflects Abbas’ insistence on handling the executive, judicial and legislative authorities. He has also illegally added the National Fund to his responsibilities, knowing that it is the organization’s financial balance. The Palestinian political system now resembles a one-party rule.”

Chehade said that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine will boycott the session of the Central Council mid-August. He explained, “We do not see a point behind this meeting. It will further weaken the PLO and deal a blow to its organizational, legal and constitutional foundations. Instead of holding this meeting, a call for the united leadership framework resulting from the reconciliation agreement should be issued, and a comprehensive national dialogue for all Palestinian factions should be held.”

Chehade added, “There is no value in holding a meeting for the Central Council, the PNC or the Executive Committee if the decisions are thrown away and not implemented.” He was referring to the August 2015 decision of the Central Council to halt security coordination with Israel. On Jan. 15, 2018, the council underlined this decision, which remains unimplemented.

Ahmad Jamil Azem, an assistant professor in international studies and political sciences at Birzeit University, told Al-Monitor, “The Central Council that will convene mid-August should discuss the appointments in the Executive Committee, in light of the PLO’s Basic Law. Any existing violations should be addressed. Most importantly, the method and system of taking decisions in the organization’s circles should be discussed. Changing the head of a department in the Executive Committee is not a problem, but it is important to know who is taking the decision and following which framework. Is it the head of the Executive Committee or its members?”

He added, “The members of the Executive Committee openly expressed that there is a problem with the decision-making process. I think several factors are in play, mainly the powers of the Palestinian Authority’s presidency and the Executive Committee chairmanship.”

With the imminent Central Council’s meeting, many issues will be discussed, some related to decisions taken and not implemented and others related to the nature of relations with Israel. The internal Palestinian situation, the PLO and the decision-making process within the Palestinian political system will also be tackled. Yet the Central Council might not be able to make practical changes, even if decisions are made.

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