A divided PLO: The future of Palestine's national movement

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of Palestine Liberation Organizationâs (PLO) Central Council in Ramallah, West Bank on February 6, 2022.
5 min read
West Bank
09 February, 2022

The 31st session of the Palestinian Central Council in Ramallah, inaugurated on Sunday, has provoked criticism within Palestine's political landscape, including within factions who participated in the council’s meeting.

The Central Council is a smaller version of the Palestinian National Council, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) legislative body and highest authority, representing Palestinians across the world.

The council's closing statement on Wednesday announced the complete and total end of security coordination with Israel, as well as the withdrawal of Palestinian recognition of Israel until it recognises the state of Palestine.

However, critics see these decisions as mere rhetoric, as they accuse the PLO leadership, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of having ignored the decisions of the last Central Council sessions in 2015 and in 2018. 

"Holding the council after calling off elections means that the PLO leadership prefers the authoritative way rather than real partnership"

Namely, its decisions to review signed accords with Israel, to end security coordination, and to hold democratic elections for all PLO and Palestinian Authority positions.

In November 2020, Palestinian leaders of all factions met to agree on a date for elections, which were decided for May 2021. In April that year, Abbas suspended elections, promising to reschedule them once Israel allowed Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote.

"The main objective of organising the council is to elect new members to fill the vacancies left by members who died or resigned," Abdel Rahman Ibrahim, a professor of political science at Birzeit University, told The New Arab.

"The election of loyalists to the PLO leadership into positions of power needs the legitimacy of the council," he added.

On the first day of meetings, the Central Council elected the civil affairs minister, Hussein Al-Sheikh, to the membership of the PLO's executive committee. Al-Sheikh is a senior PA official in charge of civil coordination with Israel.

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He is viewed as one of the closest in the PA to Mahmoud Abbas and a strong potential successor to the Palestinian president.

"The council needs two types of quorum for its decisions to have legitimacy; the numerical quorum, which the president and his loyalists can provide alone, and the political quorum," professor Abdel Rahman Ibrahim said.

"The latter means that there has to be a diversity of representation, which is the reason why the opposition factions' decision to participate in the council's meetings or not makes a big difference".

Each faction took that decision separately, and the heated political debate about participation prior to the council is still ongoing.

Several members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a Marxist-Leninist faction, announced their resignation from the party’s institutions after its leadership decided to participate in the Central Council’s recent meeting.

Fatah and Abbas
The Central Council elected Hussein Al-Sheikh to the membership of the PLO's executive committee, a strong potential successor to Mahmoud Abbas.[Getty]

A source told The New Arab’s sister publication Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that a meeting was held in Ramallah over the weekend between members of the DFLP leadership and representatives of its local organisations.

According to the source, “the majority of interventions spoke against participating in the Central Council meetings […] However, the DFLP’s deputy secretary-General, Qais Abdel Karim, said that the meeting was only a consultation and that the politburo had already made its mind up to participate”.

The source confirmed that some 35 DFLP local leaders presented their resignation, some of whom made it public.

The Secretary-General of the DFLP’s youth organisation, Mahmoud Rawasneh, announced his resignation on Facebook. The spokesperson and only public face of the DFLP’s armed wing in Gaza, known by his nom-de-guerre ‘Abu Khaled’, also announced his resignation to the media.

In a statement given to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, ‘Abu Khaled’ said that his resignation was “in rejection to the monopoly of power and the hijacking of the PLO, as well as a refusal of security coordination [with Israel]”.

"The election of loyalists to the PLO leadership into positions of power needs the legitimacy of the council"

Simultaneously, the Palestinian People’s Party - formerly the Palestinian Communist Party - witnessed internal tensions after its leadership decided to take part in the council's meeting.

On Sunday, party representatives attended the council’s opening session and delivered an objection letter to the speaker, before leaving the meeting. The party’s attendance, however, completed the council’s quorum.

In a statement to the press, the party stated that its objections concerned the council session’s agenda, and called for the implementation of the previous council’s session, especially reviewing accords signed with Israel and deciding a new date for elections.

On Sunday, hours before the opening of the council’s meeting, a senior member of the Palestinian People’s party’s politburo, Afaf Ghatasheh, voiced her protest regarding the party’s decision and announced her resignation on Facebook.

Ghatasheh said that she found herself “unable to defend the halfway decisions made by the party in a miserable attempt to find a balance between the interests of some influential individuals and the party’s authentic principles”.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), with the second-largest representation in the PLO, announced in late January that it would not attend, after weeks of ambiguity.

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In January, the PFLP’s central committee member based in Gaza, Hani Khalil, told The New Arab that “the PFLP’s objection to the Central Council includes the political side, concerning the non-compliance with the previous council’s decisions, and the organisational side, concerning the fact that the factions were not properly informed or consulted about the new session’s program and agenda”.

On Sunday, Khalil told Palestinian media, “The current Central Council session is meant to be the foundation of a new era of coexisting with the rubble of the Oslo accords”. Khalil added that “holding the council after calling off elections means that the PLO leadership prefers the authoritative way rather than real partnership”.

Criticism of the Central Council’s meeting also came from Hamas, the main opponent to the Palestinian president’s Fatah movement. The Islamist group said in a statement on Friday that “there is no legitimacy for any meeting held away from national consensus and for any council that is not elected through the ballot-box”.

Hamas’s statement also noted that it will not recognise any nominations made to any positions during the Central Council’s meetings.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement also voiced its opposition in a statement on Thursday, saying that it considered the Central Council meeting “an attempt to consecrate policies that have been proven useless in the face of occupation”.

Both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are not part of the PLO.

Qassam Muaddi is The New Arab's West Bank reporter, covering political and social developments in the occupied Palestinian territories