PLO to convene rare meeting of its parliament

Several analysts said on Sunday that Abbas and the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership are convening the National Council to attempt to consolidate the PA president’s power.

Palestinian forum convened after 22 years, amid boycotts and divisions, April 30, 2018 (Reuters)
The Palestine Liberation Organization parliament is slated to hold a rare multi-day meeting in Ramallah this week to elect new members to one of its top bodies.
The 740-member parliament, formally known as the Palestinian National Council, last convened in 2009 in an “emergency session” to replace some members of the PLO Executive Committee, an 18-member body responsible for implementing PLO policies.
“We want to reactivate the different institutions of the PLO and we need to hold Executive Committee elections in order to achieve that,” Muhammad Shtayyeh, a Fatah Central Committee member, told The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of a conference in Ramallah.
The last meeting of the Executive Committee in early April did not have a quorum because one of its members recently died and other elderly members were unable to attend, according to Shtayyeh.
The National Council meeting is scheduled to last four days, beginning with a speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday evening.
Several analysts said on Sunday that Abbas and the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership are convening the National Council to attempt to consolidate the PA president’s power.
“Abbas wants to make sure officials who are close to him, especially those in Fatah, become members of the Executive Committee,” Talal Okal, a Gaza-based analyst, said in a phone call. “With the election of such members, he will be strengthening his grip on power.”
Three seats on the Executive Committee are supposed to go to Fatah members, seven additional spots are reserved for smaller Palestinian factions and eight others are meant to be allocated to independents. However, Fatah is likely to end up with eight seats on the Executive Committee as it traditionally controls five of the spots intended for independents.
A handful of Palestinian factions including Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have declared that they will not attend the National Council meeting.
Hamas, Abbas’s main rival which holds more than 70 seats on the National Council, blasted the PA president and the Palestinian leadership on Sunday ahead of the conference.
“The Ramallah meeting absolutely does not represent the Palestinian people, not on a legal nor on a political level,” Salah Bardaweil, a Hamas spokesman, told a conference in Gaza.
Hamas has long wanted the Palestinian leadership to reform the PLO to increase its representation in it before holding Executive Committee elections.
Abbas frequently has said that the PLO is the “sole, legitimate” representative of the Palestinian people.
But Okal said it is difficult to substantiate that the PLO fulfills such a representative role while Hamas does not actively participate in its institutions.
A recent poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that 31% of Palestinians would vote for Hamas in parliamentary elections, were they to take place.
Shtayyeh said that the National Council meeting will also aim to adopt a political program. “We plan to put forward a political program that addresses the different options for the peace process and our efforts to redesign our relationship with Israel,” he said, without elaborating.
Since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December and initiated the relocation of the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv to the city, several Palestinian officials have called for the American-dominated peace process to be replaced with a multilaterally-mediated one and have advocated for the PA to remove itself from its security and economic relationships with Israel.
Shtayyeh added that the political program will also seek to address ways to achieve national unity between the West Bank and Gaza.
Efforts to reunite the two territories have floundered since Hamas and Fatah failed to implement a recent deal.
Shimrit Meir, the editor-in-chief of Al-Masdar, an Arabic news site based in Israel, echoed Okal’s comments and added that Abbas is attempting to use the National Council to grant himself “a seal of approval” for decisions he could make in the near future about the Palestinian leadership’s relationship with the US, Israel as well as Hamas.
“Abbas is fighting two major, almost historic, battles. The first is with the US and Israel and the second is with Hamas,” Meir said in a phone call. “As he is battling on these two fronts, he needs every bit of legitimacy he can get. So Abbas is turning to the National Council to get a seal of approval for whatever move he may make in these battles and also to send a message that he is the one in control of the PLO’s institutions.”