- Abbas, whose four-year term as the head of the Palestinian National Authority elapsed in 2009, needed something to counter the diplomatic rift between the Palestinians and Washington
- Since the announcement in December that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, no Palestinian official has met their American counterparts
RAMALLAH: Mahmoud Abbas took a political gamble and it seems to be paying off. Convening a regular session of the highest body in the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Palestine is certainly a move to try to empower and legitimize the Palestinian president.
Abbas, whose four-year term as the head of the Palestinian National Authority elapsed in 2009, needed something to counter the diplomatic rift between the Palestinians and Washington.
Since the announcement in December that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, no Palestinian official has met their American counterparts. Not since the days when the PLO was considered a terrorist organization in the last century has there been a similar freeze of relations.
Titled the session for “Jerusalem and the defense of Palestinian legitimacy,” the 700-member-strong Palestine National Council opened the four-day conference in Ramallah, the first regular meeting in 22 years, with the hope of reviving Palestinian nationalism, reaching a new strategy and ushering in a new and younger leadership.
One of the most important things that could come out of the meeting happened in the first session when speaker Salim Zanoun announced that quorum was accomplished.
Holding the Palestine National Council session in Ramallah was a big gamble. One hundred and forty-five members of the council issued a public statement announcing that they would boycott the meeting and called for its postponement.
Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad, who have not yet joined the PLO, are even attending as observers. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is a prominent PLO member, announced in Cairo on April 19 that it would not attend, although it said it would not join any parallel group.
In addition to Fatah, the party of Abbas which dominates the Palestinian Authority running the West Bank, the prominent factions attending included the Democratic Front, the People’s Party, and the Al-Mubadara Movement as well as independents, diaspora delegates, representatives of popular organizations and of a number of small factions.
To overcome some objections, it was suggested that the meeting should be held outside Palestine to allow some members, who are unable or not allowed to enter the territories, to participate, or at least to allow them to participate via video. These ideas were turned down.
Hani Al-Masri, the director of the Ramallah-based Masarat think-tank, issued a position paper on the eve of the council calling on the Palestinian leadership to keep the doors open for reconciliation and a more united future meeting that would include Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others.
Al-Masri also warned against dissolving the Palestinian Legislative Council, which has been largely dormant since the divisive violence in Gaza in 2007 when Hamas seized control of the territory from Fatah.
In addition to confirming legitimacy to the Palestinian leadership, the council hopes to make it clear that the Palestinian rejection of Donald Trump’s December announcement on Jerusalem is publicly rejected.
A large US delegation is expected to attend a May 14 event to dedicate the beginning of the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
A number of small countries with close ties to Israel and the US are planning to follow suit.