Palestinian president playing musical chairs
Mahmoud Abbas holds many titles.
He is the head of the Fateh movement, chairman of the PLO’s executive committee and president of the state of Palestine. Technically and legally, the Palestine Liberation Organisation is superior.
The state of Palestine, declared a non-member state in the UN in 2003, is subservient to the PLO. In mere numbers, the state of Palestine, under occupation and lacking sovereignty except in large West Bank cities, is not as important as the PLO, which represents some 12 million Palestinians inside and outside Palestine.
But the PLO is an empty shell. It was originally made up of guerrilla movements that have since been silenced, and its offices around the world have been replaced by embassies of the state of Palestine. Hanan Ashrawi was one of 10 members of the PLO’s executive committee who resigned two weeks ago. She said that PLO agencies (except the negotiating department) get no or very little budgets.
The resignation, orchestrated by Abbas and his aides, was aimed at triggering an extraordinary session of the Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO’s parliament in exile. The idea was to trigger clause 15 B of the PLO by-laws that calls for an emergency meeting without the need for a quorum. Abbas wanted to have the meeting in Ramallah and wanted to get the entire 18-member committee, which includes his latest rival, Yasser Abed Rabbo, replaced by some of his loyalists.
PNC speaker, Salim Zanoun, a fellow founding member of the PLO’s main faction Fateh, did not agree to play ball. Zanoun, a lawyer and a former judge in Kuwait, said that the PNC meeting can meet to replace members who had resigned, but cannot replace the entire executive committee unless in a regular session.
To hold a regular session, two-thirds of the PNC’s over 700 delegates would need to be present in Ramallah for the session’s deliberations on September 14 and 15. Under pressure from Abbas, who came especially to Amman for a meeting with Zanoun, it was agreed that an attempt to hold a regular meeting will take place on the first day. If quorum is not met, the next day the PNC could meet without a quorum and take any decision it chooses, including replacing the entire PLO executive committee.
The confusion and the accompanying discussions were not very pleasant to the Palestinian president who was accused of making the manoeuvre simply to strengthen his control over the PLO. The decision, which the Maan news agency called “action and suspense”, produced another piece of drama.
In a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, Abbas said he had no plans to submit his name for re-election to the executive committee. Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, quickly followed suit and said that although he had just been elected as secretary of the executive committee to replace Abed Rabbo, he will not seek re-election either, thus turning the entire upcoming PNC session into a lackluster event.
Once having given up on the PLO, Abbas has to decide what he wants to do with his Fateh movement and what is the status of his position as president of the state of Palestine, or what Israel and many still call the Palestinian Authority. It does not appear that Abbas will resign from the presidency.
Unlike the case with the PLO, the presidency requires popular elections within 60 days of the resignation of the president. During this transitional period, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council will take on the position of acting president. Since the struggles within Palestinian movements, especially in Gaza, the legislative council has been inactive, but its last speaker is Abdel Aziz Dweik a pro-Hamas MP on whom Abbas and his nationalist PLO members will most definitely not agree to allow to rule over the Palestinian areas for 60 days.
Abbas has been threatening to resign since 2009; it was never clear whether the threat was serious or whether he planned to resign from the PLO or the Palestinian presidency. The weeks leading to the PNC meeting and the upcoming November 29 seventh congress of the ruling Fateh movement will be crucial in identifying which position Abbas will be departing from and which leader or group of leaders will succeed him.