Ab­bas ups the ante by go­ing to the PNC

Arab News - - OPINION - OSama al-ShariF | Spe­cial To arab NewS

Pales­tinian pres­i­dent is pre­par­ing for the worst and one im­me­di­ate ca­su­alty is rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Ha­mas, which now ap­pears to be go­ing nowhere, but his op­tions are lim­ited and time is run­ning out.

PALES­TINIAN Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas is tak­ing pre­emp­tive steps in prepa­ra­tion for the pos­si­ble un­veil­ing of a new Mid­dle East peace plan by the White House, which is most likely to be an­nounced in the next two months. He has called the Pales­tine Na­tional Coun­cil, the clos­est thing to a Pales­tinian par­lia­ment, to con­vene in Ra­mal­lah by the end of April. The 700-del­e­gate PNC elects mem­bers of the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, the high­est gov­ern­ing body in the um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion that in­cludes most Pales­tinian na­tional lib­er­a­tion groups such as Fatah, the Demo­cratic Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine (DFLP), the Pop­u­lar Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine (PFLP), and splin­ter groups.

The PNC, as well as the PLO, had been marginal­ized since the sign­ing of a peace agree­ment be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship in 1993. The last time the PNC met was in 2009 in an emer­gency ses­sion.

But there are press­ing rea­sons for con­ven­ing the PNC at this stage. The le­git­i­macy of the PLO Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee and the Cen­tral Coun­cil are in dan­ger as both bod­ies may not be able to hold le­gal ses­sions be­cause sev­eral mem­bers have died or are too old or too ill to at­tend. It's an op­por­tu­nity for Ab­bas to ap­point much­needed younger del­e­gates and to side­line op­po­nents.

In ad­di­tion, Ab­bas, who is 82 years old and re­port­edly in poor health him­self, will be able to pre­pare for suc­ces­sion in a man­ner that will un­der­cut the chances of fig­ures he does not trust. The elec­tion of new mem­bers to Fatah's Cen­tral Com­mit­tee dur­ing the PNC's meet­ing will give clues as to who might suc­ceed him. Among the pos­si­ble can­di­dates are Ma­jed Faraj, Jib­ril Ra­joub, Mah­moud Al-Aloul and Mo­hammed Sh­tayyeh.

Sources close to Ab­bas say he has lost hope in the US ad­min­is­tra­tion and now be­lieves the White House is ea­ger to see him re­placed. He is also sus­pi­cious of the in­ten­tions of some Arab coun­tries, be­liev­ing that he will come un­der pres­sure to ac­cept Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's peace deal.

Re­viv­ing the PNC and the PLO is a strate­gic move to have those bod­ies ready to take over Pales­tinian de­ci­sion­mak­ing in case Ab­bas is forced to aban­don the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity in the near fu­ture. Those close to Ab­bas say that what will be of­fered by the US falls short of the min­i­mum Pales­tinian de­mands for a fair and last­ing set­tle­ment.

The PNC is ex­pected to en­dorse the de­ci­sions adopted by the Pales­tine Cen­tral Coun­cil in Jan­uary, one of which was a rec­om­men­da­tion to sus­pend recog­ni­tion of Is­rael. It will also sup­port Ab­bas' call last month at the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to hold a peace con­fer­ence this year that will pave the way for full mem­ber­ship of the state of Pales­tine in the UN and the adop­tion of mul­ti­lat­eral spon­sor­ship of the peace process.

By call­ing on the PNC to con­vene, Ab­bas has ef­fec­tively given up on rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts with Ha­mas in Gaza. Both Ha­mas and the Is­lamic Ji­had Move­ment are not mem­bers of the PNC and pre­vi­ous agree­ments with Ab­bas had called for the full re­struc­tur­ing of the PLO, some­thing that has not hap­pened. The PA con­tin­ues to blame Ha­mas for fail­ing to al­low the gov­ern­ment in Ra­mal­lah to as­sume its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in Gaza. By sidelin­ing Ha­mas and Is­lamic Ji­had, Ab­bas ap­pears to have nar­rowed his im­me­di­ate ob­jec­tives — rec­on­cil­i­a­tion not be­ing among them. Cer­tainly Tues­day's failed as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt against Pales­tinian Prime Min­is­ter Rami Ham­dal­lah in Gaza and the PA's im­me­di­ate blam­ing of Ha­mas will bury cur­rent rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts for a long time.

Crit­ics be­lieve that by hold­ing the PNC in Ra­mal­lah, Ab­bas is seek­ing to keep out his ri­vals, who are in ex­ile and not per­mit­ted to en­ter the West Bank by Is­rael; thus ma­nip­u­lat­ing the out­come of the con­fer­ence. And, as a re­sult, crit­ics say, Ab­bas will strengthen Fatah's con­trol and will do lit­tle to ex­pand the PNC's rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Pales­tini­ans in the di­as­pora.

It is clear that, while cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the con­ven­ing of the PNC are less than ideal, the Pales­tinian leader has cho­sen to em­bed his re­jec­tion of Trump's Jerusalem procla­ma­tion and of US mo­nop­oly of the peace process into the PLO's leg­isla­tive body. Sym­bolic as this is, it will make it dif­fi­cult for any suc­ces­sor to de­part from such a po­si­tion. Ab­bas has told close as­so­ciates that no force on earth will make him change his stand. Fol­low­ing the PNC meet­ing, Ab­bas in­tends to escalate the diplo­matic cam­paign to join more UN or­ga­ni­za­tions and to pur­sue Is­rael's war crimes be­fore in­ter­na­tional courts.

Ab­bas is pre­par­ing for the worst; his de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health, nam­ing a suc­ces­sor, the pos­si­ble col­lapse of the PA, and the seis­mic ef­fects of com­ing out of the Trump peace plan. One im­me­di­ate ca­su­alty of hastily con­ven­ing the PNC un­der oc­cu­pa­tion is Pales­tinian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, which now ap­pears to be go­ing nowhere. But Ab­bas' op­tions are lim­ited and time is run­ning out.

Osama Al-Sharif is a jour­nal­ist and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor based in Amman. Twit­ter: @plato010

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