Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Why an Alternative and Why the Panic?
By Ramzy Baroud
ccun.org, February 19, 2009
When Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal declared before a cheering
crowd in Doha, Qatar, on January 28, the need for a new leadership, his
words generated panic amongst leaders of the West Bank-based Palestinian
Authority as well as traditional Palestinian leadership elites stationed in
various Arab capitals.
The reaction to Mashaal’s call was more
furious than most of the statements issued by the PA and its backers during
the 23-day Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip, which killed and
wounded thousands of innocent Gazans.
Mashaal, who spoke
triumphantly in Qatar exhorted that the PA “in its current state is no
authority.” “It expresses a state of impotence, abuse and (it is a) tool to
deepen divisions,” he stressed. He called for the creation of a new
leadership structure that would include all Palestinians.
intentionally remained ambiguous regarding the nature of the new structure,
perhaps to examine the reactions to his call before moving forward with any
Expectedly, the Old Guard who largely remained mute
during the Gaza onslaught, reacted with fury to what they understood as
Hamas’ attempt to discount the PLO, which, for them, represents a place of
personal leverage and status. However, there were some outsiders to the PA’s
Old Guard apparatus who rejected any alternative to the PLO because of what
the organization for long represented, a platform that guided and guarded
Palestinian national aspirations for many years.
But why an
alternative to the PLO, and why the fury over a call for a new leadership
The two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah
agreed in Cairo in 2005 to revamp the PLO, which would allow Hamas and other
organizations that operate outside its political structures to join. But the
agreement was never activated. Each side accused the other of delaying the
much needed reform. Then, the disagreement appeared factional and political,
as opposed to a substantiated one, predicated on principals.
the Israel war on Gaza has created a political reality that cannot be
discounted as factional. Indeed the reverberation of the post Gaza war can
be felt throughout the Middle East, and even beyond, and it will be some
time before the full political and non-political impact of the war is fully
realized. However, as far as inner-Palestinian politics is concerned, the
war on Gaza has yielded two distinctly different groups, one that is being
increasingly referred to as the ‘resistance factions’ (Hamas, Islamic Jihad
and other socialist and nationalist groups) and the Oslo factions (mainly
Fatah, but with a few other less known groupings), dubbed as such because it
embraced the Oslo ‘peace process’ culture within Palestinian society. Fatah
dominates the PLO, which also includes factions that stand in solidarity
with Hamas in Gaza and Damascus.
Following the signing of the Oslo
accords in September 2003, the PA, with limited jurisdiction, if any, was
established at the expense of the PLO, which was once seen as an
organization that represented Palestinians everywhere. The latter’s
authority, international import and political relevance dissipated over
time, to the point that it became an institution that simply represented its
members or at best one specific faction, Fatah. The PLO would resurface once
in a while to serve as a rubber stamp for PA policies, and had long ceased
to represent all Palestinians or play any important role in shaping
political realities in occupied Palestine or anywhere else.
PLO’s state of idleness is relatively a new phenomenon. The PLO was
established in 1964, at the behest of Egypt’s Jamal Abdul-Nasser. It served
a complementary role at the time, but grew more independent from Egypt,
although not entirely independent from Arab politics or the hegemony of
specific leaders and parties. Nonetheless, the PLO served an important role
over the years, for it embodied various Palestinian institutions such as the
Palestine National Council (PNC), the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), the
Palestine National Fund (PNF), and more.
But Oslo demanded a new
political arrangement that expected a non-democratic body to represent
Palestinians, for obvious reasons. Thus, the PLO was marginalized, almost
entirely. Palestinians in Diaspora, especially those lingering in refugee
camps in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere, felt particularly disowned, for the
PA didn’t represent them and the PLO was no longer a formidable body that
mattered in any truly meaningful way. The PLO however existed, in the minds
of some as a symbol of a unifying body that expressed a nation’s political
aspirations. For others, it was a useful tool summoned to endorse the PA’s
political agenda whenever needed. For example, under pressure from the US
and Arafat, PNC members met to nullify clauses of the Palestinian
constitution that deny Israel’s “right to exist”, and again, in 1998, under
Israeli pressure, and in the presence of former US President Bill Clinton
they were summoned once again to stress Israel’s right to exist.
The PNC has not held another meeting since.
The emergence of Hamas
as a political power in 2006 was perceived as a great threat to the Old
Guard, for inclusion of Hamas carried the risk of canceling all the
“achievements” scored by the PA since Oslo. Thus the delay in implementing
the Cairo Agreement.
The war on Gaza, which was meant to crush
Hamas, emboldened and empowered the movement and its supporters, who now
insist that any national unity would have to accommodate post-Gaza
realities. In other words, “resistance” would be affirmed as a “strategic
choice.” More, a PLO that is revamped based on compromises that satisfy both
camps could also mean the end of privilege and domination of the
Ramallah-branch over Palestinian affairs. Thus the pandemonium triggered by
Many Palestinians are still hoping that the
PLO can be revamped without the need for further fragmentation. However,
since neither the current PLO nor the PA are truly independent bodies, one
has to wonder if national unity under the current circumstances is at all
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been
published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His
latest book is, "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's
Struggle" (Pluto Press, London).