Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ intention to convene the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah on September 14, 2015 has aroused the opposition of some of the Palestinian factions. They view it as a violation of the intra-Palestinian reconciliation agreement, which stipulated that the PNC would be constituted so as to ensure that the national and Islamic forces and factions were represented.
Several Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Mujahideen, Al-Ahrar, and Al-Saiqa have called to boycott the PNC conference because it constitutes a “threat to the Palestinian national project and a blow to the national amity.” They warn that the decisions expected to be taken at the conference will not obligate the Palestinian people.
On September 3, the PLO’s secretary-general, Saeb Erekat, met in Doha, Qatar with Khaled Mashal, political bureau chairman of Hamas, for consultations.
On September 7, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is part of the PLO, announced that it would boycott the PNC conference and called for it to be postponed by half a year so that it can be prepared in accordance with the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.
This wide-ranging opposition, along with Abbas’s announcement that he would not run for the post of chairman of the PLO Executive Committee, prompted a special meeting of this committee headed by Erekat.
At the meeting it was decided to send a letter to the head of the PNC, Salim Zanun, with a recommendation to postpone the PNC conference to a different date “so as to prepare the conference better and ensure broad national participation.”
Hamas Demands Postponement
With this decision the PLO in fact gave in to the demand of Hamas and the other factions that the conference be postponed.
The catalyst for the recommendation may have been the staunch opposition to the PNC conference by Khaled Mashal, head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, who on September 7 called a special press conference in Doha, Qatar, in which he outlined his plan to “overcome the present crisis in the Palestinian arena.”
Mashal introduced a hands-on plan with five elements:
- Postponing the PNC conference until a national agreement is achieved.
- Convening the temporary leadership of the PLO (in accordance with the reconciliation agreement) in an Arab capital.
- Convening the PNC and forming a common unity government until elections are held for all of the Palestinian institutions.
- Completing the reconciliation and ending the rift between the West Bank and Gaza, along with holding elections for the presidency, the Legislative Council and the PNC.
- Launching a comprehensive national dialogue and formulating a common strategy to “resist the occupation.”
To lend his plan a religious-Islamic coloration, Mashal warned against Israel’s aim to “divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque” and called for a common strategy to save the mosque.
There is nothing new in the plan that Mashal offered; Hamas has proposed similar notions in the past. However, Hamas is pursuing a new agenda that involves attacking Abbas and taking a stance after the failure of the initiative by Tony Blair, former emissary of the International Quartet, to work out a long-term truce in Gaza.
Mashal indeed declared at the press conference that Hamas is not seeking another war in Gaza even though Israel’s ongoing “blockade” is making it a “ticking bomb.” Hamas, however, is in distress because it has no solution to the Gazan malaise and the failure to rehabilitate Gaza. In recent weeks it merely deluded the population that it was on the verge of signing a long-term truce that would mean the lifting of the blockade and the building of a seaport.
Mahmoud Abbas Responds
Abbas anticipated Hamas by taking his own initiative. He is threatening to retire from politics and to announce the cancellation of the Oslo Accords as part of his upcoming speech to the UN General Assembly, convening on September 15. The planned PNC conference this month and the forthcoming seventh convention of Fatah are aimed, in line with Abbas’s plans, at creating a sense of revivifying the Palestinian leadership. At the same time, Abbas is unable to offer a new diplomatic horizon to the Palestinians or even a temporary solution for their state of affairs.
Hamas, too, has no plan to remedy the distress in the territories. Mashal has essentially declared that, at present, renewing the rocket fire at Israel is not under consideration. All that is left for him is to attack Abbas and his plan to convene the PNC and to try and gain political points at the expense of the PA chairman.