Palestine’s PLO parliament up for election after two decades

Palestine’s PLO parliament up for election after two decades

Damascus: The parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization convenes for the first time in decades on Monday, as aging President Mahmoud Abbas seeks to strengthen his hand ahead of the US embassy move to Jerusalem.
It should be a chance to revitalise the Palestinian national movement at a historic low point and start talking about potential successors to 83-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas.
Instead, some critics – even within the PLO – say Abbas is presiding over a staged event to give his increasingly authoritarian rule a veneer of legitimacy. Others challenge the timing, saying the rift with powerful non-PLO member Hamas, which rules Gaza, must be resolved first.
Abbas supporters portray the meeting of the PLO parliament, once envisioned to represent Palestinians everywhere, as a closing of ranks behind Abbas. They say Abbas needs such backing in his political battle with the Trump administration, viewed by most Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel.
Here is a look at what to expect.
What is the PLO?
The PLO was founded in the mid-1960s as an umbrella for Palestinian factions. From the start, it was dominated by the Fatah movement, now headed by Abbas. After promoting armed struggle for decades, the PLO exchanged letters of recognition with Israel in 1993. This led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, a self-rule government that at first ran Gaza and enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
On paper, the PLO remained the “sole legitimate representative” of all Palestinians, recognised by more than 100 countries. Yet power quickly shifted to the Palestinian Authority which, backed by foreign aid, provided services for millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Meanwhile, Fatah steadily lost ground to Hamas, which was founded in the late 1980s. Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and drove Abbas loyalists from Gaza a year later.
Today, the PLO is widely seen as an empty shell but remains relevant as a political umbrella that could be revived. Even Hamas wants to join, but Abbas has baulked, fearing another takeover.
Who votes for what?
Starting with an Abbas speech on Monday, the PLO parliament, or Palestinian National Council (PNC), holds four days of meetings in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Later in the week, delegates elect a new PLO Executive Committee, the top decision-making body, with 18 members.
Such an election was last held at a PNC plenary session in 1996 in Gaza. In 2009, a smaller PNC gathering replaced six members who had died or fallen ill. Current members are in their 60s to 90s.
Fatah gets three seats. Small factions get one each for a total of seven, and independents get eight.
The outcome of the vote is largely preordained because of Fatah’s dominance and because the Palestinian Authority is now the PLO’s main paymaster. Delegates and their organisations depend on Abbas’ good will, meaning they’ll likely vote for names passed around on the convention floor.