Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced Saturday evening that he would be resigning as chairman of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. At this point the move is a technical step without practical significance, in that Abbas will remain in the PLO post until the Palestine National Council, which is empowered to appoint an executive committee chairman, convenes and accepts the resignation. The council could also choose to reappoint the Palestinian Authority president to the post.
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At a committee session in Ramallah, the resignations of Saeb Erekat (who has been serving as acting secretary general of the PLO since the removal of office by Abbas of Yasser Abed Rabbo) and of committee member Hanan Ashrawi were also announced. They too will remain in office until the Palestine National Council convenes.
Officials in the Palestinian Authority expect the meeting of the council to take place late in September or early October but no official date has yet been set. Convening the council is a complex task since it has about 700 members, some of whom are currently abroad.
Among the Palestinian leadership, there are differences of opinion as to why Abbas made his latest move. It is not clear whether he is planning to distance his political rivals from positions of influence or whether he is preparing the ground for his retirement. Close associates say although he won’t be leaving the political arena anytime soon, he does intend to inject new blood into the Palestinian leadership and PLO institutions.
Recently activists in Abbas’ Fatah faction began to discuss the need for change in the movement’s institutions and in the Palestinian leadership in light of the stalemate both in the diplomatic process and internally on the Palestinian side. A senior Fatah official told Haaretz that within the Palestinian Authority, there has even been criticism expressed recently of Abbas and his conduct. The young generation intends to do whatever it can to reinvigorate Fatah and PLO institutions, the official added.
With respect to the Palestine National Council, officials in the PLO said they understand that a council meeting that does not include Hamas and Islamic Jihad will not attract sufficiently wide Palestinian public support. In the coming weeks, efforts are expected to get the involvement of the other factions in motion, although the prospects for such a move appear slim in light of the rift and animosity between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which has even descended into personal mudslinging.