Amid Power Struggle, Boycotts Mar Palestinian Central Council Convention

A once-seminal event in Palestinian politics, the calls to boycott have intensified following accusations that Abbas is levying the meeting to advance his inner circle and continues to block radical proposals against Israel

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at PA headquarters in Ramallah in May.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at PA headquarters in Ramallah in May.Credit: Majdi Mohammed,AP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Palestinian Central Council is expected to meet Sunday in Ramallah for the first time in almost four years amidst an ongoing power struggle in the Palestinian Authority, with some senior members and factions boycotting the meeting.

The purpose of the meeting, according to some officials, is to discuss the replacement of an aging generation of Palestinian leadership, including a successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas himself. The sources accuse the president of using the meeting to consolidate his inner circle's grip on power.

There were also many calls toward the end of last week to nix the meeting, in the belief that it will only deepen divisions between Palestinian factions.

One of the senior figures who said she would boycott the meeting is Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, who resigned last year from the PLO Executive Committee. On Saturday, she published a letter stating that the meeting was “a step that would deepen the division and harm the principle of cooperation and democratic change.”

Hamas and Islamist Jihad movements turned down an invitation to attend Sunday's meeting, saying Abbas had to institute power-sharing reforms first.

Representatives boycotting the meeting also emphasized that they do not expect any significant decision to be made against Israel. They also said that council decisions often go ignored, and that as long as the decisions are not implemented, there is no purpose to what they called a “show.”

Those boycotting the meeting cite the decision to freeze recognition of Israel and end security collaboration with Israel in January 2018, following the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This was the last time the council convened.

Abbas, who is also the PLO chairman, called the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council, but the decision, along with others, never came into effect.

The meeting of the council, which currently consists of 141 members, was once considered a seminal event in Palestinian politics, because the council has the power to approve appointments to the PLO Executive Committee, under whose aegis the PA operates.

Upholding the status quo

A senior Fatah official told Haaretz that the meeting has no operative significance. According to the official, Abbas’ bureau will see to it that any belligerent declaration against Israel will dissolve because of talks held with the United States and Israel, such as the meeting between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Abbas held six weeks ago. The official said that the conversation last week between U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Abbas also conveyed a message from the U.S. administration against making extreme decisions at the council meeting that could harm ties between the PA and Israel.

Fatah and other organizations say that they are focused on a proposal to appoint Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, one of the figures closest to Abbas, as a member of the PLO Central Committee and prepare him to take on the role of secretary general of that committee.

Dr. Saeb Erekat, the previous secretary general of the committee, died of coronavirus in November 2020, and the position has not been filled since then. Erekat was at the forefront of Palestinian public diplomacy and was in charge of negotiations with Israel.

Fatah and political circles in Ramallah believe that Abbas wants to appoint al-Sheikh in order to give Fatah a head start in the coming leadership battle with other senior officials, such as Jibril Rajub and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

Another senior PLO official said that the appointment is a means of “strengthening the economic peace doctrine that everyone is adopting now. It’s convenient for the Israelis and also for the United States to talk in terms of economic strengthening of the PA institutions without diplomatic progress. It’s convenient for the Palestinian leadership that the focus of power be in the same constellation: Al-Sheikh in all the civil matters and Majed Faraj as head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service. Politically, both of them are under Abbas, so there will be no surprises. This is intended to ensure quiet.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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