The Palestinian situation has not been this bad since the Nakba in 1948. The situation in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip requires not only reform; it needs a deep and extensive change, which in turn will allow for the reunification of the Palestinian land and the Palestinian political system. The central question here is how to achieve that change. The group in power will resist any changes and will try to preserve their personal interests. Several Israeli actors also want to ensure continuity and entrenchment of the current Palestinian situation, because as the Palestinian political division and paralysis persists, it facilitates their pursuit of settler colonialism of the West Bank, including Jerusalem; their continued rejection of any meaningful political solutions; and even their attempts to negate the national existence of the Palestinian people.
Cancellation of 2021 Elections
To answer the central question of how to achieve that change in the Palestinian situation, several opinions and proposals have been raised; however, while almost all were well-intended, they unfortunately fell short of presenting a serious plan or vision for bringing about the needed change. All reflected good and noble positions, including the call for elections as the solution and the way forward. While it is true that elections indeed are required and could lead to the desirable change, it is clear that the group in power will simply not allow this to happen because they know that they would lose.
The 2021 experience starkly proved the above-mentioned point. The elections were called when a deal was reached between some members of Hamas and some from Fateh to have controlled legislative elections and uncontested presidential elections. When that deal became shaky and the idea of a “joint list” was broadly rejected, even within Fateh and Hamas, and with the emergence of serious legislative lists and credible presidential candidates, the group in power called off the elections under the pretext of the Israeli refusal to allow elections to be held in East Jerusalem. No high-level Palestinian official actually wanted to hold elections, the Israeli position aside, and no one cared that the last presidential election was held in 2005 and the last legislative elections in 2006.
National Rescue Initiative Seeks to Create Change
By contrast, a non-partisan group of national figures from diverse political backgrounds worked hard and presented a document they called “National Rescue Initiative, a transitional body for transformation and renewal.” The most important elements in the document appeared to be the formation of a transitional mechanism and a number of principles whose adoption was the sine qua non for the implementation of the Initiative. These principles are: commitment to the democratic nature of the regime and the need for periodic elections as well as good governance; commitment to rebuilding the Palestinian institutions, including the PLO, through a new Palestinian National Council (PNC) based on the outcome of elections to the PNC; commitment to reunification and the return of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian political and administrative system in return for full partnership; and finally, commitment to rebuilding the Palestinian Authority, starting with the formation of a new government without consideration for the restrictions derived from the unreasonable international conditions laid out in the Quartet principles.
The proposed transitional mechanism should be agreed upon through debate and consensus, but with its specific membership, mandate, and tenure being limited to one year. The membership of the mechanism should reflect the Palestinian reality as it truly exists at present, including the recent changes that took place ahead of the canceled 2021 elections. The Initiative document makes two important concessions in this regard: first, that the mechanism will not be a substitute for existing organs and will focus exclusively on the implementation of its mandate; second, that the process will be open to the participation of all parties that accept its principles, including the group in power.
In this regard, the most important sentence in the Initiative document is “the Palestinian system is losing its legitimacy at an accelerated pace.” It does not say the Palestinian system has lost its legitimacy and therefore is not a call to bring down the system; it is a call for broad and deep change of the system itself.
PLO To Remain Sole Legitimate Representative
In addition to the above, the Initiative contains other important elements, including deeming the last meeting of the PLO Central Council held in February 2022 as “unlawful and politically flawed,” with its outcomes therefore considered null and void. Another element is the proposed edification of a new PNC, including the election of two-thirds of the Council, with the first third being the members of the elected Legislative Council; the second third the elected representatives of the Palestinian communities in the refugee camps and abroad, in addition to representatives of national unions; and the third and last part being subject to agreement by consensus according to agreed criteria. The Initiative document also calls for the adoption of a new charter as well as a clear political program, all
on the basis of adhering to the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
Finally, the Initiative, while trying to present a plan for achieving the needed deep and extensive change of the system, does not present a political program nor attempt to answer all questions. The way forward now is for the political factions, which remain relevant, to join the debate, and for all popular forces to apply the necessary pressure on both the system and those political factions. This is no easy task, but we, the Palestinian people, have no choice but to try hard to change the Palestinian situation as a prelude to effectively confronting the nefarious Israeli actions and schemes and to rebuilding our regional and international relations.