OpinionMiddle East

The real reason the Palestinians are refusing to attend the Bahrain conference

The underlying message of the U.S.-sponsored summit in Manama exposes the fact that the P.A. and PLO no longer represent the interests of the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with members of the Fatah Central Committee in Ramallah on Jan. 14, 2018. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with members of the Fatah Central Committee in Ramallah on Jan. 14, 2018. Photo by Flash90.
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; a senior legal analyst for Human Rights Voices; and a member of the Israel Defense and Security Forum.

Both the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority are boycotting the U.S.-initiated economic conference that starts tomorrow in Manama, Bahrain. While they would like to believe that their absence undermines the legitimacy and essence of the conference—promoting Palestinian economic development—the truth of the matter is that their absence is probably the only opportunity to achieve results.

At one time the P.A. and PLO were potentially important actors in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Today there is no question that they represent a small and ever shrinking percentage of the Palestinians.

Their participation in the Bahrain conference would contribute nothing of substance. While the world has developed in the past few decades, the P.A. and PLO have stayed the same, rejecting offer after offer to resolve the conflict once and for all.

While trying to create the impression that the P.A. and PLO rejection of the Trump administration’s economic plan is a result of their principled fight for the interests of the Palestinian people, the truth is that their goals are simply to stay in power and promote the elimination of Israel.

The PLO was established in 1965. Its goal was and is to destroy Israel. Contrary to the organization’s territorial claims today, its charter relinquished any Palestinian territorial claim to both the West Bank—then under Jordanian control—and the Gaza Strip—then under Egyptian control. In the absence of any other recognizable Palestinian leadership, in 1974 the United Nations accepted the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians.

The PLO’s most significant achievement was made in 1993 when it was recognized by Israel—as part of what became known as the Oslo peace process—as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians.

The Oslo process gave birth to the P.A. that was meant to take on the mantle of Palestinian leadership.

In practice, the P.A. chairman was also the head of Fatah, the largest PLO faction, and thereby the head of the PLO. But while the P.A. was meant to be governed by a combination of the P.A. Parliament (a democratically elected organization) and the P.A. chairman (also elected democratically), the reality was that the PLO leadership continued to dictate P.A. policy.

The continued coexistence of the P.A. and PLO gave the Palestinian leadership great flexibility. The P.A. could be presented to the world as the legitimate, democratically elected representative of the Palestinians and would be the one to ask for recognition of a Palestinian state.

The PLO, on the other hand, would remain in the shadows. Out of the world focus, the PLO could hide the involvement and influence of its non-Fatah factions, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—an internationally designated terrorist organization.

Together, the Fatah-led P.A. and the PLO ruled the Palestinians from 1994 to 2006. Then, after the death of PLO founding father Yasser Arafat, the P.A. held its second general elections. As a result of the widespread real and perceived corruption of Fatah and the PLO, the elections were won by Hamas, another internationally recognized terrorist organization, that is not part of the PLO.

While P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the P.A., Fatah and the PLO were quick to depose the democratically elected Hamas leadership in the West Bank, Hamas continues to rule the Gaza Strip.

In this context, when considering the fact that the P.A. and PLO only actually represent less than a half the Palestinians ostensibly living under P.A. rule, it is clear why the Trump administration’s economic plan poses such a real threat to them and why they refuse to participate in the Bahrain conference.

The conference will focus on the economic development of the Palestinians, and not the P.A. In doing so, the plan clearly, albeit not explicitly, reflects the reality that the P.A. and PLO no longer represent all of the Palestinians. The plan also clearly reflects that the Trump administration is questioning what happened to the billions of dollars of international aid that have been pumped into the P.A. over the past two and half decades.

This is the worst nightmare of the P.A. and PLO and the real reason they refuse to participate in the conference. The underlying message of the plan exposes the fact that the P.A. and PLO no longer represent the interests of the Palestinians and that instead of using the massive aid that they have received to invest in the Palestinians they have abused it for their own gain.

In the absence of the P.A. and PLO, the discussions in Bahrain will be able to focus on the ways in which to promote the best interests of the Palestinians.

Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position he served as Director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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