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We all have the right to vote - Omar Shweiki

Feb. 1, 2011 3:22 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 1, 2011 10:03 P.M.)
We are all Palestinian citizens, we all have the right to vote.

Today it is time to reclaim our democratic right to shape our own destiny. The Palestinian national consensus, as expressed in the 2006 Prisoners’ Document, calls for the reactivation of the PLO through the formation of a new Palestinian National Council by means of direct elections. This axiom of democratic representation and national unity was agreed upon by the major patriotic and Islamic parties and it reflects the popular will of Palestinians. The sovereign will of the Palestinian people and its ability to shape its own destiny can only be embodied in a directly elected PNC, the highest legislative body of all Palestinians, no matter where they live.

This need for legitimate representation is confirmed by recent events in Tunis and Egypt, where the people have strikingly highlighted the serious crisis of leadership in the national arena. The recent publication of The Palestine Papers showed much the same thing, and illustrated the degree to which large sectors of the Palestinian people, especially refugees, are not currently represented, nor can they participate in the legislation of national platforms and policies.

With these realities in mind, young Palestinians came together in the name of the General Union of Palestine Students to initiate the national campaign for democratic representation with a sit-in at the Palestinian embassy in London on January 27. The campaign was launched with a declaration calling for a restoration of our basic right to participate in our own political process.

In the spirit of national unity, the campaign focuses on three demands:

1.The call for direct elections to the Palestine National Council, the parliamentary body that gives authority to and creates the political platform, strategies and policies for the Palestine Liberation Organization, to be held one year from this day, in January, 2011.

2. The inclusion of all our people wherever they now live - in the homeland, the Shatat, in the prisons, and the camps of refuge in that election.

3. That this new representative body, reflective of all sectors of our people, reform and reactivate the PLO institutions so that they embody the will of the Palestinian people as a whole, in accordance with the principle of direct elections.

These three demands, already a collectively held position by Palestinians across the world, were presented to the head of the Palestinian Delegation to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, and he was asked to deliver it to the PLO leadership in Ramallah. Soon after the arrival of the GUPS activists, work began on relaying the message around the world. Meetings proceeded with the ambassador and the buzz of activity was only interrupted by visits from Palestinians from across the UK: leaders of the community, academics and old veterans of the movement, all coming to show support and encouragement for the launch of the campaign for direct elections to the PNC.

The campaign is based on the principle which is a long standing national demand. It was articulated in the GUPS declaration in simple form: ‘We are all Palestinian citizens, we all have the right to vote.’ Elections must include Palestinians wherever they are, both those in the homeland and those in the places of refuge and the shatat. The implementation of this democratic principle would guarantee the protection of inalienable Palestinian rights, including the right of refugees to return to their homes and villages.

It is only through exercising our democratic right to vote as Palestinian citizens that we can begin to heal the fragmentation our politics has suffered from for so long, and reclaim our national institutions for all our people. Today, Palestinian students once again played their historic role in regenerating our movement at a time of national danger and depletion, as they did five decades ago with the founding of GUPS. This task falls to all of us, as Palestinian citizens wherever we may be, to once again insist on our popular sovereignty. The spark has been lit.

Omar Shweiki is a graduate of Oxford University and a Palestinian activist
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