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Global push for Palestinian unity through PNC vote

Feb. 13, 2013 1:13 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 17, 2013 4:56 P.M.)
By: Akram Salhab
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian communities from four continents have increased their demands for elections to the PLO's Palestinian National Council as factions meet in Cairo to discuss the steps to implement national reconciliation.

In the week leading up to the meeting, statements have emerged from Palestinian communities in France, Chile, the United States, and Canada, while the Right of Return Coalition, and its more than 20 constituent organizations throughout the Arab World and Europe, called for preserving the Palestinian National Council and the Legislative Council united in one body in order to safeguard the political unity of all the Palestinian people, inside and outside of Palestine.

A series of popular workshops co-organized in Gaza, Lebanon, and Balata refugee camp called on the leadership to achieve national reconciliation through democratic elections to the PNC, inclusive of all Palestinians wherever they live.

This latest mobilization is part of the long-standing demand for inclusion of Palestinian refugee and exiled communities in Palestinian elections, and came in response to comments from some Palestinian leaders suggesting that elections in certain Arab countries, where millions of Palestinian refugees live, would be ruled out.

Palestinians residing outside the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have never been able to participate in national Palestinian elections. This fragmentation was exacerbated by the split between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza and the West Bank.

Since 2011, Palestinian factions have agreed on the importance of PLO reform, and on the need for elections to the PNC. However practical steps to enfranchise all Palestinians through PNC elections have been stalled due to disagreements. Meanwhile Palestinians across the world continue the popular call for elections to the Palestine National Council, the supreme legislative body of the PLO, itself the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

A statement issued by the Right of Return Coalition emphasized that "the most critical issue is the re-activation and revitalization of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the need to hold direct elections to the Palestinian National Council where all eligible Palestinians, inside and outside the homeland, can vote."

All statements highlighted the importance of finding transparent mechanisms by which elections would be run, and the inclusion of all Palestinians without exception. Deep concern was expressed over the idea that the PLC, representing Palestinians in the occupied territories, would be split off from the PNC thus dividing the unity of Palestinian representation.

Concurrent with these statements, and under the banner "The PNC belong to the entire Palestinian people", three popular workshops in Gaza, Lebanon and Nablus were convened to demand the right of all Palestinians to choose their representatives.

In Nablus, Tayseer Nasrallah, director of Yafa Cultural Center in Balata, and a member of the PNC, highlighted the popular rejection of "any suggestions that some Palestinian communities will be excluded from participating in PNC elections: the principle we assert is that all our people are equally entitled to have their voice heard. Where political and logistical obstacles exist, it is out national duty to overcome them and find a mechanism to ensure the inclusion of all our people."

Emphasizing the centrality of their right of return, participants in the workshop in Beirut focused on the right of refugees to democratic participation, insisting "we wish to assert our right and desire to participate in national decision-making and the reunification of our people so that we might realize our dreams of return, liberation and national independence".

Participants also offered practical suggestions for how elections could be conducted and announced their preparedness to begin work on the issue, to start an awareness raising campaign, register voters through civic registration and train and prepare cadres for this purpose.

Meanwhile in Gaza, Khalil Abu Shamala, head of Al Dameer human rights center emphasized the importance of collective action to achieve inclusive PNC elections.

As discussions conclude in Cairo, Palestinian communities and active youth affirmed their intention to continue their demands for national unity: "We will continue our work until we have, once again, a popular and democratic liberation movement that includes all of our people," said Hafez Omar, a well-known artist and activist based in Ramallah.

He added: "the responsibility of reactivating the PLO and its institutions falls on the shoulders of all of our people wherever they are in the world. We have already come so far in placing PNC elections at the top of the national agenda, and the realization of these elections will once again depend on the collective efforts of our people in demanding them."
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