This roundtable discussion at Al-Shabaka, published today, prefigures some of the conversations that will be taking place at the conference this weekend. This is strongly recommended reading for conference attendees!
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“Many Palestinians seek more effective and democratic representation, and to this end advocate reform of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). However, Osamah Khalil warned last month, in “Who are You?”: The PLO and the Limits of Representation, that attempts at reform would end up saving a leadership that had lost its legitimacy and argued that a new representative body is needed to achieve Palestinian rights.
In this Al-Shabaka roundtable, policy advisors and members debate this perspective. Rana Barakat suggests that Palestinians are asking the wrong questions: The discussion should not be over whether to salvage or abandon the PLO, but how to imagine and execute liberation in political, social, cultural, and economic terms, a framing that puts the value of the PLO in context. Mouin Rabbani notes that the PLO was at its most representative when it was least democratic in conventional terms; he questions whether elections make sense in the Palestinian context, and calls for consensus on the national project as the first priority.
Dina Omar evokes Ghassan Kanafi’s writing on “blind language” and its obstruction of strategic analysis and, after reviewing recent attempts to revive the PLO, concludes that it may be better to start from scratch. Fajr Harb argues strongly for reforming the PLO beginning with an overhaul of the Charter to represent Palestinians everywhere; otherwise, he warns, Palestinians risk acquiring yet another semi-functional body and becoming more divided than ever. Hani Al-Masri contends that calling for an end to the PLO without a clear alternative in sight could result in a much worse situation of fragmentation into disparate local, tribal, or sectarian groups and the complete dissolution of the Palestinian cause.
As’ad Ghanem points to the common causes at the heart of the Palestinian and Arab conditions and calls for rebuilding the Palestinian national entity after the PLO has “expired” based on seven fundamental principles. Yassmine Hamayel believes Palestinians need to dig into the early part of PLO history and the First Intifada to rediscover ways of working together to build a national identity and resistance, a time when being Palestinian was more than belonging to a political party. Aziza Khalidi calls for accelerating the transformation of an existing Palestinian global cultural space into a more cohesive “global cultural community” that would provide opportunities to create a more effective governance structure.”