Middle East

Who is the actual representative of the Palestinians?

During the past week, regional and international mediators have been carrying out shuttle diplomacy with the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, in order to keep the situation in the occupied holy city of Jerusalem quiet during the Israeli Flag March –an annual event organised by extremist Jews to celebrate the occupation of East Jerusalem.

Qatari, Egyptian and UN mediators met repeatedly and spoke with Hamas leaders in Doha and the Gaza Strip in order to persuade Hamas not to respond to the violations of the Israeli Jewish settlers during their march.

Prior to, and during the march, Hamas, along with the Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza, have warned that they would respond harshly to any of the Jewish violations against the Islamic holy sites in the Old City, including Al Aqsa Mosque and its sanctuaries.

Last year, Hamas launched rockets at Jerusalem in response to the settler violence and the persistence of the Israeli Occupation authorities to evacuate Palestinian homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah, triggering a ten-day battle during which Israel and the Palestinian resistance exchanged rocket strikes.

In order to avoid a new battle this year, Israel asked the mediators to put as much pressure as possible on Hamas. In fact, they did, but Hamas insisted on maintaining the right to respond to the Israeli violations. It did not respond during the march for unknown reasons, but, according to media aide of top Hamas leader, Hamas and the Palestinian resistance turned down requests made by regional and international mediators to turn the page of the violations which happened during the Jewish march. Hamas said it would maintain the right to respond at the proper time and place.

READ: Who were the winners and losers of Israel’s Flag March?

My question here is: why does the Israeli occupation authorities seek the consent of Hamas and the other Palestinian resistance groups under its wings? Why are the mediators not asked to sit with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which is internationally recognised as the sole representative of the Palestinians?

To answer these questions, I want to have a look at the history of the PLO, which founded the PA, and see how the PLO became the sole representative of the Palestinians.

In 1964, the PLO was founded by the Arab League to liberate Palestine, achieve Palestinian self-determination and secure the return of Palestine refugees. It was encouraged to use armed struggle to achieve its goals. During its first meeting, 422 Palestinian figures met and elected a leader, set up a legislative body, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the PLO Executive Committee, a National Fund and the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA).  They also drafted a National Covenant and Basic Law.

Palestinians wave flags during a big rally called by Palestinian Authority’s Fatah party to protest against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Jericho on June 22, 2020 [ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images]

In 1969, Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Secular Fatah Movement (Fatah), became the leader of the PLO, which included most of the Palestinian factions. On 14 October 1974, the UN General Assembly recognised the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”. Just two weeks later, it was recognised by the Arab League as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, but it was admitted to full membership in the Arab League in 1976.

In December 1988, it recognised Israel’s existence with its 1967 borders, and renounced armed resistance. Following direct peace talks which lasted for several years, Israel, after signing Oslo Peace accords with the PLO in 1993, recognised it as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO established the PA to govern the institutions of what, in 2012, the UN recognised as the State of Palestine.

Since it was established, the PA, which is headed by the PLO leaders, is almost controlling the PLO and its institutions. On 11 November 2004, Yasser Arafat died and was succeeded by Mahmoud Abbas. Israel, according to Oslo, agreed to negotiate a permanent settlement for the conflict, but Israel’s unilateral actions and the absence of any serious peace talks undermined the Peace Accords.

Over time, the PA became dominant over the PLO, and was turned into a functional body to serve only Israel’s security, even at the expense of the Palestinians. In 2006, through a transparent election, Hamas, which was born in 1987 at the beginning of the First Intifada and continued fighting Israel, won a resounding victory.

READ: PA, Israel maintain security cooperation even in prisons

Israel, Arabs, the US, the EU, the UN and the PA did not recognise the results of the elections and fought Hamas, which pushed the PA out of the Gaza Strip, but its MPs, leaders and active members were sent to Israeli or PA prisons. Since then, the PA started failing in the eyes of the Palestinians, while Hamas started to rise up.

While the PA has been registering defeat after defeat against the Israeli Occupation during rounds of peace talks, Hamas has been registering victory after victory during the armed battles with the Israeli Occupation.

Despite being based in the besieged Gaza Strip, Hamas could manufacture its own arms from primary materials and was able, according to a recent documentary broadcast by Al Jazeera News Network, to produce rockets able to reach every corner across historic Palestine. Thus, it became a deterrent power against Israel.

In May 2021, during the Israeli offensive on Gaza, Hamas could paralyse Israeli airports and prompted Israelis across the country to hide in shelters. Hamas said that its power was developed much more than before last year’s offensive.

While Hamas has been building up its power and reinforcing its deterrence against the Israeli occupation, the PA is still shouting at the Israeli Occupation to stop its aggression on the Palestinians and at the international community to put pressure on Israel to stop its violations.

While the PA is losing its popularity among the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, in Israel and abroad, Hamas is generating more popularity among them. To the point that Israel does not consider the PA, but seeks the consent of Hamas, which has become the actual representative of the Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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