PLO (rump version) accepts U.S. invitation to direct talks

It was announced on Saturday that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee met in Ramallah hours earlier and announced their agreement that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can accept a U.S. invitation, issued on Friday, to engage in direct talks with Israel starting with meetings in Washington on 1 and 2 September (dinner the first night, talks the next day).

That move overrides any objections voiced by Palestinian “factions” — meaning mostly the small-constituency further-“left” groups, which are also mainly based in Ramallah.

The current PLO Executive Committee was formed after a rare Fatah General Conference held in Bethlehem in early August 2009, which confirmed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the leader of the largest Palestinian movement (giving him the reins of leadership of two of the three institutions of Palestinian legitimacy).

Abbas then oversaw a PLO “National Conference” (the PNC) that met in the Muqata’a, the Palestinian presidential headquarters and stronghold in Ramallah, in late August 2009.

Though the PNC should normally now have between 500 and 600 members, a quorum was “seen” when something like 200 PNC members arrived in the Muqata’a for that session a year ago. During the session, Abbas was confirmed as the head of the PLO (formally handing him the reins of the third source of Palestinian political power and legitimacy — so now Abbas is in total control of all leadership positions, as the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat used to be…)

That PNC meeting authorized the composition of a new PLO Executive Committee, with most of the members based in Ramallah — they can now be convened on short notice, without the inconvenience of having to wait for any Palestinian leaders who might have difficulties or delays in travelling from abroad.

(Therefore, it is referred to it, in the headline of this post, as the “rump version” of the PLO Executive Committee.)

The PLO Executive Committee position said its decision to authorize engagement in the new direct talks was based on the statement of the Quartet (composed of the U.S., Europe, Russia, and the United Nations), issued in support of the U.S. invitation issued from Washington on Friday, which said (among other things) that “The Quartet expresses its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations, which can be completed within one year, and the implementation of an agreement”.

That is an explicit commitment to continue funding upon which the Palestinian Authority is nearly totally dependent, from now though the conclusion and implementation of a hypothetical, but hoped-for, Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The payment of September salaries for Palestinian Authority employees (ministerial officials and security forces included) was recently put into question, with a reported $300 million-dollar budgetary shortfall, and the payment of anything beyond September is completely up in the air — until donor funding fills up the current financial hole.

According to a report published by the privately-owned and donor-funded Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency, the PLO Executive Committee specified that it had given its approval “to resume negotiations aimed at solving all final status solutions” within a one-year time-frame.

The Quartet statement [see our earlier post, here] called for a negotiated settlement that “ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state”.

Ma’an also reported that the PLO Executive Committee also saw support, in the Quartet statement for “calling both sides to abide by international law and in particular, stick to the Road Map, calling on Israel to stop all settlement activity”, and that “the PLO statement also cited ‘the Quartet’s confirmation that international community will not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem’, when it accepted the US invitation”. This Ma’an report is posted here.

The Palestinian President Abbas said in a interview recently published in the Arabic-language media that he had been put under “inhuman pressure” to move to direct talks.

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