Palestinians in exile and an elected Palestine National Council

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By Oraib Al Rantawi.

 

A decision has been made to exclude Palestinian refugees in Jordan from the ballot boxes for the forthcoming elections to the Palestine National Council (PNC). As far as we know, this is a matter upon which there is general agreement; at the very least, it is accepted by all the major Palestinian parties, be they national or Islamic. Yet, the only reason that is cited in support of this is “the sensitivity of the Jordanian arena and the entangled questions it gives rise to, especially when it comes to determining who is a Jordanian and who is a Palestinian.” 

Additionally, talk is circulating- although no final decision has been made as of yet- about excluding numerous other countries and regions from the electoral space, so that they could be represented through “consensus”, which is the nicer way of referring to “factional quotas and share distribution.” Amongst these countries there is Syria, where almost 600000 Palestinians face disenfranchisement under the pretext that the security situation doesn’t allow for PNC elections, even though it did not prevent Syrian legislative elections from taking place!  Then there is Lebanon, where only 250000 Palestinians remain as a result of the organised policy of forced and induced migration that has been carried out against them in that country since 1982. Here, we may well exit the realm of voting and adopt instead the formula of appointment on the premise that the political and security situation is sensitive.

As for the Gulf states in which more than half a million Palestinians live, elections may not take place due to potential “embarrassment” which could arise due to the fact that most of the local peoples in that region do not exercise their electoral rights. Finally, there is a list of other countries which may be left for “subtraction or addition” at the last week before the elections, and this will be left for the relevant institutions to determine in light of their assessments. Thus, we are seriously confronted with the prospect of a formidable Council whose elected members only represent 1967 Occupied Palestine and a small percentage of exiled Palestinians abroad.

If things unfold in this manner- which is most probable by the way- then Palestinians will enter into a long autumn that will last for many years to come; a perpetual stark period commencing at a time when they are still suffering from the chill of division and disunity, their doors and windows still closed to the winds of change and the Arab spring.

All the justifications that are provided so as to sabotage the forthcoming elections in several countries (especially in the main regions of exile) can hardly be convincing for anyone. All what they reflect is the desire of the established parties to preserve the system of factional power-sharing and quotas, intentionally avoiding comprehensive direct elections. The latter provide the only path for renewing the youth of the Palestinian national movement, pumping new blood into its veins, and bidding farewell to the era of “crisis-ridden factional hegemony” in the patriotic arena.   

In Jordan, there are “Jordanians of Palestinian origin” that have full citizenship regardless of all the reservations that could be made with regards to their “rights, representation, and participation”. These are not part of the “electorate” for the PNC, for they elect their own representatives in the Jordanian parliament as Jordanian citizens, differing from other Jordanians only in their possession of the right of return to Palestine. However, there are more than a million Palestinians living in Jordan who are not Jordanian. They do not possess National Numbers and do not enjoy citizenship or political rights. From an official and popular Jordanian political and legal standpoint, they are Palestinians, and are without a doubt part of the PNC electorate. It does not harm Jordan if they were to exercise their right to choose their representatives to the PNC. In fact, this would serve Jordanian higher interests more than anything else, so why can’t the PLO and the Jordanian government arrive at an agreement enabling them to exercise their electoral rights? This would be a concrete step towards enshrining their right of return to the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza (for all of these Palestinians originally come from these territories that were occupied in 1967).

In Syria, most Palestinian national and Islamic forces adopted a policy of “self-isolation” in relation to the Syrian crisis and the camps largely stood outside the arena of the bloody struggle taking place in that country. This has created the pre-conditions for allowing elections to take place, so long as the Syrian authorities are contacted for the purpose of facilitating this process. In my opinion, the authorities would accept this as part of their effort to promote the discourse of “reform” and “resistance” that they are trying to market internationally and locally. Syria would thus claim that it is still insisting on its position of supporting the PLO (it has already recognised the State of Palestine) and that it stands in support of “the Palestinian democratic option”. Furthermore, there are regional and international parties that could help convince the Syrians of providing all the facilitation required for achieving this step. What matters is that an attempt takes place, a genuine and serious attempt.

This brings us to Lebanon, where there are no political obstacles whatsoever standing in the way of elections. This is a matter that could be easily arranged in the context of the Palestinian consensus. Elections could take place in coordination with the official authorities and in consultation with those active on the ground in the various Palestinian population centres. There are potential security issues, but the Palestinian consensus on the holding of elections would suffice to address them.

In the Gulf countries, Palestinian embassies, consulates, and the diplomatic delegations of friendly states could provide logistical support for an electoral process with the least possible amount of advertising. This should ensure that the stagnant atmosphere prevailing is not “disturbed” in some countries. As for the more open countries of the region, there could be publicised elections and even active campaigns. Crucially though, the Palestinian leadership must approach this matter seriously, making the necessary approaches as early as possible. For, the process of surveying, registering, and reaching out to the broad masses that are to be found in these places of exile requires a considerable amount of time.

According to the reconciliation calendar, elections must take place within six months. Such a short period is surely not enough for surveying Palestinians in exile, preparing electoral registers, and reaching out to the greatest number possible of eligible voters. This should be clear to everyone, unless there are some who want to hold elections that are restricted to the society of elites, party supporters, and community activists. In the best of circumstances, the percentage of these people is no more than 5% in exile circles. These are not the exiled Palestinian people in its entirety. They are part of the “factional process” with all its calculations, achievements, failures, diseases, quotas, and share distribution mechanisms. What is desperately needed is the departure from this narrow circle and the widening of the “compass angle” so that it could cover a broader expanse of exiles and refugees. We must move now and not in the last 15 minutes so that we do not end up with such sayings as “we do not have time, let us appoint, and let us hold elections that include only those that have managed to show up!”

In Europe, the Americas, and some Arab countries, a civic movement has emerged under the title “Register! I am Palestinian”. The aim of this movement is to register the Palestinians in their various places of exile and dispersion in preparation for the upcoming elections. This initiative must be buttressed, supported, and encouraged by all those who care about the holding of elections and the renewal of the Palestinian national movement. The initial response to this initiative amongst the Palestinian refugee community has been wonderful and encouraging.  This response should inspire us to exit the state of slumber and death we live in. The current condition should not be permitted to persist, and Palestinians deserve to have their own spring, a spring that begins with them seizing their right to elect their leaders and representatives inside the occupied homeland and across the five continents of the shatat.

 

This article was first published by the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies.

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