The case for PLO’s representative status

Dr. Baha Abu Laban,
Mr. Dennis Badin, and
Dr. Ismail Zayid
Members of the Ad-Hoc Committee – PCC’s Policy on PLO

Subject:            Submission to the Ad-Hoc Committee
                          PCC’s Policy on PLO

My name is Monzer Zimmo, a Palestinian-Canadian living in Ottawa, Ontario.  I work at the federal public service; Department of Canadian Heritage, and have lived in Ottawa for more than thirty years.  I am writing to you within the context of the opportunity offered by the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Canadian Congress (PCC) to members of the Palestinian Canadian community to make submissions and offer opinions on the subject of developing a PCC policy on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

I believe that the PLO (i.e. the institution – not necessarily its current leadership or any other leadership that might come and go at any point in time) should be explicitly and unconditionally recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.  I also believe that the PLO is badly in need of reform to become more representative, more democratic, and more accountable to the Palestinian people.  Therefore, it is my recommendation – for your kind consideration – that a statement of PCC’s policy on the matter at hand must include both of those two elements without making either of them conditional on the other.  Therefore, a policy statement could be presented in a paragraph of two separate sentences; the first acknowledges the unconditional representative status of the institution of the PLO, and the second stresses the need for reform.  An example of such policy statement would read as follows:
{PCC acknowledges that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.  PCC further acknowledges the need for reforming the PLO to become more representative, more democratic, and more accountable to the Palestinian people}.

Since I believe that there is virtual unanimity among the Palestinian people – including Palestinian Canadians – on the badly needed reforms of the PLO, I will restrict my arguments, in this submission, to the PCC’s acknowledgement of the representative status of the PLO.

1.  Arab and International legitimacy:
In the absence of land under Palestinian sovereignty, the PLO has been – since its inception – the address of the Palestinian people; it has served as the entity that all Arab Countries, all Islamic nations; and indeed virtually all countries on the planet Earth have accepted as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people that can speak to all matters of collective interest to the Palestinian people.  To deny that reality, especially without offering a practicable alternative, is to accept that the Palestinian people do not exist as a cohesive national group and therefore deny the claim of any collective interest (e.g. national aspirations) of the Palestinian people.  If the PLO is deemed to not represent the Palestinian people, there would be no other party, institution, or entity that would be able to earn unanimous international recognition as a representative of the Palestinian people.  Instead, there would emerge countless other entities that would be totally consumed in fighting one another for political positioning that would render representing the Palestinian people by one entity non-existent for decades or more.

2.  Democratic (or lack thereof) considerations:
All informed people know that PLO draws its legitimacy from its structure that includes most Palestinian political parties as well as some independent Palestinian personalities; and not from a fully democratic election process.  Endorsements of the Arab League, through full membership, and of the United Nations, through observer status, strengthen and enhance the legitimacy of the representative status of the PLO.  That is not being argued as an alternative to fully democratic elections; it is only the best alternative available in view of the impossibility of conducting fair and democratic elections everywhere Palestinians live.  Calling for the reform of the PLO – to become more representative, more democratic, and more accountable – is a constructive step that our community should adopt, while denying acknowledgment of the PLO’s representative status amounts to practically denying the existence of the Palestinian people as a cohesive national group.
It would be an impossible task to conduct Palestinian elections everywhere Palestinians live, all at the same time.  The logistics of such task would be a living nightmare.  Just recently, the Palestinian Election Commission could not conduct Palestinian Authority’s elections in Gaza and the West Bank, for obvious reasons.  Just imagine the ability of Palestinian institutions to conduct fair and democratic elections that would practically cover the entire planet Earth, including many countries that are not democratic.

3.  The ironic situation in which PCC finds itself:
I respectfully argue that the representative status of PCC and the PLO have some similarities that are worthy of highlighting.  The very institution that – through this consultative process – is considering to evaluate the PLO’s representative status of the Palestinian people is itself facing similar difficulties in claiming legitimacy for representing the totality of the Palestinian Canadian community.  This ironic situation is not unique; it is indicative of the reality that the Palestinian people experience every day.  It is also a significant phenomenon that must be considered if one is to comprehend the environment within which Palestinian political activists find themselves having to deal with throughout their struggle for justice to their people.
As I acknowledge the fact that the political parties within the PLO do not represent the totality of the Palestinian people, I respectfully submit that the PCC is facing a similar difficulty.  Our community’s national representative (the PCC) does not include all communities from across Canada; in fact it only represents a minority of the totality of Palestinian Canadians.  Does that mean we dismiss the PCC and deny it legitimacy?  I would argue that would be the wrong choice, and the better one would be to sustain it, improve its structure, and work hard to bring to its fold many more community associations as we allow it to take on its responsibilities.  The PLO, on the other hand, includes most Palestinian political parties, and enjoys international recognition.  If PCC can claim representative status of the Palestinian Canadian community, the PLO would be in a better position to claim representative status of the Palestinian people.  The major difference is that denying PCC representative status of the Palestinian Canadian community would have insignificant consequences compared to those that would result from denying the PLO representative status of the Palestinian people; for such denial would have far more damaging consequences to the Palestinian cause.

4.  If not the PLO, then who? and at what cost?
If the Palestinian Canadian community starts the ball of denying the PLO its representative status, the door could be wide open for countless others to claim that status for themselves.  Many political movements, from Islamic to nationalist and everything else in between, would rush to take advantage, fill the void, and illegitimately claim representation, thereby fragmenting the Palestinian voice (and address) in such a way that there would never be one representative for a very long time, if ever.  If such a scenario were to unfold, it would be sufficient to realizing the fantasy of Zionists to have to do nothing more than rightfully complaining that there is no one united Palestinian party to whom they can talk.  Indeed, that would threaten to end the legitimacy of Palestinian collective national existence, and the Palestinian people would be reduced to a fragmented collection of unconnected groups that could spell the end of the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.  However imperfect – indeed however flawed – the PLO might be, and however corrupt and however incompetent its current leadership might be, the PLO – as an institution – must be maintained as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people with continued, persistent, and tireless efforts to reform it.  Otherwise, our community would be contributing to increasing the risk of bringing the Palestinian national cause itself to an end.

5.  Not linking acknowledgement of representative status to implementing reforms:
PCC must not make its acknowledgement of the PLO’s representative status conditional on implementing the badly needed reforms.  Such linkage would amount to rejecting the PLO – and any other institution, for that matter – to be the representative body that can legitimately speak to the collective interests of the Palestinian people.  Such position would confirm the Zionists’ claim that there is no partner to whom the state of Israel could talk.  Waiting until the PLO becomes “perfect” before acknowledging its representative status would be akin to not recognizing the legitimacy of the Canadian parliament until it meets the test of being “perfect”, which we all know is not attainable.  The wise thing would be to do what we can with what we have, while continuing to work on improving that which we have.

6.  Misdeeds by the PLO’s leadership:
Misdeeds by the PLO’s leadership can indeed happen.  In fact they did happen on more than one occasion.  However, a vigilant Palestinian people can always detect the severity of such misdeeds and, when necessary, cause the leadership to correct its course of action.  An example of such correction happened ten months ago, when the PLO’s current leadership – after being subjected to diplomatic pressures by the American administration – accepted to postpone the voting in the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) on adopting the Goldstone Report that found, among other things, that the Israeli military had committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during its December 2008-January 2009 assault on Gaza.  The Palestinian people – through the various political parties, civil society organizations, and ordinary folks – rejected that erroneous decision by the PLO’s leadership, and demanded immediate reversal thereof.  I was among the many Palestinians who wrote to President Mahmoud Abbas demanding that he steps down, for he had lost the confidence of the Palestinian people by agreeing to postpone the vote on the Goldstone Report at the UNHRC.
Within a few days after the decision to postpone the vote was made, the Palestinian popular reaction was so powerful that the PLO’s leadership reversed its original decision and intensified its efforts to bring back the Goldstone Report to be voted on at the UNHRC in a special session.  Not only that, but the PLO’s leadership worked hard – as it should – with all UNHRC member-states to hold the special session and pass the motion adopting the Goldstone Report.  That example illustrates that the PLO’s leadership must always be sensitive to the feelings of the Palestinian people, or risk its own legitimacy; without harming the legitimacy of the institution of the PLO.  When the stakes were high, and when the misdeeds were serious, the Palestinian people – through its various political parties, civil society organizations, and ordinary individuals – demonstrated great wisdom and penetrating foresight by challenging the legitimacy of the PLO’s leadership without the slightest hint about questioning the legitimacy of the institution of the PLO.

Closing Remarks:
In your collaborations, I urge you to carefully consider the all-too-important legal, political, and historic distinction between the institution of the PLO and the current, past, or future leadership of that institution.  The Palestinian people can do without and can easily replace any specific PLO’s leadership, but it cannot afford to lose the institution of the PLO that represents it internationally, especially in these uncertain times.  Such loss could indeed have incalculable consequences for the Palestinian people.

In closing, I wish you well in this consultative process, and I trust that you fully appreciate the historic value of your contribution to the Palestinian cause in general, and to the Palestinian Canadian community in particular.


Monzer Zimmo
Ottawa, Canada

Hope is the stuff from which life is made!

About Alcanaanite

Monzer Zimmo, a Palestinian-Canadian living and working in Ottawa, Canada. Monzer is an advocate of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the peaceful creation of a bi-national-democratic state on all the territory of historic Palestine, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others live together as equal citizens; be and feel safe, secure, and at home.
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