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Open Letter to Chairman of the PLO and President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas

Open Letter to Chairman of the PLO and President of the State of Palestine,
Mahmoud Abbas
Domestically, we are in a dire situation.
Sam Bahour
Sam Bahour
Jul 6 · 12 min read

Chairman of the PLO and President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas
It would be inaccurate to see them, wildly misguided as they may be, as
amateurs: Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and U.S. Ambassador
David Friedman, the real architect of the entire fiasco known in the media
as the “Deal of the Century.” These are powerful actors with a despicable
strategy who have access to massive state resources and, more importantly,
they have the world’s superpower wrapped around their pinky finger.
Reflecting on the entire Trump presidency as it relates to Palestine,
particularly the recent Peace to Prosperity Economic Workshop spectacle in
Bahrain, I find myself obliged to address the Palestinian political agency,
represented today by Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization,
Mahmoud Abbas. Hence this open letter.
Dear Chairman and President Abbas,
I write to you in my private capacity: as a Palestinian, a lifetime activist
for Palestine, born into the Palestinian diaspora; although born in America,
I relocated to Palestine after the Oslo Accords were announced and have been
active in economic development here for the past 25 years, as a Palestinian
resident of Al-Bireh living in my ancestral home. Here my wife and I raised
two daughters, both products of the Palestinian education system, one
recently graduated from MIT and another currently a sophomore at Harvard. I
was one of your appointees to the General Assembly of the Palestine
Investment Fund, before resigning last year after ten years of volunteer
service. More recently, together with a group of other professionals, I co-
founded NAZAHA, the Palestinian Academy for Integrity — because, although
NGOs are closing, we remain committed to building a future generation that
is free from the corruption that has dominated our past. I will be glad to
tell you more about my activities some other time, but this letter is not
about me, it’s about us, all of us.
During my volunteer efforts over the past several weeks to publicly address
the U.S.’s Peace to Prosperity Economic Workshop held in Bahrain in June,
many important issues emerged. The workshop was a circus and its clowns were
many. The only thing missing in Bahrain was the circus elephant called the
Israeli military occupation, because the U.S. insisted on keeping it in
Palestine, with its foot on the neck of Palestinians.
Among the many opinion pieces and reports I authored recently was an Open
Letter to Jared Kushner in response to his economic plan. The satirical tone
of my letter seemed the most fitting match for Kushner’s comical approach to
economic development under military occupation. After the grandstanding of
the economic workshop, I decided to write this open letter to you. This
time, my letter is not intended as satire. It is dead serious, for all our
Now that the workshop has ended in what anyone with a shred of savvy can
recognize as an embarrassing fiasco of international proportions, we are all
settling back into our daily routines. Appearances aside, however, we cannot
say it is back to business as usual. The Trump administration will not let
this latest high-profile failure deflect them from the path they have
followed for nearly two years now, designed to pulverize the Palestinian
struggle for freedom and independence.
You, sir, have spent the past 25 years, ever since the Oslo Peace Accords
were signed and your return to Palestine, not to mention all your efforts on
this track before Oslo, attempting to balance between liberation from
Israeli military occupation and mobilizing on the global stage for state
recognition. You found yourself drowning in the quagmire of bilateral
negotiations with a negotiating partner intent on not reaching a deal and
unable to fathom the idea of a Palestinian state emerging on the ground.
Instead of recalibrating our national liberation movement strategy early on
after Oslo’s five-year deadline expired, you instead tipped the balance of
your activities toward advancing the future state apparatus. This was in
defiance of reality given Israel used every day to create more facts on the
ground toward making its military occupation a permanent reality.
Now that the US — the non-neutral mediator that you bet on during the Oslo
process — has shown its true colors under the Trump administration, the
reality demands action, real action, not simply another principled position
with its accompanying rhetoric.
Moving forward, we need to recalibrate our domestic priorities, more towards
liberation and less toward state building in the areas physically under
military occupation. Internationally, I would continue the state recognition
strategy that you correctly and strategically undertook as Oslo collapsed.
These efforts should be redoubled and more seriously attended to, by all
relevant Palestinian agencies. Accepting mediocre performance on the
international stage will drag us backwards as we are under attack,
politically and economically.
Domestically, we are in a dire situation.
Chairman Abbas, you continue to hold the four top positions of our
struggle’s institutions — Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) since 11 November 2004 (15 years), President of the Palestinian
National Authority since 9 January 2005 (14 years), President of the State
of Palestine since 8 May 2005 (14 years), and lastly Chairman of the largest
PLO faction, Fatah, since 2009 (10 years).
A single individual holding all these positions leaves no one else to
ultimately be held accountable for progress, or lack of it.
I’m not a politician or a diplomat, but I know my struggle well and I do my
national homework diligently. Thus, I would like to suggest the following
concrete steps you can take, in proposed order of importance, to proactively
seize the opportunities offered by this ill-conceived U.S.-led attempt to
make structural adjustments to our struggle, our rights, our discourse, and
our future.
First and foremost, I urge you to immediately appoint a deputy in each of
your positions and ensure that the organizational policies needed are in
place to make sure that, God forbid you are incapacitated or die, the
deputies (I use the plural purposely, since all these positions should be
held by separate persons) are automatically installed until elections can be
held for each position.
One may speculate why you have refused to take this action to date,
including not wanting to expose a deputy to internal pressures (or for them
not to be “politically burnt”). Your reasoning may have been noble in your
personal calculations given the complicated internal reality we live in, but
this can no longer be a valid rationale, if it ever was. Too much is at
stake, especially since the U.S. plan is now in full implementation mode.
Why would you refuse to do this, especially now, knowing very well that your
brave and principled stand against Israeli intransigence, the Trump
administration, and their Bahrain workshop, might have personal consequences
for your own well-being?
None of us has forgotten the murder of the late Yasser Arafat and how it
passed almost unnoticed. Nothing stops them from repeating this crime today,
but we are unprepared for the fallout, given that our political system is
currently defunct.
Go to Gaza tomorrow morning. Start direct conversations with all the
political leadership there and visit our people in Gaza who rightfully feel
abandoned. Return every week, if needed, until a formula can be found to
bring our political system into operation, with or without a historical
reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Do not wait for this step to be
completed to continue this list of actions.
In an urgent electoral context, immediately pass a PLO decision and issue a
presidential decree to enact and activate a new and progressive Political
Party Law to allow new political groupings to come together and legitimately
enter the Palestinian political stage. We are deluding ourselves when we
continue to speak of the traditional political parties as if they are all
alive and well, or as if they even exist in any politically meaningful way
today. If political thought is not permitted to legitimately reconfigure
itself and become part of Palestinians’ political tapestry, one can only
expect the excluded to tear the tapestry apart.
These renewed and emergent political parties could play a pivotal, albeit
less-than-ideal, alternative to holding free and open elections. More on
this below.
Immediately pass a PLO decision and issue a presidential decree to broaden
the mandate of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) to allow them to begin
the long and tedious process of registering Palestinians worldwide.
It is unacceptable that there has been no serious effort to create an
official Population Registry of all Palestinians, and not only those under
military occupation. This is needed now, to prepare for elections, which
should be happening at all levels and continuously from now onward.
While this longer-term project is activated, the next step of holding
elections should not wait for the CEC to complete this new mandate.
Elections must be immediately held, at all national levels. The current
electoral system may not be comprehensive, but this is where we must allow
for what the legal profession calls “legitimate exceptions.” Using the
existing electoral apparatus, however partial and flawed, we should not
allow 2019 to pass without renewing all levels of leadership.
You must first make clear that you are not intending to run for any national
office — PLO, State of Palestine, or the Palestinian National Authority (if
it still exists). As for continuing as chairman of Fatah, that is your
party’s decision, not ours.
The dire need to hold elections is not a new suggestion. Many have made this
request to you, including Atty. Haytham Zu’bi in the Al-Quds Newspaper on 20
July 2013 in an article titled, “Calm Constitutional Advice to the
President” (Arabic).
We all agree that there are many complications in holding proper elections,
the internal divisions, Israeli military occupation, geographic
fragmentation, regional shifts, and so on, but none of these are acceptable
reasons for a national liberation movement to become, and remain, internally
For nearly three decades before Oslo, the PLO’s governance system was
underground: not ideal, but functional. We must make use of these past
experiences and modalities to move forward in today’s stalemated domestic
reality. Who says we must hold U.S. style open elections? We are not the
U.S.; we are a people in struggle and under a fierce attack from multiple
fronts. Waiting for the ideal election environment is not working. We must
use what works for us now.
Those new PLO political parties that are going to be created and the old
ones that are renewed can have weight and legitimacy — especially in
Jerusalem and Gaza where open and free elections may be impractical, albeit
for very different reasons. Alternatively, registered civil society
organizations may also play a role here in terms of community
representation, if need be. The point is that there are modalities that can
play a crucial role in making sure we are all represented as fully as can be
given our difficult conditions, assuming proper elections will not be
feasible everywhere.
The supreme legislative body of the PLO, the Palestinian National Council
(PNC), must be reconvened with a reversion to a more inclusive membership —
because the most recent prior gathering on 30 April 2018 in Ramallah, after
an interlude of 22 years, was merely political acrobatics.
The newly elected PNC leadership, once again as inclusive as possible, must
then call for presidential elections. These elections should be open to all
Palestinians, regardless of where they reside.
You have dismantled the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), but you did
it without proper deliberations. This issue, like the PLO-mandated
Palestinian National Authority (PNA), both products of the ill-fated Oslo
Peace Accords, should be the first order of business placed on the new PNC
agenda. The PNC should decide where these two entities fit into the bigger
picture of Palestinian governance and take any necessary measures
Assuming it remains operational, the newly elected PNC must decide on a
revised mandate for the Palestinian National Authority government toward a
liberation strategy. This must replace the dynamic of being driven by
politically motivated donor funds to play the state building game, donors
many of whom do not even recognize the State of Palestine.
Indeed, a good starting point would be to reject assistance from any country
that does not recognize Palestine. If we are serious about statehood, and we
are, then it must have operational meaning.
Many additional and immediate actions could be taken in this context, such
as reducing the number of ministries for a more strategic approach, creating
and upgrading professional civil servant-run entities not linked to partisan
politics, first steps in building the much-needed professional capacity over
A new Palestinian agency should be created to lead our solidarity movement.
This will not happen overnight, but it must seriously start before
proceeding to the next step regarding the U.S. arena. That this global asset
has been ignored for so long is embarrassing. If you check your presidential
archives, you will find a letter I sent you on 13 January 2005, a few days
after you were elected on 9 January 2005 to serve as President of the
Palestinian National Authority. The subject line said: International
Palestine Solidarity Movement. I requested a meeting, along with my Israeli
colleague Jeff Halper, who at the time was the Coordinator of the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions. We wanted to discuss strategy for our
solidarity movement based on an article Prof. Halper had published in the
Journal of Palestine Studies titled, Paralysis over Palestine: Questions of
I never heard back from your office and here we are today, still in need of
such a movement based on strategic thinking.
It is past time that we take the U.S. seriously. As Israel’s strategic ally,
the United States is far too central to our ongoing misery for our political
agency to remain in wishful thinking mode — hoping that one U.S.
administration or another will finally come to its senses and align with
what is politically, morally and historically correct. That is not how the
U.S. operates.
Many, including myself, have repeatedly made the case that the U.S. is not
Washington, D.C. or the White House. America is 50 states with unique
dynamics in every state. If we are serious about impacting America’s
politics we must invest in the American political reality, which includes a
structured approach to our friends in the U.S., with appropriate and
thoughtful attention to our Diaspora, churches and mosques, minority
communities, the women’s movement, progressives, Jewish millennials, and so
many others.
In parallel, we must engage Congress directly. U.S. congressional
representatives and senators are subject to the same pressures of Israeli
military occupation that we are. The majority of them are blind to our
history and to the damage that their policies are causing. We must educate
them and maintain a presence in their political affairs.
Given that the Arab world’s major stakeholders have assented to engaging in
the ratcheted-up U.S. regional strategy, we may have no alternative but to
use their U.S. linkages to seek their assistance to open a communication
channel with the U.S. administration, if this is not already happening. Here
we can take a page out of Iran’s playbook and strategically figure out how
to align our interests with third state interests, as Iran has done with
Russia, the EU and China. Many will see this as taking a step back from your
principled stance against the economic workshop, but that should not deter
you. This is the cold hard game of raw interests that drive states, with
which you are much more familiar than I am.
All indications are that the U.S. political system may well not be strong
enough to spit out a despotical President Trump. On the contrary: however
unbelievable it may seem, he may be heading to a second term. After all the
destruction he has wrought, inside America and abroad, he clings to approval
ratings in the 40-something-percent range. Voter suppression, electoral
manipulation, social media warfare makes the outcome in 2020 very uncertain.
Meanwhile, Trump’s arrogant racism is cheered on by supporters across
America. This bolsters the case made by observers in the past — mainly to
you, and previously, to President Arafat — that the U.S. is not the party to
bet on, even if one must engage it.
Chairman Abbas,
There is little new in what I propose above, except that the timing for them
to be acted upon is now.
I chose to issue this as an open letter, knowing very well that sent
privately or publicly, the Israeli intelligence, which has infiltrated all
aspects of our lives, will be fully aware of its contents either way. We
have nothing to hide or fear. We are acting non-violently to achieve our
freedom and independence.
If you are unable to act on such a stated program of real actions, then
maybe now is the time to pass the baton to others while you will be present
to provide any guidance that you can as we all deal with the fallout of the
internal flaws of the past.
I trust you will read this open letter in the constructive and responsible
manner it was intended. No one claims to have all the answers, but politics
cannot wait for the perfect answers. Timing is key now to act, and we must
act to the best of our abilities.
In struggle,
The Arabic translation of this article was published at Al-Quds Newspaper
(Palestine) and Al-Hadath Newspaper (Palestine).
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-
Bireh in the West Bank. He serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the
Palestinian Policy Network and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral Histories of
Palestine and Palestinians” (1994). He blogs at @SamBahour
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