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Palestinians to hold first national congress in 20 years next month

The body, which is supposed to represents all Palestinians at home and abroad, has not met since 1996
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (C) and members of the executive committee of the PLO pray before a meeting in Ramallah on 22, August (AFP)

Palestinian leaders have set September 15-16 as the dates for their first congress in nearly 20 years after president Mahmoud Abbas announced his resignation as head of a top executive body.

The meeting of the Palestine National Council (PNC), a congress representing those in the Palestinian territories and the diaspora, is to be held in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"It has been decided to ask the Palestine National Council to convene for a session on the upcoming 15th and 16th September in Ramallah," senior Palestinian official Azzam al-Ahmad told AFP.

"The council’s agenda includes electing a new executive committee for the (Palestine Liberation Organisation)."

Salim al-Zanoun, the chairman of the PNC, announced in a press statement that the meeting agreed to contact a total of 740 PNC members in order to make sure all members, or at least 450 members, who constitute the quorum, attend the session. 

Zanoun added that if Israel bars PNC members living in Gaza or in exile from attending the session, something which is viewed as force majeure in accordance with article 14 of the PNC statute, a mini-meeting would be held in order to elect new PLO executive committee members.

Ahmad said the session would also discuss the stalemate in peace talks with Israel, among other issues.

Abbas' allies say his recent moves are part of efforts to inject new blood in the Palestinian leadership.

Critics, however, argue that Abbas is manoeuvring to empower his allies and marginalise opponents ahead of the 80-year-old's eventual retirement.

Oraib Rantawi, a writer for the Jordanian daily Addustour, believes that the meeting is a "coup of the closed rooms against one another".

"We are facing a coup by the legitimacy against the legitimacy," he wrote, referring to the exploitation of legal structures by expired leaders. "We are facing an attempt to use 'legitimate' structures that I will say have grown old instead of saying having lost their legitimacy; in order to gain false legitimacy."

"The entire Palestinian nation knows that these structures have no meaning or value unless they stem from the free and independent will of the Palestinian people, who are the source of all authorities, legitimacies and powers," he added.

Abbas's Fatah party, which rules the West Bank, and Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, remain deeply divided.

Separate, indirect contacts are said to have occurred recently between Israel and Hamas on a long-term truce which would seriously endanger Abbas’ claims to represent the divided Palestinian population.

Abbas resigned last week as head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee in a bid to force new elections for the top body.

His resignation along with a number of others from the 18-member committee will only take effect after the PNC meets.

Hamas belongs to neither the PLO nor the 740-member PNC, the top legislative body of the Palestinian people which has not met since 1996.

Some observers see chief Palestinian negotiator and Abbas ally Saeb Erekat as a potential successor to the veteran leader.

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