Palestine National Council
PALESTINE NATIONAL COUNCIL
constituent assembly or parliament for the palestinian people.
The Palestine National Council (PNC) is the highest decision-making body within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the supreme representative institution of the Palestinian people. The PNC is the forum where official policies of the PLO are debated and formulated. Its resolutions and declarations represent the evolving consensus within the Palestinian national movement on major internal, regional, and international questions. Thus, PNC resolutions are best understood by comparison to previous resolutions and in relation to their wider political context. Similarly, their interpretation by the PLO leadership is best judged by its subsequent actions.
The PNC, like the PLO itself, grew out of the first Arab Summit, held in Cairo in January 1964. The summit resolved to enable the Palestinian people "to play a role in the liberation of their country" and empowered the Palestine delegate to the League of Arab States, Ahmad Shuqayri, to hold consultations on the implementation of this decision. A Palestinian General Congress, convening as the National Conference of the Palestine Liberation Organization, met in East Jerusalem in May 1964 to ratify its constitution and other documents that formally established the PLO and its institutions. The 397 invited delegates represented a broad spectrum of Palestinian life. Among the proposed institutions approved was a national assembly, which in 1970s came to be known as the Palestine National Council. Its structure, powers, and procedural rules are set forth in the Fundamental Law appended to the Palestine National Covenant, which survives in amended form.
According to the Fundamental Law, the PNC is the supreme authority for formulating the policies and programs of the PLO and its institutions, and all who operate under the PLO umbrella are accountable to its decisions. It does not sit in permanent session, has no permanent committees, and by force of circumstance has no permanent location. It must convene in regular session once a year (changed from every two years in 1971) and whenever requested by the PLO Executive Committee (the executive branch of the PLO) or PNC membership. In some years the PNC has not convened due to conflict (e.g., during the 1975–1976 Lebanese civil war), but under other circumstances its failure to meet has been the subject of fierce criticism, most recently when the PNC was not called into session to debate the 1993 Israeli–Palestinian Declaration of Principles.
Candidates for the PNC must be nominated by a committee (which since 1971 consists of the PLO Executive Committee, the PNC chairman, and the commander in chief of the Palestine Liberation Army), and then elected by a majority of the entire membership at its next session. It elects its own presidential office, which consists of a chairman, two vice chairmen, and a secretary. The attendance of two-thirds of its delegates is required for a quorum, and its initial practice of "collective decision-making" was in 1981 defined as majority voting. The PNC met in closed session until 1981, when foreign dignitaries and Palestinian observers were first invited. With few exceptions it publishes its resolutions and other documents, and the media may observe and record most of its proceedings.
Although election procedures remain in place, they have not been practiced since the Palestinian guerrilla organizations took control of the PLO in 1968 to 1969. The PLO's constituent organizations and PLO mass unions and labor syndicates are each assigned a quota of seats, decided through negotiation in accordance with each group's respective size and importance. Representative quotas for Palestinian exile communities, other nonformally organized Palestinians, and delegates resident in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories are directly selected by the PNC nominating committee. Although the PNC is an integral PLO institution, PNC delegates do not necessarily serve as officials in the PLO or as members of its constituent factions.
The size of the PNC has varied over time. In 1968 its membership was reduced from 466 to 100 and limited to representatives of guerrilla factions (68) and political independents (32) to ensure effective deliberations and guerrilla control over the PLO. Representatives of PLO unions were admitted in 1971, and membership was expanded to 150. In 1977 the PNC again represented Palestinian exile communities and additional diasporic groups (e.g., deportees), increasing its membership to 293. Active membership has since risen to pre-1968 levels. The PNC's progressive shift from guerrilla tactics to genuine diplomacy and conditional acceptance of the state of Israel's existence is mirrored in its current delegates.
At the beginning of each session of the PNC, the PLO Executive Committee must submit a report on its activities and the status of the PLO. A new Executive Committee, whose size and membership is determined by the PNC, is elected at the end of each session. The new Executive Commit-tee's policy guidelines and other instructions, and PLO proclamations, are set forth in resolutions adopted by the PNC typically drafted in committee.
In 1970 the PNC also established the PLO Central Committee (since 1973 known as the Central Council) as an intermediate body between itself and the Executive Committee. It possesses legislative and executive powers and meets at least once every three months to review the work of the Executive Committee, approve its decisions, clarify PNC guidelines where necessary, and issue supplementary resolutions where relevant. Because it was designed to improve coordination between various represented and nonrepresented guerrilla factions, the Central Council is neither elected by the PNC nor entirely composed of PNC members. In its current form it comprises the Executive Committee, the PNC chairman, the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) commander in chief, representatives of PLO constituent organizations and institutions, and PNC members selected by the Executive Committee. It elects a general secretariat from among its own members.
The PNC also hears the report of the Palestine National Fund (the PLO treasury), approves its budget, (re-)elects its Board of Directors (which elects its own officers), and considers reports and structures of other PLO institutions. It does not, however, have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of the movements that operate under the PLO umbrella.
Given that regular general elections would be difficult if not impossible to conduct under the fragmented conditions of Palestinian existence, the PNC is a genuine attempt at creating a representative body, and generally it has been very successful. The PLO leadership has encouraged pluralism within the PNC, but the PNC exhibits some clearly undemocratic tendencies. Aside from the lack of elections, criticism of the quota system (practiced in all PLO institutions) claims that it places powers of decision-making and accountability in PLO factions rather than constituencies and encourages hegemony by a dominant group. The increasing appropriation of power by the PLO leadership has also led to a lack of regard for PNC resolutions and procedures as well as its marginalization as the locus of Palestinian decision-making. The PNC is now often eclipsed by the actions of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was created as an interim governing body in 1994 representing pre-1967 Israeli-occupied territories. The PA was created as steps were being taken to establish a Palestinian state. The PNC would have eventually resumed its function with some restructuring, but al-Aqsa Intifada has made it nearly defunct.
The following is a list of cities where sessions have occurred and highlights important PNC resolutions:
Jerusalem. Establishment of the PLO and drafting of the Palestinian National Charter.
Cairo. Meetings held from 20–24 May. Arab–Israel War breaks out 5 June.
Cairo. Entry of the guerrilla movement, and amendment of the Palestine Charter insisting on total liberation of Palestine through armed struggle. Half of the PNC's seats given to the PLO.
Cairo. Yasir Arafat elected chairman of the Executive Committee.
Cairo. Crisis between guerrilla groups and the Jordanian army.
Cairo. Endorsement of a secular democratic state.
Cairo. First steps toward endorsing a two-state solution, with an independent Palestinian state.
Cairo. Reiteration of previous meeting's proposals. Emergence of a more moderate, mainstream PLO as well as West Bank leadership.
Damascus. Meetings 11–19 April. In August, Saudi Crown Prince Fahd calls for peace plan and creation of Palestinian state recognizing Israel in its pre-1947 borders.
Algiers: Rejection of the Reagan Plan, which outlined a Palestinian state with central authority in Jordanian, not PLO, control. PNC agreed to a confederation between the Kingdom of Jordan and an independent Palestine led by the PLO, based on the 1982 Fez Plan (based on the Fahd Plan) that called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Amman. Resolutions give Arafat the authority to cooperate with Jordan and Egypt, and call for improving relations with Syria. First Executive Committee decides to remove PLO institutions from Damascus and transfer PNC headquarters to Amman. Call for free Palestinian state in confederation with Jordan, which leads to the 1985 Amman Agreement in 1985.
Algiers. Meetings held 20–25 April after the issue of the Tunis Document (16 March), which called for a free Palestinian state, accord on the Fez Plan, and rejection of the Amman Agreement. Intifada begins 9 December.
Algiers. Referred to as the "Intifada meeting." Unilateral declaration of the independence of the Arab state of Palestine. Reconciliation between al-Fatah and other factions that had challenged Arafat's leadership. 103 countries recognize the newly created Palestinian state.
Algiers. Authorized Palestinian participation in negotiations with Israel.
Washington, D.C. Israeli–PLO Declaration of Principles on interim self-government signed.
Establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), an autonomous entity comprising the territory of Gaza and towns and areas of the West Bank occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1967, for a five-year transitional period to include Palestinian interim self-government and a gradual transfer of powers and territories.
Gaza. After signing the Oslo Accords, PNC votes 504 to 54 to void parts of the Palestinian National Covenant that denied Israel's right to exist. Edward Said, scholar and activist, leaves the PNC because he believes the Oslo Accords undermine Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homes in pre-1967 Israel. Arafat elected president of the PA.
Gaza. PNC meets at the insistence of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With U.S. president Bill Clinton presiding, it reaffirms its 1996 actions. Discussion of Wye River I and II memoranda for implementation of Oslo II accords.
Discussion of Middle East Peace Summit at Sharm el-Shaykh and memorandum on implementation timeline.
Discussion of implications of the Camp David 2000 Summit. PA negotiations on permanent status of a Palestinian State underway until outbreak of al-Aqsa Intifada in October.
Discussion of the Mitchell Report on Israeli–Palestinian violence and al-Aqsa Intifada.
Discussion of Permanent Status Negotiations.
Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada, Arafat has been confined to highly restricted movement by the Israeli government, making it extremely difficult to carry out the Palestinian legislative processes of the PNC and the PA. To remain the supreme political institution of the Palestinian people as a whole, the PNC must replace the quota system with democratic selection and become a permanent body if it is ever to become the genuine Palestinian parliament. In 2003 the PNC was chaired by Salim Zaʿnun. It had 669 members; 88 were from the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), 98 represented the Palestinians in the occupied territories, and 483 represented people of the Palestinian diaspora.
see also arafat, yasir; oslo accord (1993); palestine liberation organization (plo); palestine national covenant (1964); palestinian authority; palestinians; said, edward; shuqayri, ahmad.
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Hiro, Dilip. Sharing the Promised Land: A Tale of the Israelis and Palestinians. New York: Olive Branch, 1999.
Khalidi, Walid. "Regiopolitics: Toward a U.S. Policy on the Palestine Problem." Foreign Affairs 59 (Summer 1981): 1050–2063.
Lukacs, Yehuda, ed. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Documentary Record, 1967–1990. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
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Palestinian National Authority. "Palestinian National Council." Available at <http://www.pna.gov.ps/Government/gov/palestinian_national_council.asp>.
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Rubenberg, Cheryl. The Palestine Liberation Organization: Its Institutional Infrastructure. Belmont, MA: Institute of Arab Studies, 1983. Tessler, Mark. A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
updated by maria f. curtis
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