Palestinian Politics: Representation and Accountability


Video and Edited Transcript
Ms. Noura Erakat
Transcript No. 371 (18 July 2012)


18 July 2012
The Palestine Center
Washington, DC

Ms. Noura Erakat:

Thank you, [Palestine Center intern] Marian [Hale], for the warm welcome, thank you to [Palestine Center intern] Patrick [Lavallee] for coordinating with me, [and] thank you to the Palestine Center especially for empowering these young men and women to take the lead in this lecture series as well as the film series. I hope that this is either the beginning or the continuation of a dedication to examining this issue for a lifetime to come—and hopefully shorter, so that we can say it’s over.

In any case, the focus of my discussion, as Marian mentioned, is about accountability and representation. I felt that focusing specifically on the internecine conflict between Fateh and Hamas would actually be a bit of a distraction from the bigger picture of the Palestinian condition and the demand for representation and accountable leadership. I thought of it somewhat as focusing on the color of [former President] George [W.]  Bush’s tie when the [U.S.] Supreme Court declared that he had won the election in Florida over Al Gore. So as not to be lost, as not to lose the forest through the trees, instead I’ll begin by discussing more broadly the strategies that the Palestinian leadership in general has pursued and so that puts me squarely at the beginning of discussing the statehood bid at the United Nations.

As many of you know, last September, and this means that we are fast approaching the one year anniversary of the Palestinian leadership, or the Palestinian authority (PA), which has been collapsed with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The distinction is immense here, so briefly: the PA is an administrative body that was created vis-à-vis Oslo, or the Oslo Accords, in the early 1990s to serve for a short-term duration to oversee the transition from incremental occupation to a self-governing regime, or government, I should say.

The PLO, in contrast, is the representative, the sole legitimate representative, of the Palestinian people and is comprised of nearly every Palestinian political party and therefore can speak with greater authority. The PLO has been granted observer status in the United Nations since 1974 and the UN continues to regard it as the sole and legitimate representative.

Since the peace process, and since the relocation of the Palestinian leadership from the diaspora to the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a singular unit (here I am referring to the West Bank including East Jerusalem, notwithstanding the rampant Judaization and ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, but the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the Gaza strip), since the relocation of the Palestinian leadership to the Territory, there has been a collapse of who represents Palestinians by collapsing the notion of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. And most indicative of this is the fact that Mahmoud Abbas, or the Palestinian President, is both the President of the PA as well as the chairman of the PLO. And so this collapse is basically what has been lamented.

One could say that the PA could remain (despite its administrative mandate) a governing administrative authority within the Occupied Territory to administer services like health, water, trash removal, education, to some extent security, some sort of order, while allowing the PLO to remain the representative in the international arena to represent Palestinians as concerns the right and the struggle more broadly. There could have been that bifurcation and yet they have been collapsed, which is central to this discussion.

So the fact that the Palestinian leadership and the form of the PLO and the PA (which I say as PA/PLO) approached the UN last year to request that Palestine be admitted as both a member of the United Nations as well as to be recognized as a state. Recognition can be conferred by a two-thirds vote from the General Assembly whereas membership is contingent upon UN Security Council recommendation per a 1950 ICJ (International Court of Justice) advisory opinion. And as we know, with the U.S. in the UN Security Council and its demonstrated support for Israel, this is an impossibility.

And so the PA approached the UN anyway and the best thing to come out of it, of course, was President, or, this is a controversial topic, President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been governing by presidential decree since his mandate expired in 2009, the highlight of the UN statehood bid was his speech to the UN, which was remarkable and probably marked the apex of his own presidential tenure. It used terms like apartheid, it reasserted the Palestinian narrative, it created and reenergized the alliances amongst the international community to support the Palestinian cause.

Although at the time of the statehood bid, I was outwardly skeptical and critical of the bid, as were several other commentators and Palestinian organizations. And the accusations, the fingers that were pointed at myself, and people like me who had that opinion, was that we lacked some sort of love for Palestine, that we were detractors, that we were there to sabotage rather than help, that we were supporting a U.S.-Israeli agenda because of their opposition rather than supporting the Palestinian agenda. And yet the point that was missed is that no one opposed the UN bid for statehood because it was a bid for statehood. The opposition to the bid was rooted in the mechanisms used to achieve independence.  And here there is a difference between self-governance within a state and independence and self-determination.

Just to belabor this point a little bit, self-determination in international law is defined as, “a people’s right to freely determine without external interference, their political status and to pursue its economic, social and cultural development freely.” According to [UN] General Assembly resolution 1541, principle 6, there are several ways to achieve self-determination that are not limited to the establishment of a state. And this, of course, is exemplified by the example of Namibia, which had been under Afrikaner, South African, colonization and was able to achieve a UN Security Council resolution that called for its independence in 1978. But Namibia did not, in fact, achieve independence and self-determination until 1990. The intervening steps between a declaration of statehood and the enjoyment of independence and self-determination are plenty and critical. And the criticism that critics, including myself, leveraged against the PA was whether or not they were prepared to follow up with those intervening steps.

What are those intervening steps? Primarily, they include the removal of this discussion and the resolution to Palestinian apartheid and occupation by removing it from the confines of bilateral negotiations, by becoming representative of the Palestinian population as a whole—not just those in the territory, but including those that exist in the diaspora those who are exiled as refugees, including those who live within Israel, who are the indigenous Palestinian population, who also endure forced population transfers and other measures intended to limit their growth and their enjoyment of human rights. So these were the primary two, and the third of course is a resistance to Israeli occupation and apartheid, rater than just making it more tolerable.

So these were the basic demands. Did the Palestinian leadership have the wherewithal and the means not just to push for statehood, but then to push for all those intervening steps that would build on that measure, which would increase its leverage of course, in order to achieve independence and enjoy self-determination? For many of us, we thought not, and in the worst case scenario, the Palestinian leadership would use the statehood bid to increase its negotiating leverage vis-à-vis Israel and the United States. That was where we were last year.

What has happened since then? We are almost a year into it. What has the PA/PLO done since the statehood bid in order to build on… Oh, and if anybody was wondering what happened with the statehood bid, it died quietly within the Security Council because it would have been more embarrassing for the U.S. to veto the measure, especially since it has espoused a dedication to achieving a two-state solution. It would have also been embarrassing to the PA which has not rejected and disavowed the peace process. And so, what have they done in the past year, and are these the intervening steps that are requisite to achieve self-determination?

Amongst the greatest achievements is that Palestine has been accepted as a member state within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Palestine’s admittance into UNESCO created a flurry; it represented resistance to U.S. opposition which has pulled its funding of UNESCO. One can say that this is an excellent intervening step. What else? Palestine, in UNESCO, has used that position to add a very significant Palestinian site, the Church of Nativity within Bethlehem, to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites that are endangered.

On the one hand, this is very good news because the Church of Nativity is now recognized as a site in danger, and part of a Palestinian site in danger. On the other hand, it’s actually not so great. Not so great mostly because it reaffirms the status quo, but also because it represents a missed opportunity for Palestinians to use their membership in UNESCO to push for sites that are in fact under greater danger and greater threat within the West Bank, for example.

Ryvka Barnard writes about this in Jadaliyya and points out, for example, that had the Palestinians used the opportunity to push for Battir, a small village that sits in Area C, most of which is now under threat because it is about to be consumed by the route of the annexation wall as well as it’s a dedicated site for the Jewish National Fund to build a green park. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jewish National Fund, it’s a parastatal organization, it enjoys tax-exempt status in the U.S., which is arguably a fraudulent status, and it serves, because it touts itself as independent of the state, as a non-governmental organization, it has an explicit mission to exclusively serve the Jewish people and to discriminate as a matter of fact. And the JNF plans to build a green park over parts of Battir, and the other parts of Battir will also be consumed by the annexation wall. A better use of Palestine’s membership in UNESCO would have been to put Battir on the World Heritage Site list of endangered sites. In contrast, the Church of Nativity is located within Area A which is under full Palestinian civilian and security control and is not in imminent danger, and to the contrary, constitutes this archipelago, if you will, of Bantustans within the West Bank that will more or less remain with Palestinians.

What other intervening steps has the Palestinian Authority taken? One of the other intervening steps was to submit for recognition as a state within the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction, which would have allowed the Palestinians to bring lawsuits for war crimes against Israel for its onslaught of Gaza in the winter of 2008 into 2009. The ICC, no surprise, rejected the application and did not admit Palestine as a state; there is no jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, that’s where the Palestinian leadership’s efforts for accountability in Gaza stopped. And one has to wonder that if this wasn’t just about recognition and membership as a state but indeed about reorienting the conflict, then pushing for accountability would not have stopped. Other options available to the Palestinian leadership have included continuing to make actionable those recommendations in the Goldstone Report. Despite Jurist Richard Goldstone’s retractions of his comments, which is arguable if they are retractions or not, the report is a Human Rights Council document. It’s alive and well and remains valid. And it can be supported. And even this small measure within the United Nations has not been pursued.

Let’s shift gears a little bit. What have others outside of the Palestinian ruling body done in the intervening time between September 2011 and the present? And this has nothing to do with the Palestinian leadership, and even less to do with the statehood bid. Let me just name a few milestones.

One is the really unprecedented mass hunger strikes of Palestinian political prisoners to protest their indefinite captivity under a draconian Israeli military law known as “administrative detention.”  Administrative detention is the nice way of saying indefinite detention. It allows the Israeli occupying forces to arrest a Palestinian without charge or trial for up to six months, and to renew that detention indefinitely every six months. And this is part of the matrix of the military law that constitutes the military occupation which has become so hackneyed as a term that we forget exactly how brutal this structural violence is.

Palestinian hunger strikers who began with the brave efforts of Khader Adnan, who was on hunger strike for 66 days before he was released, was followed subsequently by several other hunger strikers as well as a hunger strike by 2500 Palestinian political prisoners simultaneously. This had nothing to do with Palestinian leadership or the statehood bid, and yet it shook the foundations of the Israeli occupation to redefine those terms. If Akram Rikhawi is continuing his hunger strike today, today will mark his ninety-seventh day on hunger strike.

What are other milestones? In this year, in the eightieth session of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the coalition of Palestinian human rights organizations, submitted reports alleging that Israel was in violation of several articles of the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination, including article 3 which prohibits racial segregation and apartheid and obligates states to undertake to prevent, prohibit, and eradicate all practices of this nature in territories under their jurisdiction.  As a result of these efforts, the Committee found that Israel was in violation of article 3, both within the Occupied Territory as well as, to some degree, within Israel as well. Major achievement.

Other achievements have been achieved beyond the borders of Palestine. Specifically, and really here [I] highlight the efforts of solidarity activists and their ongoing efforts for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction of Israel which intends to isolate Israel, to highlight that it is a human rights violator, and until and when it complies with international laws, namely, to end the occupation, to afford equality for all of its non-Jewish, namely, Muslim, Christian Palestinian Israeli citizens, as well as to afford for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees.

As a result of these efforts in the intervening time span, and I want to name some of these victories because there is cause for optimism in the midst of very harrowing conditions on the ground, victories include TIAA-CREF [Financial Services], the largest educators’ pension fund, has divested $78 million which is equivalent to all of its stock in Caterpillar [Inc.] from its social choice fund. And specifically because of Caterpillar [Inc.] bulldozers’ tactics and activities in the Occupied Territory, not least of which was its use in the murder of Rachel Corrie in 2003.

Other achievements include the Palestinian church…Palestinian. There are several Palestinian churches but this is not the one… The Presbyterian Church (PC USA) which boycotted, agreed to boycott, all Israeli products and settlement products in protest of the occupation and failed to achieve divestment by a very, very slight margin that’s attributable to many of the mechanisms and the tide is likely to turn next PC USA General Assembly in Detroit.

Another achievement has been Abigail Disney. Abigail Disney is the granddaughter of Roy Disney, who is the brother of Walt Disney, who owns Disney [the Walt Disney Company], so this is obviously someone who is very much part of the mainstream. Abigail Disney has renounced all of her family shares in Ahava Dead Sea Products. Why? Because Ahava is manufactured in illegal settlements, and that was the reason that she cited. Other achievements: the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, severed its ties as part of the academic boycott, severed its ties with Ben Gurion University, and that effort was supported by 400 South African academics as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Other achievements: Alice Walker, African American novelist, poet, children’s book writer, who is the author of the seminal novel “The Color Purple,” refused to have her book translated into Hebrew, specifically in protest of Israel’s apartheid policies. None of these efforts have been connected to the statehood bid or to the Palestinian leadership. And yet [they] represent more monumental strides than the leadership has been able to achieve.

Now, unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has set new precedents that are despicable. And the most obvious happened on 30 June and 1 July when the Palestinian Authority invited [former Israeli Vice Prime Minister] Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli leader who was primarily responsible for the devastating incursion into Jenin and the pummeling of Jenin refugee camp in 2002. And in protest of his invitation, Palestinian youth, organized under the banner of Palestinians for Dignity, organized a protest in Ramallah. In response, the Palestinian Authority security forces came down on them with devastating force and explicitly beat them, beat journalists, and all as a form of repression.

So, and other examples of course, this is not the first time that the Palestinian Authority has used its security forces in order to attack Palestinians rather than protect Palestinians. Quite ironic if you consider the numerous [UN] Security Council resolutions that the U.S. has vetoed, of course, that call for an observer force inside the Occupied Territory to protect Palestinians from the occupying forces. Yet here what we see is Palestinian security forces, rather than protect the Palestinians, are beating them and in many ways may be reifying the occupation.

But these are not new stories. These are not new revelations. These are not new grievances amongst the Palestinian population. In fact, they had been so palpable that in 2006, Palestinians who went to vote, voted against Fateh, the dominant body in the Palestinian Authority, and for Hamas, when Hamas won 78 percent of the legislative seats in the [Palestinian Legislative Council] (PLC). Why did the Palestinians in 2006 vote for Hamas? I have argued, and I’ll state here again, that it wasn’t because it was a desire for a new Islamic constitution nor was it a desire to indicate the religiosity of the region, but it was a referendum against three things. It was a referendum against Fateh’s corruption, it was a referendum against the failure of the peace process, it was a referendum against the deteriorating humanitarian conditions taking place throughout the Occupied Territory.

And so briefly on this, just consider in terms of corruption that post-Oslo, the Palestinian Authority became almost entirely dependent on foreign aid from the U.S. as well as the European Union, and that aid was conditioned on an affirmation and a commitment to the terms of Oslo. So, it was that it created a situation where the Palestinian Authority could not contest the terms of Oslo or the ongoing occupation in ways that violated Oslo because it would risk losing its external funding which constituted its foreign aid. We’re seeing that again today as you’ve seen [Palestinian] Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is appealing to the world because of the financial crisis that’s on the horizon for Palestinians because of a refusal to renew aid from Arab Gulf countries.

Second, what of Oslo was disturbing in 2006? Consider that by that time, the Camp David Accords of the late nineties had failed. The second Intifada raged between 2000 and 2005, leading to the needless deaths of thousands of Palestinians as well as the destruction of no less than 5000 Palestinian homes. Consider also that Israel had began building an annexation wall in 2002– the wall by the way will be completed in 2020 if it continues at this pace, 62 percent of it has been completed. And by 2006, Israel had also unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, and relocated its 8000 settlers from Gaza to the West Bank. So this is what Oslo had been able to usher in by this time, which is nothing to say of the deteriorating humanitarian conditions. By that time the financial conditions were so poor that two thirds of the population was below the poverty line.

So, the fundamental objections here and to Oslo, just to point out, which are plenty, have nothing to do with an aversion to the two-state solution or an aversion to the methodology of negotiations. I personally do not think the two-state solution is possible or feasible, or at this point desirable. But that’s not to say that the Palestinian Authority could not have supported a two-state solution and entered into some sort of negotiations and not accepted the detrimental terms created by Oslo, and not continued to acquiesce to them to this day, minus of course this brief episode at the United Nations last September.

Just to share with you some of the evidence of the acquiescence to Oslo’s terms and to the occupation that rather than resist occupation and apartheid, the Palestinian Authority during this time had begun to make it a little more tolerable. One of the best examples is in the “fabric of life” roads. If you’re not familiar with them, let me just share. For decades, Israel has built a series of roads or networks called “bypass roads” that were for Israeli use only (in the West Bank, that meant for Jewish settlers only) that was to crisscross away from the surrounding Palestinian villages for “security purposes,” despite the fact that this was an illegal settlement to begin with. And here we can get into the limitations of self-defense in domestic and international law, but I’ll spare you. In any case, Israel had been building a network of these bypass roads for Jewish persons only. The roads are built on Palestinian land, as are the settlements, which requires their confiscation. So rather than protest these roads, rather than protest the presence of settlements more vociferously, the Palestinian Authority began to, with USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] and Israeli acquiescence, build something called “fabric of life” roads. In a 2011 Nation article, Nadia Hijab shares that USAID has implemented 22 percent of this plan in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority to build ‘fabric of life’ roads that work to create roads for Palestinians that go around or under or away from the bypass roads, the settlements, and the new Israeli wall. So rather than confront this… there’s nothing wrong with making Palestinian life more tolerable, but that can’t be the end-all be-all of the leadership’s agenda.

So again, the fundamental problem with Oslo is a structural one. The structural issues that I and others have taken issues with are three-fold.

There are no references to international law in the peace process or in the Oslo Accords. This is not to be taken lightly, because absent international law, everything is subject to politics. In politics, the stronger party will always emerge victor, and that’s in fact been the case. Because Oslo relegated settlements to the final status agreement rather than engaging with them and saying that they are a contravention to international law, they violate article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which amounts to a violation of article 47 or a grave breach of Geneva which is a war-crime, as well as Article 8 of the Rome Statute, which is the statute that created the International Criminal Court, also deems it a war-crime; because Palestinian negotiators never set that term, Israel right now is actually not violating the terms of Oslo, as it continues to expand its settlements and as it continues to confiscate more Palestinian lands. If international law is not a referent, and instead these politics are the referent, then Israel is in compliance. And in fact, President [Barack] Obama and successive U.S. administrations have adopted this line and affirmed that new settlements are now “facts on the ground” and that Palestinians and Israelis should be prepared to swap land in order to achieve an agreement. And yet under long-standing international law, not least of which Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 in addition to the Humanitarian Law in Geneva, settlements should be dismantled.

Second, another structural grievance is the fact that this process remained confined to bilateral negotiations, overseen by a very dishonest broker, in the U.S. How the Palestinian Authority could accept that the U.S. will usher (and as the super power has the desire to usher in a state for the Palestinians is a bit mind-boggling, especially if you consider that between 1972 and 2002, the U.S. has exercised its veto no less than 69 times in defense of Israel). Israel is touted as the U.S.’s unique ally. Since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, the U.S. has committed to helping Israel maintain a qualitative military edge above its neighbors. And so what then after this legacy will then convince anyone that the U.S. has had a change of heart, and because of its benevolence, would like to see the Palestinians achieve a state? And let’s say the U.S. administration really wants to but because of domestic political considerations or otherwise, is unable to, the President has his hands tied by Congress, etc., fine. There’s something called unable or unwilling, in this case they’re both unable and unwilling! There is a need to search for new options forward that are not confined to bilateral negotiations , that involve other countries. And just on the top of my head, and I’m not a politician obviously (I speak too frankly) or a diplomat. Just off the top of my head, Brazil, which has been admitted as an observer nation to the League of Arab States, and Turkey, might be a good alternative to start with. They have together also stepped in to propose alternatives to resolving, for example, the crisis with Iran and their nuclear proliferation capabilities. An example.

Thirdly, and most devastatingly, the structural conditions that Oslo wrought were that they prioritized Israel’s security above Palestinian human rights. The equation in Oslo is quite explicit, and quite clear: that Palestinians will enjoy freedom and self-determination once Palestinians can demonstrate that there is zero threat from the territory to Israel. It’s an impossible equation. It’s an impossible equation to promise zero threat from an occupied peoples, and occupied lands, and in a situation under a regime of apartheid where the wall is being built, where ethnic cleansing is accelerating, where lands are being closed by a military decree and fiat, and to promise that, “well, we can deliver security, even if you continue with these mounting human rights violations,” rather than contest this equation. Instead, the Palestinian Authority has invested 20 percent of its annual budget just for security forces, which we saw in late June and early July, are used against the Palestinians themselves.

And notably in 2010, on the list of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Palestine is the fifth largest recipient of such aid from the State Department after Afghanistan, Columbia, Mexico, and Pakistan, but just before Iraq. Switching this to one about Palestinians policing themselves, as if security was the problem and not ongoing prolonged military occupation and an apartheid regime.

Okay, what do Palestinians want? I’ve said a lot of what’s wrong, what we don’t want. What do Palestinians want? I can’t speak for all Palestinians, but I’d like to summarize it in two points. In a sentence, I’ll summarize it. Palestinians want a national movement with a liberation strategy.

What does that mean? And here I say it’s comprised of two parts: a strategy for resistance, and one that includes all Palestinians as a single national body, not truncated between the Occupied Territories, which is only home to 36 percent of the globe’s Palestinian population.

What does resistance look like? That would mean ending all security cooperation [with] Israel, which, for those of you who are familiar, during the onslaught of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority was helping Israel to maintain order in the West Bank by repressing protests while it completed its onslaught in Gaza. And as recent as a 30 June article in The Economist, an Israeli official has said, “We give them names, they pick them up.” Second, remove this issue from the confines of bilateral negotiations, negotiated by the U.S. Put this back onto an international stage where others can participate. And thirdly, engage in tactics that are aimed at isolating Israel and exposing its apartheid tactics, that include promoting the hunger strikers’ cause, that include promoting the movement opposing the route of the apartheid wall in Ni’lin and Bil’in, that include promoting and highlighting how Israel is removing Palestinians at an accelerated rate from East Jerusalem, in an explicit attempt to reduce the proportion between Jews to Palestinians from 60/40 to 70/30 by 2020.

But why hasn’t the Palestinian Authority done this by the way? Why couldn’t it have done this? According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, it said it best, when the Human Rights Council agreed to send a fact-finding commission to investigate the impact of settlements, the ministry said, “The Palestinians must understand that they can’t have it both ways. They can’t enjoy cooperation with Israel, and at the same time initiate political clashes in international fora.” And that’s the problem. Reject this reasoning, reject this line. This is what Palestinians are asking for.

A second thing that they’re asking for is for the inclusion of Palestinians as a singular national body that includes those in the Occupied Territories, as well as the rest of the approximate 63 percent of the Palestinian population outside of the Occupied Territories.

And I have very little time so I’ll summarize now. So then why did I not want to begin with the Hamas-Fateh schism? Primarily because even if Hamas and Fateh were to reconcile and to implement the unity agreement which they agreed to in May in Qatar and before that, last year, in Cairo, that that would still leave unresolved this representation issue. Not representation in the meaning of democratic representation – one person, one vote. What interests, what national interests, are being represented?

The Fateh dominated PA has now announced elections for October of this year. Hamas has rejected those elections and suspended its voter registration drive in Gaza, claiming that right now they have an uneven hand in the West Bank because the PA has rounded up nearly 150 Hamas affiliates, and also it accuses the Central Election Commission of being biased towards Fateh because of its location in Ramallah. I’m not, by the way, in any of my discussion, excusing Hamas or promoting Hamas or touting it as an alternative to Fateh, since although the denial of its right to be able to govern in the aftermath of its legislative victory in 2006 was wrong, and should not have happened, it doesn’t forgive what Hamas is doing and has become in Gaza. For example, which many, including Professor Nathan Brown, have described as an authoritarian regime akin to its Arab counterparts.

So where to? What next? What happens? How do we get out of this? It’s up to Palestinians. It’s up to Palestinians of how to make the way out of this rut, for lack of a better word. One of the ways that has been recommended, and one of the ways that’s been building up for decades but became most prominent in the aftermath of the revelation of [Al Jazeera’s] Palestine Papers last year, and then in subsequent protests, has been to have Palestinians resuscitate the Palestinian National Council. The PNC, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is the parliament of the global Palestinian population, and it is actually responsible for the PLO. It is responsible for policies in the PLO, as well as directing – well not policies, but at least directing it – and for electing the executive committee of the PLO. And since Oslo it has been a defunct body; probably met twice in the two intervening decades.

And one of the movements towards creating a new PNC has been to begin by registering all Palestinians globally. There is a campaign that is called “Register me: I am Palestinian,” I encourage you all to look that up. It was launched in November 2011, and it’s built force and momentum to educate folks through May. The registration is now open globally, for Palestinians to register. The idea is that once all Palestinians are registered, they can then begin an entirely new process of then negotiating well, how do we have elections? How many representatives for South America, or for Brazil specifically, or for Germany, or for Europe. And then once we have these elections, then what?

Then there’s another stage of a lot of work to be done of once we have, supposedly, a representative body. How then do we impose or exert the will of this representative body, which is more representative of the Palestinian global population upon the ruling parties in the Occupied Territory? None of these are easy feats. And all of this is to say that democratic representation isn’t the panacea to solving the problem, but it’s certainly one of the more constructive steps, that I encourage everyone to participate in, and to keep in mind that its success is contingent upon the willingness to take the lead from the bottom-up.

Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and writer. She is currently an adjunct professor of international human rights law in the Middle East at Georgetown University and is the US-based Legal Advocacy Coordinator for Badil Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights. She has helped to initiate and organize several national formations including Arab Women Arising for Justice and the U.S. Palestinian Community Network. She is a co-editor of Erakat is currently completing her LL.M. in National Security at Georgetown University Law Center.

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.