The Palestinians Only Need One Representative

Say what you want about Iran, one of its best moves was to revoke its invitation to deposed Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh to attend the Non-Aligned Summit in Tehran at the end of the month.

Haniyeh’s announcement earlier in the week that he would accept Iran’s invitation to attend the summit got quite a few knickers in a bind, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in particular. A day after the news broke, Fayyad called on Haniyeh to turn down the invite, saying his attendance would rattle the already shaky reconciliation efforts, would undermine the PLO’s representation of the Palestinians and would only further consolidate the political split.

Then came yet another twist of events. Yesterday, Haniyeh suddenly “changed his mind” saying he would not travel to Iran, all for the sake of Palestinian national unity. While this may sound like a noble sacrifice, turns out, it is not exactly true. Apparently, Haniyeh only received an unofficial invitation from Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sending the real invite –” that is, from one head of state to another –” solely to President Abbas. What with the uproar, even Khamanei was forced to reportedly rescind his invitation, leaving Haniyeh like Aesop’s fox and the sour grapes.

As it stands, if anyone is going to Tehran, it will be President Abbas, who huffed and puffed about not allowing anyone to mess with the Palestinians’ real representatives. Truth be told, it’s a good thing in any case. The Palestinians are in no need of more than one representative, regardless of whether the PA or the PLO makes a wrong move from time to time. Historically the PLO has always been the sole representative of the Palestinians and nothing or no one should be able to change that without complete consensus by all.

Besides, Hamas, in its delusional glory, has come to believe that it is the rightful representative of the people, at least in the Gaza Strip. Egypt gave it a taste of this when its new government invited Hamas’ leaders to meet in Cairo, giving them the red carpet treatment. Unfortunately for the Egyptians and to the misfortune of Hamas, the Sinai operation, which claimed the lives of 16 innocent Egyptian soldiers, burst that short-lived bubble and all of Hamas’ expectations along with it. Today, Hamas is scrambling just to return the situation back to what it was before Mohammed Mursi won the elections much less to what it believed would happen once the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt. That is, all those illusions of grandeur –” of Hamas officials being received as heads of state in Cairo and of Palestinians from Gaza going in and out of Egypt unchecked — all went down the drain with the first suspicion of Palestinian involvement in the Sinai operation.

But back to Iran. Some say its intentions for inviting Haniyeh were hardly pure either; it wanted to send a clear message to Mursi that Iran would maintain hold of the Palestinian file (at least where Hamas is concerned) and not relinquish its control to some newbie on the block.

But in any and all cases, the Palestinians do not need one more nail in the coffin of their reconciliation efforts. President Abbas is still the Palestinian leader recognized by most of the world and most Palestinians and so he will remain, at least if and until a new leader is elected.

But until then, neither Hamas nor Israel — even in its most sinister incarnation of its foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman –” can delegitimize the PLO or its representatives even if they tried. For whatever reasons Iran backtracked or “clarified” who exactly was invited to the Non-Aligned summit (and who was not), we should be happy that it did.