Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas STR/Flash 90

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday resigned as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Executive Committee in a bid to force new elections for the top body, an official told AFP.

The official, Wassel Abu Yussef, said that more than half of the 18-member committee had also stepped down.

"The resignation of the president of the executive committee Mahmoud Abbas and more than half of its members has created a legal vacuum, and therefore the Palestine National Council (PNC) has been asked to meet in one month to elect a new executive committee," Yussef told AFP.

Yussef added, however, that the resignations will take effect only when the PNC meets.

The PNC, or Palestinian parliament, has 740 members who live in the Palestinian territories and in the Diaspora. It has not met in nearly 20 years.

The executive committee is the PLO's highest decision-making body and acts on behalf of Palestinians residing in Palestinian Authority-controlled territories and the diaspora, namely in the peace process with Israel.

In 1993, Abbas, then executive committee secretary general, signed the Oslo autonomy accords on behalf of the Palestinians.

Yussef said that before the resignations were announced, the executive committee elected chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as its secretary general.

Experts believe that Abbas’s goal in his resignation from the PLO is to reshape the body and appoint his associates to key posts.

Abbas’s opponents claim that he is trying to produce an executive committee composed entirely of people under his command, so that even if he leaves his position as Palestinian Authority chairman, as was recently speculated, he will continue to remotely control what is happening on the Palestinian street.