Abbas plays on Hamas boycott to keep his cabinet in place

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 12-Jul-07 | Author: Steven Erlanger| Source: International Herald Tribune

US Assistant Secretary David Welch (L) meets with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

JERUSALEM: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, convened the Palestinian legislature on Wednesday, but a Hamas boycott meant there was no quorum, which was clearly what Abbas wanted. With parliament unable to meet, he can extend the life of the emergency cabinet he appointed after Hamas took over Gaza.

Hamas legislators boycotted the session, contending that it was illegal. Salah al-Bardawil, a Hamas legislator, said in Gaza that convening the legislature "without arrangements with the biggest bloc, and with the Israeli arrest of Hamas legislators, was an attack on Palestinian legitimacy."

The term of the emergency government, led by an independent economist, Salaam Fayyad, is set to expire next week, after 30 days. Some Palestinian legal authorities say that Abbas, though he had the power to fire the old government under the Palestinian Basic Law, had no power to name a new government without legislative approval. Hamas won 74 seats in the 132-member parliament in elections in January 2006, but 39 Hamas legislators from the West Bank are in Israeli jails without charges. So with only the 35 Hamas legislators not in jail and the 45 seats held by its rival, Fatah, Hamas would have been in the minority if a quorum had been attained.

If the legislature is unable to convene, Abbas may be able to declare the government a "caretaker" until new elections can be held. Hamas has said it will not allow new elections to take place before the four-year term is over, and Abbas already backed down last December on new elections.

A senior Fatah legislator, Azzam al-Ahmed, said that Abbas could invoke Article 43 of the Basic Law, which gives him the right to issue decrees in exceptional cases. But the legislature is supposed to review them eventually, and in any event, in Fatah's struggle with Hamas, legal niceties are not being observed by either side, and the debate over what the flawed Basic Law allows is seen as essentially academic.

One Hamas deputy, Hatem Qafeisheh of Hebron, recently released from an Israeli jail, was in the parliament building but did not take part in the session. He went, he said, "to send a message" calling for "an end to confrontation and a renewal of dialogue behind closed doors."

An independent legislator, Hanan Ashrawi, said: "We are in deep crisis. We cannot continue in this manner. Elections are the only way out of this dangerous constitutional crisis."

Abbas met in Ramallah on Wednesday with a senior American diplomat, David Welch, before a visit beginning next Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Before Rice arrives, Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel are expected to meet, possibly on Monday.

Also on Wednesday, Israel allowed fruits and vegetables to be delivered to Gaza, the Israeli Army said. Trucks carrying 300 tons of fruits and vegetables entered through the Sufa border crossing. The main goods crossing point, Karni, has been shut since June 12.

Late Tuesday, Egypt began deploying hundreds of additional police officers on its side of Rafah, the main crossing point for people, to prevent Palestinian gunmen from storming through.

Rafah has been closed since June 9, and 6,000 Palestinians are stranded in Egypt, which has agreed with Israel not to open the crossing. Israel has offered to bring the Palestinians to Gaza through Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing, but Hamas has objected, saying that violates an agreement to allow people to cross directly from Egypt to Gaza through Rafah with Israeli video monitoring.

Israel prefers Kerem Shalom because it can control who enters and exits and presumably can stop the smuggling of cash into Gaza by Hamas.

Share

Comments