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Date of no significance

Date of no significance

An expired parliament and presidency make no difference to inter-Palestinian discourse, writes Saleh Al-Naami


Salah Al-Bardawil, spokesman for the Hamas bloc in parliament, spent Sunday afternoon in his office at Palestine Towers preparing for the address he gave the next day in front of parliament, at its wrecked headquarters in Gaza City. Al-Bardawil believes that Monday's session was especially significant because it took place on the same day the parliament's term expires. The parliament speaker and Hamas bloc insisted on holding this session to demonstrate the continuity of parliamentary duties.

While some circles in Fatah argue the need to hold immediate legislative and presidential elections as stipulated by the constitution, Parliament Speaker Aziz Al-Duweik justified the decision to hold the session Monday by noting that the meeting was dedicated to discussing national reconciliation and Israel's aggression on occupied Jerusalem. Al-Duweik told Al-Ahram Weekly that as head of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), he called for similar sessions in both Gaza and the West Bank, based on requests by more than a quarter of the parliament's representatives. He also urged the Palestinian presidency to facilitate such meetings.

Al-Duweik argued that there is legal basis to lengthening the constitutional and legal powers of the incumbent PLC. "Constitutionally, Article 47 of the revised basic law stipulates that the term of parliament expires once the newly elected members of parliament are sworn in," he explained. "Since no elections were held, the incumbent parliament will continue its work." The parliament speaker emphasised the importance of holding elections, not only to choose the president and parliament, but also to pick the members of the new National Council as part of the process of rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

According to Al-Duweik, forming a national unity government must precede legislative and presidential elections, because the government is responsible for preparing such elections. He noted that the national unity government would be charged with setting up parliamentary, presidential and National Council elections based on a precise timetable and specific procedures.

"We must begin forming a national unity government based on the constitution and a political agenda rooted in the national conciliation document that was signed by most Palestinian factions," Al-Duweik asserted. He added that parliament upholds "a democratic course based on respect of the law, separation of powers, the peaceful transfer of power and respect for political pluralism, as well as the right of everyone to participate in the political and decision-making process."

Al-Duweik warned against "imposing conciliation by force", noting that it is impossible to enforce reconciliation through "the unjust conditions of the Quartet that violate the rights and values of the Palestinian people." He continued that unity is neither attainable through "an unscrupulous atrocious war on Gaza, nor starving the Palestinian people through siege and a policy of slow death. Neither can it be achieved by a steel wall that increases the brutality of hunger and siege."

The parliament speaker urged all parliamentary blocs, especially Hamas and Fatah, to convene in parliament and shoulder their ethical, national and constitutional responsibility towards the Palestinian people.

Faisal Abu Shahla, chairman of the PLC's Monitoring Committee and a leading member in Fatah, asserted that after 25 January parliament's authority will expire, which would require new legislative and presidential elections, according to basic statutes.

Abu Shahla told the Weekly that Hamas is to blame for delaying elections because it has not permitted the Central Election Committee and its chairman to operate in Gaza and prepare for balloting. He added that there are no legal provisions that would allow parliament to continue its duties beyond 25 January 2010, and urged the holding of new elections. The Fatah leader dismissed claims that divisions are holding up parliamentary and presidential elections, arguing that current discussions revolve around the law and its application.

Nonetheless, Abu Shahla insisted that differences must be resolved and elections held in order to give the Palestinian people the right to express their opinion and choose their leadership.

Asked about how President Mahmoud Abbas's tenure ended one year ago, and yet he continues in power, Abu Shahla explained that Abbas ordered the creation of the Central Election Committee, but Hamas has obstructed elections.

But not all Fatah representatives agree with Abu Shahla. Fatah MP Nagat Abu Bakr declared that the incumbent parliament would remain in place until new elections are held and new representatives sworn in. Abu Bakr adopted the same terms used by Hamas when she said there would be no elections in the West Bank without Gaza. She further asserted that Fatah would not agree to elections regardless of cost, and denied that Abbas would dissolve parliament, asserting "this is not an option under discussion and is impossible to occur."

Yehia Moussa, leader of the Hamas bloc in the PLC, argued that divisions are obstructing elections and that his group fully advocates the peaceful transfer of power. Moussa told the Weekly that the Palestinian people are living under dire conditions as a result of inter-Palestinian bickering over many issues, including the requisites needed to hold elections. He condemned any attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the sitting parliament in light of the fact that Abbas's tenure ended one year ago but he remains in power. "There is nothing in the basic statutes permitting Abbas to remain in power, even for one hour, after his term ends," Moussa retorted. According to him, this is a political rather than a constitutional matter.

At the same time, the Hamas leader urged an end to inter- Palestinian divisions, suggesting that foreign pressure should also be curbed and a national agenda drafted. Moussa called on Palestinian factions to turn over a new leaf in their relations, and cautioned against focussing on legal interpretations because each side can construe the law in a way that benefits them. He called for a closing of national ranks based on goodwill and a true desire to end regretful strife.

According to Nagi Sharab, political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, 25 January does not in any way change the legitimacy of parliament in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Sharab told the Weekly that the status quo will simply continue, since there was an issue of legitimacy before this date, and contention would continue beyond that point.

Sharab also believes that all institutions of authority will be weakened after 25 January because there is a constitutional proviso that must be met. Sharab added that there would not be a political vacuum, since the Palestinian Central Council, the Revolutionary Council and the Fatah Central Committee authorised parliament to continue its duties. Sharab recommended signing the Egyptian reconciliation plan, while noting the concerns of Hamas and other factions regarding the proposal.

For the time being, Hamas and Fatah continue quarrelling over how to end divisions and to address the Egyptian plan. Hamas members describe Abbas's refusal to meet with Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal as a "premeditated" snub to dialogue and reconciliation. Taher Al-Nunu, spokesman for Ismail Haniyeh's government, declared that Fatah continues to refuse all offers suggested by Hamas and its government to close ranks. "Fatah has turned down these bids and sustains the media propaganda, as well as a US desire to block a bilateral Palestinian agreement that would end divisions," stated Al-Nunu. "It is not an issue of dialogue; we are interested in successful Palestinian reunion and reaching an accord to end conflict in the Palestinian arena. Accordingly, we are exerting all efforts to that end."

But Gamal Mohaisen, member of the Fatah Central Committee, disagrees. Mohaisen asserted that Hamas has no other option but to sign the Egyptian plan, saying that the group continues to avoid finalising that proposal and consequently obstructing national reconciliation.

"Egypt's offer is the common denominator to launching national reconciliation and achieving unity capable of confronting all challenges," he said.

There is consensus among Palestinians that the disagreements between Fatah and Hamas are of a political not a constitutional nature. Hence, there is a general sense that even though 25 January came and passed, this has not changed the state of inter- Palestinian relations. Monday was like any other day for the Palestinian people, who continue to suffer from divisions and their tragic repercussions.

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/983/re3.htm

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