In the wake of the collapse of the recent Egypt-mediated reconciliation talks, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is preparing to dissolve the unity government’s Legislative Council as a way “to pressure Hamas to come to the bargaining table in a weak position,” according to a source close to the PA’s president.
The move, which would transfer legislative power from the defunct Hamas-dominated Legislative Council to the PA-controlled Central Committee, was first suggested by Abbas in a Saturday night speech given to participants at a conference on governance and fighting corruption. Following the announcement, Abbas retreated into what the source close to the PA president described as an “intense” meeting with 20 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Central Committee that stretched into the early hours of Sunday morning and was filled with “angry exchanges.”
While the Legislative Committee has been inactive since 2007, political analysts who spoke to Mada Masr said that Abbas’s move is an attempt to revive legislative powers and place them in the hands of the PA, while simultaneously adding further pressure on Hamas.
According to the source, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity and who had direct knowledge of the meeting, Abbas began the meeting by making the case for the dissolution of the legislative body. However, he was met by staunch opposition from four members of the committee, who argued that previous sanction measures had affected Gazans more than persuaded Hamas to hede the PA’s hardline demands.
“Stop fearing Hamas, and start respecting my decisions. I know what is best for us now,” Abbas reportedly said in response to the criticism broached in the meeting.
Hamas controls 76 seats of 132 total seats in the Legislative Council, which was formed on the back of 2006 elections but has been inactive since Hamas and Fatah split in 2007. Fatah, by comparison, only controls 43 seats.
While Abbas and Fatah have stalled reconciliation talks at various points, the PA president argued in the meeting that the Legislative Council is the primary reason for the continued impasse.
A clear timeline for the dissolution has not yet been decided, but the source did outline the steps that would be taken.
“Abbas aims to start with dissolving the council, demanding the [PLO’s] Palestinian National Council transfer the council’s authority to the PLO’s Central Council,” the source said. “Then, the Central Committee would sit at the top of the Palestinian legislative hierarchy.”
Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad, the two most prominent Gaza-based factions, have representation in the Central Council.
For Gaza-based political analyst Mostafa al-Sawwaf, the move by Abbas is an attempt to reactivate legislative powers and “pull the rug out from under Hamas” at the same time.
However, in Sawwaf’s opinion, Abbas’s decision will not have this intended effect and will actually heighten division, “forcing both sides to spend time and effort chasing nothing.”
Beyond the political calculation, Sawwaf said that Abbas does not have the power to dissolve the Legislative Council, as it is a democratically elected body, and only voters can take away council’s power.
“This makes the decision illegal and non-constitutional,” Sawwaf told Mada Masr.
Before talks broke down in recent weeks, sources close to Fatah and Hamas delegations in Cairo said that talks over a reconciliation deal proceeded to the point that a high-level meeting was in the works to lay the groundwork for general elections to form a new national government.
The issue of administrative control over Gaza has long been a contentious issue. Abbas imposed sanctions on Gaza in April 2017, the lifting of which was contingent on the full dissolution of the Gaza administrative committee — which Hamas set up in March 2017 — and the handing over of administrative control to the unity government.
The Gaza administrative committee took on the task of managing the governance of Gaza’s security, education, health, social development, financial development and economy in March 2017. It was formed as an alternative to the 2014 national unity government, which was unable to take over due to disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the details of the reconciliation. Hamas conceded to the PA’s demands to dissolve the administrative committee in September 2017, following mediation efforts by Egypt.
Hamas has accused the PA of subjecting Gazans to punitive measures through the sanctions, which include decreasing electricity subsidies, reducing employee salaries and constricting the entry of medicine into Gaza.