Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Saturday his intention to dissolve the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council and hold legislative elections in six months, as per a recent Constitutional Court ruling.
During a meeting of Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership on Saturday evening, Abbas said that the Legislative Council has been inactive for the past 12 years, and that the proposal to dissolve it has been present from the outset and proposed during Central Committee sessions.
A source close to PA president told Mada Masr earlier this month that Abbas was preparing to dissolve the Legislative Council as a way “to pressure Hamas to come to the bargaining table in a weak position.”
The move would transfer legislative power from the largely defunct Legislative Council to the PA-controlled Central Committee. 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.
Ibrahim Madhoun, a Palestinian writer close to Hamas, told Mada Masr that “neither President Abbas nor the Constitutional Court are allowed to dissolve the Legislative Council. The president’s use of the court is pure politicization of the judiciary. But it is his right to call and hold legislative and presidential elections and we all have to stand behind the elections and adhere to the law.”
“Palestinian law stipulates that the Legislative Council is its own master and cannot be dissolved except by a decision issued by the body itself,” Madhoun added. “The Constitutional Court is a recently established court that does not exist in the Palestinian judicial system. And it is clear that it was established for the sake of this decision.”
Meanwhile, in a bid to further pressure Hamas, Abbas is planning to take critical steps regarding PA administrative employees in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip at the beginning of the new year, sources close to Fatah told Mada Masr.
The sources indicated that Abbas will force all military personnel into mandatory retirement, in addition to civilians working in ministries, except for the ministries of health and education. He indicated that voluntary retirement will be open to employees of these two ministries, which were appointed during the establishment of the PA in 1994, in exchange for 75 percent of their salaries.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem commented on these decisions, saying, “The president of the Palestinian Authority claims to stand against the ‘deal of the century,’ and that he will take action against the [Israeli] occupation. But he is actually only taking action against the Gaza Strip.”
During the meeting on Saturday, Abbas said that there had been no response yet from Hamas regarding a proposal submitted by Fatah on Palestinian reconciliation. Abbas stressed that he will not back away from previous agreements, adding that he appreciates Egyptian efforts to end the division.
Meanwhile, Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of obstructing reconciliation efforts and essentially rejecting Egypt’s proposals, which Hamas has previously agreed to, including dissolving Gaza’s administrative committee — which Hamas set up in March 2017 to manage Gaza’s security, education, health, social development, financial development and economy — and relinquishing control over border crossings.
Abbas’ decision to dissolve the Legislative Council comes as Russia is once again trying to become involved in Palestinian reconciliation negotiations by calling on Fatah and Hamas to hold consultative meetings in Moscow at the beginning of next year.
This comes after Russia held meetings with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki a few days ago to discuss the stalled peace process with Israel, in addition to the issue of the split Palestinian leadership.
According to Maliki, Russia is considering reaching out to Palestinian factions in the next few months to discuss the issue of reconciliation. He welcomed Russia’s efforts, but pointed out that these efforts are only complementary to Egypt’s role, and not an alternative.
Maliki pointed out that Hamas must first implement the 2017 reconciliation agreement before they enter into any new dialogue on the issue, stressing that President Abbas’ decision is clear and explicit, and that Hamas must take real steps in order to restart the reconciliation process.
At the same time, an informed source close to the Palestinian presidency told Mada Masr that the Palestinian Authority is uncomfortable with Moscow’s efforts to become involved with reconciliation talks, noting that it does not want to expand the circle of mediators on the issue.
The source pointed out that the Palestinian Authority wants Egypt to remain the sole arbitrator on this issue, but that the PA will not openly reject any proposed participation by other parties, so as not to be accused of disrupting Palestinian reconciliation.
The source also pointed out that Hamas stands to benefit from Moscow’s invitation, because it is largely isolated from the international community and this would help expand its international relations.