Hamas yesterday rejected as â€œunconstitutionalâ€ the government sworn in by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Friday. The Islamist movement wants to convene parliament to vote on the government, but Abbasâ€™ Fateh faction has already said it will not attend any such session.Abbas is trying to put the emergency government that he installed after sacking the Hamas-led unity government in June on a surer legal footing. According to the Basic Law, the embryonic Palestinian constitution, an emergency government can sit for no longer than 30 days before elections must be held or parliamentary approval sought.
With more than half of Hamas legislators currently in Israeli prison, as well as deep discord between Fateh and Hamas, parliament has been practically paralysed for months and it is doubtful that a quorum can be reached to accept or reject any new government. Fateh parliamentarians yesterday rejected Hamas accusations that Abbas was acting unconstitutionally and said they would boycott any attempt at convening parliament.
But legal experts say the Basic Law does not grant Abbas the right to appoint a fully-fledged government without parliamentary approval or new elections, and in effect the Palestinian president is left to rule by decree.
This situation is likely to continue until either Hamas and Fateh renew their dialogue or new elections are called. In the current situation, however, the latter appears unlikely, while Abbas has consistently rejected calls by Hamas to renew the inter-factional dialogue, after Hamasâ€™ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June.
Friday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, still seen in the movement as Palestinian Authority prime minister, renewed his calls for a dialogue but said the Islamists would not seek it at any price.
â€œWe want dialogue, but we wonâ€™t beg for dialogue,â€ Haniyeh said during his Friday sermon in Gaza City.
The â€œnewâ€ government, the emergency government plus three new ministers, came about after the prime minister installed in June, Salam Fayyad, submitted his resignation Friday, to be immediately reappointed.
The new ministers â€” appointed to â€œshare the heavy workloadâ€,Â according to Minister of Agriculture and Social Affairs Mahmoud Al Habbash â€” are Tahana Abu Daka, who will serve as minister of youth and sports, Ibrahim Abrash, who will head the culture ministry, and Ali Kashan, the new justice minister.
Elsewhere, Israel said it was considering further steps to bolster Abbas in the West Bank. The Israeli government has released some of the revenue it collects on behalf of the PA in the form of customs which it had withheld since February 2006, and last Sunday the Israeli Cabinet voted to free 250 Fateh West Bank prisoners.
Yesterday, the Israeli government was mulling steps to pardon 178 Fateh-affiliated leaders in the West Bank on the condition that they would not take up arms against Israel again. The proposal does not include an end to Israeli military operations against members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Israel is also said to be considering easing some travel restrictions in the West Bank, but is unlikely to go very far in this. The restrictions on the movement of goods and people between areas of the West Bank as well as between the West Bank and the outside world have been condemned by international organisations, from the World Bank to the United Nations, as the primary obstacle to any sustainable economic progress for Palestinians.
Abbas, whose move to dismiss the Hamas-led unity government was greeted by the international community with an end to sanctions against direct financial assistance to the PA, desperately needs to show progress on the Palestinian economy as well as the political front.
This, however, can only happen should Israel significantly ease its restrictions in the West Bank, something it is unlikely to do absent serious international pressure especially from Washington. Such pressure, however, has not been forthcoming in the past two years since Abbas was elected president, and with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was due to visit the West Bank and Israel this week, cancelling her trip, there is little sign of that happening now.