The Implications of the Dissolution of the Legislative Council for the Palestinian Political Climate
President ‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership look like a person who has long talked about the importance of leaving safely via an exit door; but when he made his decision, he jumped out of the window!
The Palestinian Authority (PA) Constitutional Court has decided to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and called for holding parliamentary elections in six months. Interestingly, out of the three likely scenarios of the implications of such a decision, it seems that the worst is the most likely; in the light of a Palestinian landscape affected by political schism, and a weak and worn-out Palestinian political system immersed in crisis.
On 22/12/2018, this decision was announced by President ‘Abbas rather than by the Constitutional Court itself, only to be found out later, that the court ruling was issued 10 days earlier, on 12/12/2018.
The decision of PLC dissolution did not come as a surprise to observers, for since May 2006, few months after Hamas won a PLC majority, ‘Abbas has been calling for new PLC elections. Throughout the 11 years, since Hamas has gained power in Gaza Strip (GS) and Fatah seized power in West Bank (WB), ‘Abbas has been refusing to call the PLC into session. As president, he has practically taken the PLC’s place by issuing dozens of laws and legislations, which is actually the core work of the Council.
The calls of “Fatah-affiliated” members to dissolve the PLC increased during 2018; and on 14/10/2018, the Fatah Revolutionary Council called the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Central Council (PCC) to assume its responsibilities and dissolve the PLC, despite the fact that such a decision falls outside its jurisdiction, according to the Palestinian Basic Law. However, ‘Abbas preferred that the Constitutional Court take such a step, considering this more logical and more acceptable to the Palestinian authority apparatus, despite the fact that the court itself faces real dilemmas and internal Palestinian disputes. For there are some questioning the legitimacy of the court and the way it was formed, the “Fatah-affiliation” of some of its members, and its jurisdiction to consider such matters.
Three Future Scenarios
There are three future scenarios concerning the implications of the PLC dissolution for the Palestinian Political Climate: First Scenario: All Palestinian forces and factions would be responsive to the dissolution decision, putting the PLC “behind us,” as Mahmud al-‘Alul, Fatah Central Committee member, puts it. This is what Fatah is seeking to achieve, which was made clear when there were calls to form a Palestinian government, that would lead the current phase, and pave the way for elections, in which all the factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would participate.
It seems that Fatah knows in advance that Hamas (a non-PLO member) will reject the decision, hence it will seek to isolate Hamas and impose the path it wants by forging temporary partnerships with the PLO factions, and maybe by providing some “incentives” for them.
This scenario seems to be the most unlikely, for the other main PLO factions have announced their unequivocal rejection of the constitutional court decision, and those of ‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) announced its total rejection of the decision, as it considers the constitutional court illegal and has no jurisdiction, and what the PA has done reinforces the schism. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) stated that the decision doesn’t solve the crisis, rather it will complicate it more, and that it contradicts the Basic Law and is considered a blow to the reconciliation agreement. Bassam al-Salihi, the secretary-general of the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP), has previously objected to such a disposition, stressing that the dissolution of the Council will not end the schism, rather it will have negative effects.
Actually, Fatah was the only one singing a different tune, and as for the rapprochement it was seeking, Fatah itself has weakened it and has dealt a blow to it througout 2018. For last year, the PFLP boycotted three PCC sessions and a Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting, whereas the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) boycotted the last two PCC sessions. Discontent with Fatah’s practices spread, and the Palestinian National Initiative, led by Mustafa Barghouti, boycotted the PCC’s third session. Hence, what was actually going on, is that Fatah, by the end of 2018, became more politically isolated, and that there was more political rappochement with Hamas’s conduct.
Based on all the above, this scenario would be the least likely to take place.
Second Scenario: Maintaining the status quo, and dealing with the dissolution decision as a tactical political one, having no actual value.
In other words, the Palestinian political environment will not take the decision seriously, and would deal with it as “a whirlwind in a cup,” and as merely Fatah’s tool for political pressure, in which the latter knows its weak effect or futility. Consequently, when Fatah faces broad criticism, it will gradually cease to rely on the decision or talk about it. However, every once in a while, it will bring forth the issue as a political maneuver.
What strengthens this scenario is that the other Palestinian factions, and most of the influential parties—without which no elections would be held, nor legitimacy would be granted to the decision—have rejected the court’s decision, considering it political. Also, Hamas, which controls the overwhelming majority in the PLC—and is a key party in the reconciliation and the “legitimacy conflict”—has rejected the court’s decision, and stressed that the PLC is still legally in office.
Prominent constitutional law scholars have denounced the court’s decision as unconstitutional, and found it to be in contradiction to the provisions of the Basic Law, and in it the court has transcended its jurisdiction. This was mentioned in the advisory opinion of Professor Ahmad Mubarak al-Khalidi, the former dean of the College of Law at An-Najah National University in Nablus and Head of the Palestinian Constitution Drafting Committee. Also, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Sami Sarsour has denounced the court’s decision as unconstitutional and stated, as Khalidi has done too, that according to the Article 47 bis of the 2005 Amendment to the Basic Law, “The term of the current Legislative Council shall terminate when the members of the new elected Council take the constitutional oath.” He added that no authority has the “jurisdiction” to dissolve the council. Even President ‘Abbas himself, could not get such an article, whose term is five years according to the Basic Law.
In this scenario, and when Fatah faces broad criticism, it will calm things down and try to make other maneuvers. As for the other factions, including Hamas, they will try in order not to let the situation deteriorate, they will try to absorb the political repercussion, and reconciliation talks would be re-launched. This scenario has a chance of success, provided that Fatah waives the implementation of the decision and its outcomes.
Third Scenario: The crisis of the Palestinian political system would exacerbate, the political and geographical divide would widen, and the chances of enforcing reconciliation would decrease.
The argument of this scenario depends on the interpretation that for ‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership to use the Constitutional Court in the Palestinian political conflict is considered an “ultimate subjugation” and “a point of no return” in the Palestinian internal politics, whereas Palestinian political analyst, Hani al-Masri, described it as a “leap to hell.” This highly politicized decision has damaged the reconciliation agreement to the core, which is supposed to be based on partnership, pluralism and parallel reform processes of the Palestinian political system. The reconciliation agreement calls for the activation of the PLC rather than disabling it (which ‘Abbas kept doing over the past years). Hence, and since Fatah is using its cards to subjugate the others rather than do some reform, this decision would add insult to injury, and increase the disintegration of the Palestinian political landscape.
Supporting this scenario is the fact that for two years ‘Abbas has been trying to “subdue” Hamas and dominate the Palestinian landscape, despite the mounting opposition to his policies, inside and outside the PLO. For in addition to his continued security coordination with Israel, which Palestinian political forces have a consensus on refusing, and since March 2017, he imposed sanctions on the Gaza Strip (GS). On one hand, he has refused to convene the unified leadership framework even if it was in the context of facing the “deal of the century,” but on the other hand, he insisted on convening the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in April 2018 under the occupation (Contrary to Beirut Agreement of January 2017). Interestingly, the President is still using the “empowerment” of the PA government excuse to disrupt the reconciliation or refrain from lifting sanctions on GS. All the above issues that he has been insisting on, face broad criticism from various Palestinian forces, including Hamas.
Thus, it seems that as long as ‘Abbas is in office, the Palestinian political landscape is expected to face deeper crises, while the chances for a genuine reconciliation are diminishing.
Unfortunately, this scenario is more likely than the other two.
Finally, the deep crisis facing the Palestinian political system requires the convergence of different forces, to overcome their personal calculations and prioritize building the national project on sound bases; especially that there are real risks that the Palestinian dossier would be closed and the Palestinian issue would be liquidated.
This article was originally published in Arabic on TRT Arabic “trt.net.tr/arabic” on 1/1/2019. The author is director of the Beirut-based think tank, Al-Zaytouna Centre.