[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


March 27, 2006


This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora


Abbas Letter to PM Designate


President Mahmoud Abbas, before leaving to attend the Arab summit in Khartoum-Sudan, sent a letter to Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister designate warning the Hamas leadership that if the new cabinet adopts positions that would be detrimental to Palestinian interests, then Abbas will use his authority according to the Basic Law. The Basic Law, in the absence of a Palestinian constitution empowers the president to disband the Hamas cabinet.


In the letter, President Abbas notes that declared Hamas policies would damage diplomatic achievements that previous PA governments realized, also not to give Israel the pretext not to negotiate, additionally not to block precious foreign aid and funding to the PA.


Minister of Tourism Resigns


Tanas Abu Aytah declined accepting the position of minister of Tourism in the Hamas cabinet that is due to be sworn in on Monday before the PLC. Abu Aytah refused to give reasons for declining the post. It is believed that mounting pressure was faced by Abu Aytah not to accept the post of minister of tourism. Abu Aytah is the brother of ex PLC member Mitri Abu Aytah from the Bethlehem district, who was for two terms a former minister of tourism. Until a replacement is found, the Hamas cabinet will lack a Christian Palestinian representative.


Abbas Takes Control of the Investment Fund and the Passageways Department


The presidency is relieving the Hamas cabinet of the control of the investment fund authority which controls investments that was started during the tenure of Yasser Arafat, and was controlled previously by Mohamed Rashid better known as Khaled Salem, financial advisor to Yasser Arafat. The fund is estimated to be around $900 million and as a result of the reform process was headed by ex-finance minister Salam Fayyad until he resigned to contest the PLC elections. PM Ahmed Qurei took over control of the fund and now through a presidential edict, it is going to be transferred directly under the office of the President.


Another important department, the Authority of Control of Crossings (passageways) previously under the civil affairs ministry that is in the present government the portfolio of Mohamed Dahlan is to be removed from the ministry which under the coming Hamas cabinet will be made a department of the ministry of the interior, instead it will become another department under the control of the office of the president.



Abbas Draws the Battle Lines


As s result of the confrontation in Jericho, and the capture of the PFLP leader Saadat and others, Abbas was faced with the choice of disbanding the PA, and relieving the PLO from confronting the Hamas controlled PLC and cabinet, or as is developing reasserting the supremacy of the PLO as the supreme authority that came to power in the occupied territories as a consequence of the Oslo Accords.


Abbas through all the decisions and organizational restructuring taking place since the Hamas election victory is indicating that the office of the president and the PLO are the referral bodies to the PA and the Hamas cabinet.


According to the Basic Law, the President can prevent the Hamas government from assuming office and has the right to designate a new PM. Hamas as a result of its sweeping victory in the January 25 elections controls the parliament which the president again according to the Basic law cannot dissolve, a political stalemate might develop and will create a constitutional crisis. Hamas does not have outright control of the PLC, because a 2/3 majority is needed to change the basic law.


The Hamas leadership is aware of the underlining issues. Ismail Haniyeh is acting wisely by avoiding to respond to the provocations. Although other Hamas leaders are attacking the President and the Fateh movement for putting obstacles in front of Hamas to exercise its term in office in respect of the democratic process that brought them to power.


Division of Labor


In order to emerge from this political and constitutional confrontation and in order to avoid an internal civil confrontation, all the political Islamic and national parties should revive previous dialogue started Cairo in order to avoid internal dissention. Hamas was elected according to the platform of reform and change, Hamas should for at least the first four years term of office concentrate on the reform process, and on domestic issues that will allow it to avoid confrontation with the Presidency, Israel and the international community, and give it time to demonstrate to the Palestinian public that it can render better services, and thus for Hamas own interests demonstrate that Islamic parties are aware of responsibilities, and can adjust policies to serve the best interest of the Palestinian people and thus assure the Hamas movement that the result of their previous victory is not a one time phenomena. Hamas as Haniyeh is declaring will try through dialogue to resolve its differences with the office of the president. The most important step for Hamas would be to demonstrate beyond doubt that they can enforce the ceasefire and control internal security by controlling the thuggery that so far previous cabinets have failed to do.


The presidency is in a much more difficult trap. Mahmoud Abbas was elected on the platform of bringing negotiations to a fruitful ending. The present Israeli government and the future expected Kadima led government basically is telling Abbas he is not a partner and that the policy of unilateralism is the policies of Israel for the next four years.


The Presidency is consolidating power in the hands of the President, and in the supremacy of the PLO over all PA institutions. Failure to return to the negotiating table, would allow the credibility of Abbas, the institution of the presidency and the PLO to disintegrate.


For the next four years, primarily for the better interest of the Palestinian people both Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh should create a national body that can resolve issues of confrontation; allow a smooth transition to cohabitation between the two main political forces, and the possibility of going back to a coalition government. The next few months will show if this is possible or if the future independence of Palestine is going to be further delayed because of internal incompatibility.