Abu Mazen Aligns with Hamas – For Now
Without touching a comma of the Hamas platform and its resolution to continue warfare and terrorist attacks on Israel, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas approved the cabinet lineup Hamas handed him Sunday night, March 19 – according to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources.
Two days earlier, Fatah official Saib Erekat completed a thick report covering the precise powers and prerogatives of the Palestinian prime minister in the light of the laws, regulations and precedents laid down during the Palestinian Authority’s 12-year history.
The report was compiled by a secret commission which Erekat headed, in an effort by Fatah, which lost the January election to Hamas, to boost the authority of its leader in relation to the Hamas government.
A copy was obtained by debkafile. These are its four key conclusions:
1. The Palestinian prime minister is charged with executing Palestinian Authority policy, i.e. policy laid down by its chairman, Mahmoud Abbas.
2. The Palestinian prime minister defers to the PA chairman who takes precedence over parliament
3. The PA chairman is empowered to dismiss a prime minister and any of his ministers at any time.
4. All previous legislation and documents arm Abu Mazen with the instruments for declaring a constitutional crisis against a Hamas government as and when he sees fit.
The Erekat report helped the Fatah high-ups lean hard on Abbas Sunday night in the hope of persuading him to stage this crisis and pre-empt the Hamas takeover of the Palestinian government. The pretext was to be the incoming party’s refusal to recognize the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the supreme representative of the Palestinian people. (Fatah leaders do not consider espousing terrorism legitimate due cause for disqualifying Hamas.) They praised Abbas for managing to isolate Hamas to the point that every other Palestinian faction stayed out of government.
But Abu Mazen refused to be drawn. He preserved his usual sphinx-like mien, keeping any decision he made about unseating Hamas to himself.
Informed Israeli sources say that, while decision-making is not Abu Mazen’s strong suit, he holds two main options:
He can decide not to make trouble for the new Hamas government, as Shin Beit director Yuval Diskin expects; or, as acting prime minister Ehud Olmert and the ministers working with him hope, he can at some point fabricate a constitutional confrontation to overthrow the Hamas administration. He would then call a new election and restore his own Fatah to power.
For now, it looks as though Diskin is correct. Abbas has hit on a way of sliding past the obstacle of Hamas’s non-recognition of the PLO’s pre-eminence – and therefore its signature on agreements with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo Accords: he will ask the PLO executive to endorse the new cabinet before it is sworn in by the legislature. This stratagem is designed to throw off Fatah pressure to oust Hamas without delay, while showing Haniya he cannot buck the PLO and repudiate past agreements signed in the name of the Palestinian people.
But the Hamas prime minister-designate is in no mood to look too closely at these niceties. All he cares about is that Abbas submit his cabinet to the legislature, as we reported last week. If Abbas fails to do so, he will be held accountable for a crisis and Hamas will bypass him and go ahead with presenting its ministers directly to parliament, making the PA chairman redundant.
In his calculations, Abu Mazen appears impervious to the frequent violent clashes in the Gaza Strip between al Aqsa Brigades gunmen, frustrated at the loss of jobs to Hamas stalwarts, and Palestinian security forces. Sunday, after Hamas named its cabinet, armed Fatah men tried repeatedly to disrupt government, leaving seven people wounded.