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Outgoing Fatah strengthens grip on Palestinian politics

Associated Press
Published February 14, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinian Parliament used its final session Monday to give President Mahmoud Abbas broad new powers, infuriating Hamas days before the Islamic group takes control of a suddenly weakened legislature.

The measures were designed to preserve Abbas' control over the Palestinian Authority, though it was unlikely to assuage international concerns about dealing with a Hamas-led government.

Hamas officials said they would immediately try to overturn the laws after the new Parliament is sworn in Saturday.

"I think this session was illegal. It is a kind of bloodless coup," said Abdel Aziz Duaik, an incoming Hamas legislator.

Abbas' Fatah Party, which dominated Palestinian politics for four decades, was roundly defeated by Hamas in Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. Abbas was elected last year to a four-year term.

In their final session with a parliamentary majority, Fatah lawmakers gave Abbas the authority to appoint a new, nine-judge constitutional court, which would serve as the final arbiter in disputes between himself and a Hamas Parliament and Cabinet. The court could also veto legislation deemed to violate the Palestinians' Basic Law, which acts as a quasi-constitution.

Legal expert Issam Abdeen said the legislation would essentially give Abbas power over what laws the new Parliament passed "since he is the one who appoints the judges of the constitutional court."

"He can use (these powers) to nullify laws that are unacceptable to him. If Hamas now approves Islamic laws, he could say it is against the constitution," Abdeen said.

Hamas spokesman Said Siyam called Parliament's actions "illegitimate" and said Hamas would overturn the laws when the new Parliament takes over.

"The Parliament has no mandate and no authority to issue any new legislation," he said.

Hamas, which won 74 seats in the 132-member Parliament, would need a two-thirds majority - or 88 seats - to buck Abbas and change the legislation passed Monday. Fatah controls 45 seats and could block a coalition of Hamas and smaller parties from revoking the law if it maintains party unity.

Lawmakers also appointed Fatah loyalists to four key jobs, including the head of the government watchdog group in charge of weeding out corruption. Hamas won election on a platform promising to end years of Fatah nepotism, graft and mismanagement.

Palestinian political analyst Talal Okal said Parliament's actions worsened the already tough challenge facing Hamas as it tries to flex its muscle in a Palestinian bureaucracy filled with Fatah loyalists.

"Hamas will be in a difficult position. It will be running a government from its head, but the whole body will be Fatah," he said.

[Last modified February 14, 2006, 02:45:31]

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