hamas meeting 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
In the opening session of the new Hamas-majority Palestinian Legislative Council, Abdul Aziz Dweik, the newly-elected Hamas Speaker of Parliament promised that Hamas would try to fulfill its "rightful duty to resist occupation."
His words came less than an hour after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah called on the people to use peaceful means of resistance and told the new government to accept the agreements previously made with Israel.
The two speeches laid out the conflicting programs of Hamas and Fatah, and presented a challenge for the future government. Hamas's leaders have stated support for armed resistance "to end the occupation," although they have generally abided by a one-year truce. Hamas has further called for a review of all agreements made with Israel, and has said that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were futile.
Nevertheless, Abbas retains a range of powers, including over much of the armed forces. Yet Hamas holds a majority in the PLC with 74 seats and will be forming the cabinet.
These two powerful groups could clash. But both sides said that dialogue would be the modus operandi.
"Why assume that there will be crisis? Let us resort to dialogue. Everything comes through dialogue," Abbas told reporters after leaving parliament.
Ismail Haniyeh said "dialogue and understanding" should be used "to preserve the national unity of the Palestinian people and promote the higher interests of our people."
Indeed Dweik left the building inside the Muqataa in Ramallah to meet Abbas at a nearby hotel with other Hamas leaders. Haniyeh connected with them by phone from Gaza, because Israel prevented Gaza lawmakers from traveling to Ramallah.
However, several Hamas legislators said the group would not agree to negotiations with Israel. Mushir al-Masri, a leading Hamas legislator in Gaza said after Abbas's speech that negotiations with Israel are "not on our agenda."
Another Hamas spokesman in Gaza also supported "resistance."
"Hamas rejects negotiations with the occupation under the current circumstances, while occupation and aggression continues," said Sami Abu Zuhri. "We re-emphasise the commitment to [armed] resistance as a natural right of our people."
Abbas had harsh words for Israel railing against Israel for what he called its "racist separation wall" in the West Bank and its "closures, checkpoints, destruction of infrastructure, uprooting of trees and many other measures that have turned Palestinians' life into hell..."
Abbas received a standing ovation for his speech from both Hamas and Fatah members, who were connected by video-conferencing. Though the two organizations have exchanged bullets, on Saturday the transition of power went peacefully. Fatah for the first time relinquished power to a competing political group. And Hamas for the first time took the political reins of the Palestinian people.
In Gaza, the mostly Hamas PLC members called "Allahu akbar" and clapped again and again. In Ramallah, the members were more subdued, clapping politely only occasionally.
It was only when Dweik was handed the gavel by outgoing PLC Speaker, Rawhi Fatouh, that everyone stood up clapping and Hamas members cheered.
Dweik's election to speaker of parliament was the first act of the 132 newly sworn-in PLC members. Not all the members were present - 13 were in Israeli jails and one, Ahmad Saadat, was in a Palestinian jail. They would be sworn in by phone.
The parliament also elected two deputy speakers and a secretary general. Hamas legislator Ahmed Bahar of Gaza was chosen first deputy and independent Hassan Khreisheh, backed by Hamas, was elected second deputy. Hamas legislator Mahmoud Ramahi from Ramallah will serve as the secretary general of the parliament.
A father of seven, Dweik joined Hamas in 1987, almost immediately after the Islamic movement was founded. Arrested four times by Israel, he spent two years in prison and was deported to Lebanon in 1992. While in Lebanon, Duaik served as a spokesman for the hundreds of Islamic terrorists deported along with him.
Dweik, who speaks English fluently, holds a doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a professor at An Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus, where he established a geography department.
Dweik appeared overwhelmed as he left the building. Reporters and cameramen surrounded him as he made his way to a sleek black Mercedes-Benz - which only hours before belonged to his predecessor.
AP contributed to this report.