'Abbas creating military dictatorship'

Lawyers accuse him of diluting PA Basic Law, seeking to undermine the PLC.

abbas fatah cab 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
abbas fatah cab 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has come under heavy criticism from Palestinians - including drafters of the PA Basic Law - who say he is forging a "military dictatorship" in the West Bank by granting military courts broad powers to crack down on civilians. Abbas is also under attack for seeking to dilute the power of the Palestinian Legislative Council, whose members were elected in January 2006. Abbas has issued a series of decrees in recent weeks suspending parts of the PA Basic Law and granting himself and military and security commanders and judges greater powers. On Monday, Abbas issued a "presidential decree" giving Palestinian military courts in the West Bank greater power "in the interest of public safety and internal public security." The move is seen as an attempt to enhance his power and to foil any attempt by Hamas to undermine his Fatah faction in the West Bank. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the new order was "the most dangerous of a series of decrees" that Abbas issued following his declaration of a state of emergency on June 14. "The decree paves the way for the destruction of the judicial authority and civilian life for the sake of militarizing Palestinian society," the center said in a statement. Another Palestinian human rights group, Al-Haq, said it viewed Abbas's decree with "great concern, as it infringes on fundamental human rights and is in violation of the provisions of the Palestinian Basic Law." Abbas, according to critics, is planning to establish a new parliament to replace the Hamas-dominated PLC. Two lawyers who helped draft the PA Basic Law have lashed out at Abbas for "violating the law." Attorneys Anis al-Qassem and Yugin Qatran said the law did not give Abbas the right to form an emergency government. They said the law they helped draft more than a decade ago was very clear about the powers of the PA chairman. "While the Palestinian Authority chairman is entitled to fire the prime minister, he does not have the power to form a new government without the approval of parliament," they said. "The dismissed government [of Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh] should have continued to serve as a caretaker government until a new government is approved by a majority in parliament. What's happening today in the West Bank will lead to the creation of a military dictatorship," they said. Dr. Ahmed Khaldi, another legal expert who played a major role in drafting the Basic Law, was kidnapped two weeks ago by unidentified gunmen in his hometown of Nablus. Khaldi's abduction was intended to send a warning to him and other legal scholars who have been criticizing Abbas's violations of the Basic Law. Also on Tuesday, in the first protest of its kind since Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip, the families of dozens of Hamas supporters demonstrated in Nablus to demand the release of their sons from PA prisons. Palestinian policemen fired into the air to prevent the demonstrators from approaching the city's central prison, witnesses said. No one was hurt. Meanwhile, Fatah gunmen in Nablus kidnapped Shaher Saed, general-secretary of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions. Sources in the city told The Jerusalem Post that Saed was abducted from his downtown office. They said he was released unharmed later in the day after being ordered by the gunmen to resign from his post. The abduction is yet another indication of the continued lawlessness in the West Bank, which is now entirely under the control of forces loyal to Abbas. Saed, who has been in his job for more than 15 years, was kidnapped despite the beefed-up presence of PA security forces on the streets. Earlier this week, some 150 Fatah gunmen stormed a number of schools in Nablus and drove out hundreds of students who were taking high school matriculation exams. The gunmen were protesting against Abbas's refusal to allocate secret halls for them so that they, too, could sit for the exams, without risking being arrested or killed by the IDF. The gunmen were later allowed to sit for the exams in special halls. One of the teachers said most of the gunmen cheated. "They opened books and copied the answers word by word," he said. "We were afraid to stop them because they were carrying M-16 rifles." PA security forces have detained more than 100 Hamas supporters in Nablus over the past three weeks. All the detainees are being held without trial or questioning and are banned from meeting with their lawyers. Unconfirmed reports that some of the Hamas detainees have been tortured sparked a wave of protests in the city and other parts of the West Bank. Citing "security concerns," PA policemen banned reporters and photographers from covering Tuesday's demonstration outside the PA lock-up. A university student who was suspected of using his mobile phone to take a picture of the event was beaten and taken into custody. In a related development, Palestinian journalists complained that the PA had banned the Hamas-affiliated Falasteen newspaper from being distributed in the West Bank. The paper is based in Gaza City.