Fatah-Hamas power struggle looms

Conflict expected to rise during the PLC swearing-in session.

masked fatah gunman 88 (photo credit: )
masked fatah gunman 88
(photo credit: )
The new Hamas-controlled Palestinian Legislative Council, which is due to be sworn in on Saturday during a special session, is seen by many Palestinians as marking the beginning of a bitter power struggle between the Islamic movement and the ruling Fatah party. "From now on we will have two authorities and most likely this will lead to a clash," said former Palestinian Authority minister Nabil Amr, a Fatah candidate from Hebron who lost his seat in the PLC in the last election. "The struggle will be between the president's office on the one hand and the parliament and cabinet on the other." Amr is perhaps the most appropriate man to take on the looming power struggle. More than three years ago, he served as information minister in a cabinet headed by then-prime minister Mahmoud Abbas, the current chairman. That cabinet was formed under pressure from the US and European countries as part of an effort to force Yasser Arafat to share power with a prime minister - a post that had not existed in the PA until then. Abbas and his cabinet quickly found themselves embroiled in an agonizing power struggle with Arafat and the "president's office." Arafat never accepted the idea of ceding control over the PA, especially its finances and security forces, a fact that put him on a head-on collision with his prime minister and cabinet. In the end, a frustrated Abbas resigned, accusing Arafat and his top officials of obstructing his work. Ironically, Abbas today finds himself in the same position Arafat was in back then. He has also begun acting in the same manner as his predecessor. In the past two weeks, Abbas did almost everything to tighten his grip on the PA. Taking advantage of the fact that the outgoing PLC is dominated by members of Fatah, Abbas sought and received a series of last-minute laws that strengthened his powers. In addition, he issued a number of presidential decrees placing PA bodies under his direct control. The latest decree, issued earlier this week, gives Abbas exclusive control over the media - a move that is clearly designed to prevent Hamas from taking control of the PA's radio and TV stations. Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, is the group's choice for prime minister, a Hamas official said Thursday. The formal announcement will not be made before the new PLC is sworn in on Saturday, said the official. Haniyeh, 46, is seen as a leader of the more pragmatic wing of Hamas. Born in Gaza's Shati refugee camp, he graduated from Gaza City's Islamic University in 1987 with a degree in Arabic literature and became a close associate of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Haniyeh was expelled by Israel to south Lebanon in 1992, returned to Gaza a year later and became the dean of the Islamic University. In 1998, he took charge of Yassin's office. Haniyeh served as a liaison between Hamas and the PA. He rose to prominence after Israel's assassinations in 2004 of Yassin and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and has been a member of the political leadership of Hamas since the 1990s. The new PLC, as well as the cabinet that is expected to be formed within the next few weeks, will make life extremely difficult for Abbas. Many lawmakers are convinced he won't be able to deal with the two Hamas-run bodies, and he eventually will be forced to resign. Hamas has already announced that its first mission would be to cancel laws that were passed by the PLC after the elections. Moreover, Hamas has said it would not accept any of the decisions that were taken by Abbas in the past few days, such as the appointment or promotion of officials. Abbas won't be alone in facing the Hamas cabinet and PLC. He still enjoys the backing of many senior Fatah officials, including commanders of the PA security forces, who have openly vowed to challenge Hamas's attempts to control the security establishment. In fact, many Fatah leaders are behaving as if their party will continue to rule despite its humiliating defeat in the January 25 elections. "As of next week, we will have the Fatah authority and the Hamas authority," said an independent legislator. "One authority, headed by Abbas, will sit in the Mukata [presidential compound] in Ramallah, while the other one, led by Hamas, will be based in the Gaza Strip. Hamas may have won the election, but Fatah has no intention of handing it the victory on a silver platter." AP contributed to this report.