New law tightens Abbas's grip on gov't

Outgoing parliament gives total veto in what Hamas terms 'bloodless coup'.

outgoing parliament 298 (photo credit: AP)
outgoing parliament 298
(photo credit: AP)
The outgoing Palestinian parliament gave Mahmoud Abbas sweeping new powers Monday, just days before Hamas was to take control of the legislature. In their final session, lawmakers from Abbas' defeated Fatah Party gave the Palestinian leader the authority to appoint a new constitutional court which would serve as the final arbiter in disputes between him and a Hamas government. Lawmakers also appointed Fatah loyalists to four key jobs, including the head of the government watchdog group in charge of weeding out official corruption. Hamas won last month's parliament elections largely on a promise to end years of nepotism, graft and mismanagement by Fatah.
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A fuming Hamas termed the 11th-hour legislation "not legitimate" and vowed to overturn it. One of its incoming legislators called the legislation "a bloodless coup." Hamas would need a two-thirds majority - or 88 of 132 seats in parliament - to change Monday's legislation. It is unclear whether Hamas would muster such a majority. It will control 74 seats in the new parliament, but can also count on support from several independents. With the new, Hamas-dominated legislature scheduled to convene for the first time on Saturday, the old legislature struck hard in its last session. Parliament empowered Abbas to appoint a new, nine-judge constitutional court that would have the authority to resolve any dispute between him and the incoming Hamas-dominated parliament or Cabinet. The court could also veto legislation deemed to violate the Palestinians' Basic Law, a forerunner to the Palestinian constitution. Legal expert Issam Abdeen said the new legislation would allow Abbas to "cancel any law approved by the new parliament on the pretext it is unconstitutional." "The new amendment gives President Mahmoud Abbas power over the laws of the new Palestinian legislature, since he is the one who appoints the judges of the constitutional court," Abdeen said. "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." Hamas spokesman Said Siyam said parliament had no right to make last-minute changes, and that Hamas would overturn the old parliament's decisions after the new legislature convenes Saturday. "The parliament has no mandate and no authority to issue any new legislation," he said, calling Monday's action "not legitimate." Abdel Aziz Duaik, an incoming Hamas legislator who was observing the session, said the new law "puts complete authority in the hands of the president." "I think this session was illegal. It is a kind of bloodless coup," Duaik said. "We must go back to the people to see if this session was actually legal." Lawmakers also appointed four Fatah loyalists to key government positions: head of personnel in the Palestinian Authority, administrative chief of the parliament, head of the government's salaries and pension fund and head of the government controller. Abbas, who was elected separately last year for a four-year term, is considered a moderate who seeks to resume peace talks with Israel. The strengthening of his powers and weakening of Hamas comes as Israel tries to diplomatically isolate Hamas unless it renounces violence and recognizes the Jewish state. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the Palestinian parliament's actions.