PA to purge Hamas-controlled councils

The move, planned for coming weeks, could help Abbas extend term in office after it expires January 9.

Abbas nazi 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas nazi 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority is planning to replace all the Hamas-controlled municipalities and village councils in the West Bank in the coming weeks, PA officials in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. They said the decision was aimed at undermining Hamas's influence in the West Bank and paving the way for the extension of PA President Mahmoud Abbas's term in office after it ends on January 9. Hamas has made it clear that it won't recognize Abbas's status as the elected president of the PA after that date. The PA officials expressed fear that Hamas would try to stir unrest in the West Bank to spoil Abbas's plan to unilaterally extend his term. Over the past few weeks, Abbas's security forces have been waging a fierce campaign against Hamas members and supporters in the West Bank. The drive is designed to foil any plan by Hamas to extend its control to the area, PA officials explained, noting that over 500 suspects had been detained for questioning. Hamas scored a significant victory in municipal elections that were held in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 2004 and 2005. Hamas candidates and lists managed to take control over major West Bank cities such as Nablus, Ramallah, Al-Bireh, Kalkilya and Bethlehem. Hamas's victory back then was regarded as a severe blow to Abbas's Fatah faction, which was quick to blame the "lack of progress in the peace process" for its failure in winning the backing of the Palestinian public. Following the abduction of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit more than two years ago, the IDF arrested several Hamas mayors and municipal council members in the West Bank. The term of many of the municipal councils is expected to expire in mid-December. But because of the ongoing power struggle between Fatah and Hamas, it's highly unlikely that the two parties would reach an agreement on holding the elections. "Hamas is not going to allow any kind of election in the Gaza Strip," said a senior PA official. "Therefore, we don't believe there's any need to talk about holding new elections." Another PA official said that the only solution would be to form "transitional" municipal councils that would run the affairs of the cities and villages in the West Bank until new elections are held, if ever. The official disclosed that the PA had begun studying the issue and that a decision would be taken in the coming weeks. "We believe in the democratic process and that these municipal councils were elected in a free election," he said. "But that doesn't mean that the mayors and council members could stay in power after the expiration of their term in office." Ziad al-Bandak, minister for Local Government in the West Bank-based government of PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, said PA law grants him the power to appoint "committees" that would replace the current municipal councils. He pointed out that the Fayad cabinet had discussed the issue during its weekly meeting in Ramallah earlier this week. A top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip said that any attempt by Abbas to remove the elected municipal councils in the West Bank would be regarded by Hamas as a "coup" against the "legitimate representatives" of the Palestinian public. The official claimed that the latest move "reflected Abbas's growing predicament" as his term in office neared its end.