PLO to form separate W. Bank parliament

KHALED ABU TOAMEH

The Palestinians may soon have two separate parliaments - one in the West Bank controlled by Fatah and the second belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The PLO Central Council, which met in Ramallah on Sunday, is expected to vote to dissolve the current Palestinian Legislative Council [PLC], which is dominated by Hamas. The council is also scheduled to call for early parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories.

However, it's unclear how such elections would take place in the Gaza Strip, which is entirely controlled by Hamas.

Several Fatah officials have also called to dissolve the PLC, which has been paralyzed since Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip in June.

The move is set to deepen divisions among the Palestinians and further consolidate the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is also likely to hamper efforts by some Arab countries to patch up the differences between Fatah and Hamas.

The 116-member PLO Central Council would serve as a temporary parliament to fill the vacuum after the PLC was dissolved, a senior Palestinian Authority official told The Jerusalem Post.

"Of course we will hold new parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories," he said. "But in the meantime, the council will fulfill the duties of the parliament."

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has told the council members he "fully supports" early parliamentary elections, the official added.

At the previous meeting of the PLO Central Council in July, a majority of members expressed support for dissolving the PLC and holding early elections. But the idea was abandoned following severe criticism from Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

Some PLO officials said they were convinced that early elections would be the best way to resolve the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.

"We have no other choice but to call early elections," said a veteran PLO official. "This is the only way to solve the crisis and prevent a permanent split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

Akram Haimouni, a Fatah legislator, said the council was likely to vote in favor of dissolving the PLC. "The PLO has the right to take such a decision in light of the continued crisis between Fatah and Hamas," he said.

Hamas officials warned the PLO council against dissolving the Legislative Council. In the last parliamentary elections in January 2006, Hamas won 74 of the PLC's 132 seats.

Ahmed Bahr, acting PLC speaker and a Hamas legislator, said even Abbas did not have the power to disband the parliament. "According to article 113 of the Palestinian Basic Law, no one has the power to dissolve the parliament," he said. "The PLC can't even be dissolved under a state of emergency."

Bahr dismissed allegations that the PLC has been paralyzed since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. "The parliament has been holding regular meetings, but the problem is that Fatah has been boycotting the sessions," he said. "This is in addition to the fact that Israel has arrested many Hamas legislators, including Speaker Abdel Aziz Dweik."

Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel said any decision to dissolve the PLC would be "unconstitutional" and "illegal." He added: "The so-called PLO Central Council is an illegitimate body, as are most of the PLO institutions. The PLO hasn't held internal elections for many years and its members are all in office in violation of the law and regulations."

Ayman Taha, another Hamas figure in the Gaza Strip, accused Abbas of using PLO institutions to reverse the results of the last parliamentary elections.

"The PLO Central Council was never elected by the Palestinians," he said. "Most of its members were appointed either by Yasser Arafat or by Hamas. How can a body that was never elected dissolve a democratically elected parliament?"