In recent weeks, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have been clashing over the duration of the term of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. While the PA holds that his presidency will end in January 2010, Hamas is insisting that it ends in January 2009. The PA is accusing Hamas of trying to undermine 'Abbas's legitimacy and take over the institute of the presidency.
Following are excerpts from statements by officials, politicians, and columnists regarding this issue:
Hamas: Extending Abbas' Term's "A Judicial Slaughter of the Palestinian Constitution, to Which No One Would Ever Agree"
In late June 2008, the Palestinian Justice Ministry's Legislation and Rulings Bureau determined that the term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would be extended until January 25, 2010, to coincide with the end of the term of the Palestinian Legislative Council. This determination was based on a 2005 amendment to the Elections Law, which stipulates that the presidential elections to the Legislative Council must take place simultaneously.
In contrast, the Legislative Council deputy chairman, Hamas member Ahmad Bahr, stated: "The Basic Law limited the president's term to four years. This is explicit, clear, and incontestable. The term will end according to the law. Any interpretation or distortion of the law, or deviation from it, constitutes a[n act of] coup against the constitution and against the Palestinians' Basic Law." Bahr added that the announcement of the Palestinian Justice Ministry's Ruling and Legislative Office was "a judicial slaughter of the Palestinian Constitution, to which no one would ever agree."
Former justice minister in the Hamas government and expert on Palestinian law Ahmad Al-Khalidi likewise explained that according to the Basic Law, the presidential term cannot be extended because it is limited by law to four years. He said that "the extension of 'Abbas's term was according to the amended election law of 2005, particularly Article 111 of this law, but that the amendment contradicted the text of the Basic Law, and the Basic Law superseded it, because it is actually a kind of constitution."
Hamas: 'Abbas Has No Legitimacy to Continue to Lead the Palestinians
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Palestinian Legislative Council member and spokesman for the Hamas faction in the council Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil announced: "Hamas adheres to the law, and therefore it will not recognize the president when he concludes his term next January 9. We have in our possession a detailed legal document that is principally the Basic Law, and it is as clear as day regarding the article limiting the president's term to four years. In addition, any law that contradicts the Basic Law has no significance. After January 9, 2009, we will not recognize 'Abbas as president, and we will strip him of his title... The time has come for President Mahmoud 'Abbas to realize that neither Israel nor the U.S. will protect him."
Wissam Hassan Abu Shamallah, an analyst of Middle East affairs who writes on Hamas-affiliated websites, wrote on one of these sites that 'Abbas had no legitimacy to continue to lead the Palestinian people: "Mahmoud 'Abbas is unpopular and lacks influence, even among the circles of Fatah, which he heads. Some maintain that the deterioration in Fatah's popularity stems from the fact that its current leader lacks the charisma of his predecessor Abu 'Ammar [Yasser Arafat]...
"With regard to ['Abbas's] legitimacy as a man of the revolution or as a man of the resistance, perhaps it is worth quoting [PLO political bureau head] Farouq Al-Qaddoumi, one of Abu Mazen's ['Abbas's] colleagues: 'President Abu Mazen's problem is that he did not draw his weapon and did not believe in the resistance and in the armed struggle throughout the history of the modern Palestinian revolution.'"
Abu Shamallah went on to say: "The Israeli Mossad does not see 'Abbas as a strategic threat to the Israeli entity, even though he has been in Fatah's front rank from its founding until today. Also, the Mossad hasn't tried to assassinate or kidnap him, as it has other Fatah leadership colleagues, such as Abu Jihad, Abu Iyyad, Abu Al-Houl, Abu Yousef Al-Najar, and others – the most recent of whom was Abu 'Ammar. On the contrary: The Zionist decision-makers see him ['Abbas] as a most pragmatic and realistic figure, with whom it is possible to arrive at an understanding and an arrangement in the Israeli-Arab conflict.
"It is also known that he led the 'political realism' stream in Fatah from the early '70s. He vehemently opposed armed resistance against the Israeli enemy, or the so-called 'militarization of the Intifada.' No revolutionary leader can agree to kisses and warm meetings with the enemy prime minister, particularly one who does not recognize minimal Palestinian rights!"
PA: Hamas's Aim is to Rule the Palestinians without Partners
Former PA government minister Hassan Asfour accused Hamas of conducting a political and legal campaign against 'Abbas with the aim of stripping him of legitimacy: "Hamas will establish political and legal 'facts [on the ground]' to be used in dealing with national legitimacy. The closing by Hamas of the presidential office in Gaza, the last symbol of the PLO presence there, was not a haphazard step but part of Hamas's campaign against President 'Abbas's legitimacy. The Hamas leaders believe that any dialogue with the president or with the PA would hinder Hamas from achieving its main objective – completing the coup and seizing power."
Columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam 'Abdallah 'Awwad warned: "If the [current] developments continue, and Hamas, its government, and the Legislative Council, most of whose members belong to Hamas, announces that President Abu Mazen's term in office has come to an end, and that he is no longer legitimate as president, there may evolve a situation in which presidential elections will take place in Gaza alone – and there the matter will rest, with a Palestinian state in Gaza."
Columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam Hamada Fara'na wrote: "Hamas will continue to question the policies of the PA, Fatah, and President Abu Mazen, in preparation for a big political step, which it will announce after January 8, 2009, i.e. when Abu Mazen's term in office is concluded. It has already prepared the ground for it by rejecting the legal interpretation offered by the president of the Constitutional Court regarding synchronizing the dates of the presidential and legislative council elections…
"Hamas is heating up the atmosphere within Palestine, [fomenting hostility to] Abu Mazen, in order to announce, after January 8, 2009, yet another stage of its coup. At that time, it will declare that Abu Mazen's presidency is no longer legitimate, [i.e.] that he is not the legitimate elected president of Palestine. Hamas will also declare Legislative Council deputy chairman Ahmad Bahr the legitimate authority and temporary president, or acting president, until a new president is elected to replace Abu Mazen; however, if Dr. 'Aziz Al-Dweik, chairman of the Legislative Council, is released as part of the Gilead Shalit deal, he would be the legitimate authority.
"Hamas has a specific goal – seizing power and [ruling] with no partners. It does not believe in cooperation, or, possibly, it conceives of cooperation in terms of integrating others into its plan, and [keeping them] under its auspices, rather than [in terms of] forming a politically, organizationally, and administratively unified camp. This is why Hamas does not involve [even] resistance factions or parties in the management of Gaza, but rules it singlehandedly, by force of arms… It has but one goal – to become an alternative to the legitimate [government], with the PA institutions destroyed. In Arab countries, the fundamentalists are coming to power by holding one-time elections – and this is [precisely] what Hamas has accomplished."