In bid to buttress rule, Abbas forms first constitutional court
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In bid to buttress rule, Abbas forms first constitutional court

Fatah defends move as step toward state-building, but others say it is illegitimate; PA president also accused of cutting funding to rival PLO faction

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 31, 2015. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 31, 2015. (Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has established the body’s first constitutional court, a move seen as an attempt to strengthen his rule and marginalize Hamas opposition.

Abbas issued the presidential decree last week and has since appointed nine judges to the court, the last of whom will be sworn in on Monday, according to Reuters.

While Abbas’s Fatah party is presenting the move as a step toward creating a functioning state, critics say Abbas has only appointed Fatah jurists to the court and is trying to consolidate his 13-year hold on power.

“Neither the president, nor any of the leaders [of Fatah], has a private agenda regarding this issue,” said Osama al-Qawasmi, the spokesman for Fatah in the West Bank, according to Reuters. “The prime task of the constitutional court is to monitor laws. By the law, it is a completely independent body and we have full confidence in it.”

PA officials say the court will have supremacy over all the lower courts, cabinet decisions, parliament resolutions and presidential decrees, according to Palestinian media.

But rival Palestinian faction Hamas rejected the establishment of the court and said it will not recognize its authority.

“Hamas will not recognize the legitimacy of this court and whatever it produces, and we call on members of the constitutional court to resign. They are responsible for creating more division among Palestinians,” a Hamas statement read.

Palestinian elections have not been held in a decade due to the bitter split between Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank-based Fatah faction led by Abbas.

The Palestinian parliament has not met since 2007, the year Hamas seized the Gaza Strip by force and drove out Fatah from the enclave buoyed by its 2006 election victory.

File: Palestinian lawmakers attend an emergency parliament session at the Legislative Council in Ramallah, July 11, 2007. (Ahmad Gharabli/Flash90)
Palestinian lawmakers attend an emergency parliament session at the Legislative Council in Ramallah, July 11, 2007. (Ahmad Gharabli/Flash90, File)

Hamas caused a shock by winning the majority of seats in the polls, which were seen by some as the most transparent to be held in the Palestinian territories. But the international community refused to accept the results, demanding that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect agreements signed between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Abbas’s legal adviser, Hassan al-Awry, said the court was needed in part because parliament’s legal status was in question given the lack of elections, according to Reuters.

“It is not a shame if the constitutional court would debate this issue,” he told Reuters, adding that the justices on the court were all legal experts and independent. “We want a judicial reference should such an issue be brought up.”

In another possible effort to sideline opposition, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed on Monday that Abbas ceased the allocation of funds from the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s coffers to the group.

The PLFP is the second-largest political group within the PLO, but unlike the largest group — Fatah — the PLFP, a Marxist group that calls for the complete destruction of Israel, is considered a terrorist organization by the US and the EU.

Palestinian police with riot gear stand guard as they stop supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) from reaching the headquarters of PA President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 7, 2013, during a protest against negotiations with Israel (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian police with riot gear stand guard as they prevent supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine from reaching the headquarters of PA President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 7, 2013, during a protest against negotiations with Israel. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Zulfikar Shiverjo, a member of the PLFP’s central committee, told the Pan-Arab news site al-Ain that the Palestinian Authority head did not specify why the funds, a total of $70,000 a month, would no longer be transferred.

Shiverjo speculated that the PA president was striking back at the PLFP for their opposition to some of his policies, although he did not specify which ones.

The PLFP has been critical of Abbas for the PA’s continual security coordination with Israel.

Hamas also condemned the decision to withhold the funds from the PLFP, calling it “political blackmail” in a statement on their website.

A recent poll of Palestinian public opinion found that 64% of the public wants Abbas to resign.

If elections were to take place, Abbas would lose to his Islamist political rival in Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, according to the poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

While the government in the West Bank receives international support, the poll found that the perception of corruption in PA institutions stands at 79%.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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