Palestine to dissolve Legislative Council and hold elections in six months

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prays at the start of a meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 24 December 2018
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Palestine to dissolve Legislative Council and hold elections in six months

  • ‘The pronouncement of the Palestinian constitutional court is a political decision not a legal one’

AMMAN: President Mahmoud Abbas told Palestinian leaders on Saturday in Ramallah “that a decree has been issued by the Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolving the Palestine Legislative Council,” the official Wafa news agency said. 

Abbas “is committed to the Court’s decree, which also calls for holding legislative elections in six months,” it said.

Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Saeb Erekat, said on Sunday that the recent Constitutional Court’s decision that dissolved the Palestine Legislative Council goes hand in hand with efforts of transition from the period of the Palestinian Authority to the State of Palestine period.

But he went one step further than Abbas calling for presidential elections as well. Wafa news agency reported that Erekat called for “holding general elections for a constituent assembly of the State of Palestine, as well as presidential elections.”

Anis F. Kassim, editor of the Palestine Yearbook of International Law, told Arab News that the pronouncement of the Palestinian Constitutional Court is a political decision not a legal one. “It reflects a political move aimed at supporting the aspiration of President Abbas.” Kassim says that Palestinian leadership “has lost it way” by pushing for such a decision reflects “the rule by law rather than the rule of law.”

Majed Arruri, director of the Istiklal Institute for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law based in Ramallah, told Arab News that the Constitutional Court’s decision has nothing to do with the Palestinian Basic Law. 

According to Arruri the decision is a clever one because those who were behind it are only interested in the dissolving of the dormant Palestinian Legislative Council and not necessarily in holding elections in six months. Palestine has no constitution and has been run since the 1993 Oslo Accords by the 1995 Basic Law which has been amended a number of times. The Basic Law stipulates that if the president is unable to carry out his duty then the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council will take over for 60 days until presidential elections take place. The last speaker of the PLC, Aziz Dweik supports the Hamas movement, Abbas’s Fatah’s movements current political opponent

A major problem with holding elections is the question of Gaza. The Islamic Hamas movement in Gaza issued a strong statement Sunday criticizing President Abbas. “The decision of (President Mahmoud) Abbas deepens the internal Palestinian division and destroys the Palestinian political system,” said Yehya Musa, a senior Hamas leader and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

Hazem Kawasmi, a Jerusalem resident, who runs the Palestinian Municipal Development and Lending Fund told Arab News that he is in favor of legislative elections “if Jerusalemites are allowed to participate.” In the 2006 elections Palestinians from Jerusalem participated both as candidates and as voters.

Khalil Abu Arafeh the former minister of Jerusalem affairs after the 2006 election victory of Hamas told Arab News that the decision of President Abbas will cause unity damage. Abu Arafeh also questions whether the court can rule on matters that have to do with elections. 

“It is not part of the mandate of the court to decide on elections and to set a time line for it. I believe that the decision by Mr. Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the one institution that reflected the diversity of Palestinians is a reflection of a true crisis by the Palestinian Authority which is trying to negate any relations between Hamas and the West Bank as a forerunner to the separation of Gaza from the West Bank.”

Anees Seidan, head of Arab Affairs department in the PLO, told Arab News that the dissolving of the legislature is way overdue. “It is a healthy decision to revive parliamentary political life through the electoral process that will allow new blood to be pumped into Palestinian life.”


Trump’s Syria plan prompts questions after Daesh attack

The US plan to withdraw from Syria leaves Kurdish fighters in the lurch. AFP
Updated 1 min 19 sec ago
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Trump’s Syria plan prompts questions after Daesh attack

  • The attack in the strategic northeastern town of Manbij highlighted the threat posed by Daesh despite Trump’s claims

WASHINGTON: A suicide bombing claimed by Daesh militants killed at least 16 people, including two US service members and two American civilians, in northern Syria on Wednesday, just a month after President Donald Trump declared that Daesh had been defeated and he was pulling out US forces.

The attack in the strategic northeastern town of Manbij highlighted the threat posed by Daesh despite Trump’s claims. It could also complicate what had already become a messy withdrawal plan, with the president’s senior advisers disagreeing with the decision and then offering an evolving timetable for the removal of the approximately 2,000 US troops.

The attack, which also wounded three US troops, was the deadliest assault on US troops in Syria since American forces went into the country in 2015.

The dead included a number of fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have fought alongside the Americans against Daesh, according to officials and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

According to a US official, one of the US civilians killed was an intelligence specialist working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The other was an interpreter, who was a contractor.

The attack prompted new complaints about the withdrawal and underscored Pentagon assertions that Daesh is still a threat and capable of deadly attacks.

In a Dec. 19 tweet announcing the withdrawal, Trump said, “We have defeated Daesh in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” He said the troops would begin coming home “now.” That plan triggered immediate pushback from military leaders, including the resignation of the defense secretary.

Over the past month, however, Trump and others have appeared to adjust the timeline, and US officials have suggested it will likely take several months to safely withdraw American forces from Syria.

Not long after the attack Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence repeated claims of the Daesh group’s defeat. Speaking at the State Department, Pence said the “caliphate has crumbled” and the militant network “has been defeated.” Later in the day he released a statement condemning the attack but affirming the withdrawal plan.

“As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families, and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of Daesh to re-establish their evil and murderous caliphate — not now, not ever,” he said.

Others, however, immediately pointed to the attack as a reason to reverse or adjust the withdrawal plan.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump backer and prominent voice on foreign affairs on Capitol Hill, said during a committee hearing Wednesday he is concerned that Trump’s withdrawal announcement had emboldened Daesh militants and created dangerous uncertainty for American allies.

“I know people are frustrated, but we’re never going to be safe here unless we are willing to help people over there who will stand up against this radical ideology,” he said.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, said the attack demonstrates the lethal capability of Daesh and “the fact that it happened in Manbij, probably the single most complicated area of Syria, demonstrates that the president clearly doesn’t understand the complexity of the problem.”

Manbij is the main town on the westernmost edge of Syrian territory held by the US-backed Syrian Kurds, running along the border with Turkey. Mixed Kurdish-Arab Syrian forces liberated Manbij from Daesh in 2016 with help from the US-led coalition.

But Kurdish control of the town infuriated Turkey, which views the main US Kurdish ally, the YPG militia, as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish insurgents on its own soil.

The town has been at the center of tensions in northern Syria, with the militaries of two NATO members, the US and Turkey, on opposing sides. The two sides began joint patrols around Manbij in November as part of an agreement aimed at easing tensions.

Slotkin, a former senior Pentagon adviser on Syria and other international issues, said it’s time for Trump to amend or change his withdrawal order to “something more consistent with the threat” in Syria.

Others suggested the attack could trigger change.

“Certainly the Islamic State (Daesh) follows the news closely, and observing the recent controversy over a potential withdrawal would incentivize them to try for a spectacular attack to sway both public and presidential opinion,” said Jim Stravidis, a retired Navy admiral who served as top NATO commander.

Trump, meanwhile, reinforced his withdrawal decision during a meeting with about a half-dozen GOP senators late Wednesday at the White House.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was at the meeting, told reporters on a conference call that the president remained “steadfast” in his decision not to stay in Syria — or Afghanistan — “forever.” But the senator did not disclose the latest thinking on withdrawal timeline.

Paul, who has been one of the few voices in the GOP encouraging the president’s noninterventionist streak, said Trump told the group, “We’re not going to continue the way we’ve done it.”

Video of Wednesday’s attack released by local activists and news agencies showed a restaurant that suffered extensive damage and a street covered with debris and blood. Several cars were also damaged. Another video showed a helicopter flying over the area.

A security camera showed a busy street, and then a ball of fire engulfing people and others running for cover as the blast went off.

The names of the American victims are being withheld until their families can be notified.