Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Public loses faith in paralyzed Palestinian parliament

AP , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Lawmakers attend a special parliament session at the Palestinian Legislative Council in the West Bank town of Ramallah in this photo taken last year. A session planned for Tuesday was to have been the first in four months but was canceled.

PHOTO: AP

Political squabbling, rookie wanderlust and Israel's arrest of dozens of lawmakers have effectively shut down the Palestinian parliament.

A session planned for Tuesday was to have been the first in four months. It was canceled because a dozen Hamas legislators preferred to go on a junket to Indonesia instead, and the deputy speaker believed he wouldn't get a quorum of at least 67 out of 132 lawmakers.

The extended break has largely gone unnoticed by a jaded public. Polls indicate that after years of inaction by the lawmakers, Palestinians don't have much faith in parliament.

"The public doesn't feel the absence of the legislative council because ... it didn't do its job," political scientist Ali Jerbawi said.

Parliament was formed in 1996 as part of the interim peace deals with Israel. For the first 10 years it was controlled by the Fatah movement founded by the late Yasser Arafat, predecessor of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

A year ago, the Islamic militant Hamas swept parliament elections, winning 74 seats, compared to 45 for Fatah, and enabling Hamas to form a government without relying on a coalition partner.

Today, 41 legislators are in Israeli lockups, including 37 from Hamas. Israel has rounded up dozens of Hamas officials in recent months on charges of membership of an outlawed organization.

The detentions have weakened Hamas' control of parliament, since those in prison cannot cast a vote.

Initially, Fatah promised Hamas it wouldn't exploit the sudden advantage. However, with the power struggle between the rival movements intensifying -- 35 people were killed in Hamas-Fatah fighting in the past month -- such promises no longer hold.

"At the beginning, ... we said we will not play into the hand of the occupation," said Fatah lawmaker Abdullah Abdullah, referring to the Israeli arrests. "But if something comes up for a vote, we will vote. If something bad is affecting our nation, we will do our duty."

Abdullah said he believes his party's numerical advantage is the main reason behind what he portrayed as Hamas' reluctance to convene parliament. The legislature hasn't passed any laws since Hamas' election.

The last full session was held in September, though Fatah derailed one of the sessions because the agenda didn't include appearances by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Interior Minister Said Siyam, both of Hamas.

Hamas accused Fatah of playing into Israel's hands, saying the arrests of the lawmakers were meant to weaken parliament.

"They [Fatah lawmakers] want to help the Zionists remove Hamas from power," Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri said .

Deputy Speaker Ahmed Bahar of Hamas, filling in for the imprisoned speaker, denied politics played a part in his decision to call off the last two sessions, including Tuesday's.

He said legislators were either sick or abroad, and that the technician who operates the video hookup between simultaneous parliament sessions in the West Bank and Gaza -- a device to get around Israeli travel restrictions -- didn't show up for work because of alleged threats.

The main reason, he said, was the trip to Indonesia, according to Hamas. The trip is being funded in part by the Indonesian hosts.

"This time, there is a big delegation that has to leave," Bahar said. "They've been planning this trip for more than two months, and it just so happened that they had to leave at the same time that the session was called."

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