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Palestinian Lawmakers Give President Broad Powers Before Hamas Takes Over

February 14, 2006|From Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The outgoing Palestinian parliament used its final session Monday to give President Mahmoud Abbas broad new powers, infuriating Hamas days before the Islamist militant group takes control of a suddenly weakened legislature.

The measures were designed to preserve Abbas' control over the Palestinian Authority, though they were unlikely to assuage international concerns about dealing with a Hamas-led government.

Hamas officials said they would immediately try to overturn the laws after the new parliament is sworn in Saturday.

"I think this session was illegal. It is a kind of bloodless coup," said Abdel Aziz Duwaik, an incoming Hamas legislator. The new law "puts complete authority in the hands of the president."

Abbas' Fatah party, which dominated Palestinian politics for four decades, was roundly defeated by Hamas in Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. Abbas was elected last year to a four-year term.

In their final session with a parliamentary majority, Fatah lawmakers gave Abbas the authority to appoint a new, nine-judge constitutional court, which would serve as the final arbiter in disputes between himself and a Hamas-led parliament and Cabinet.

The court could also veto legislation deemed to violate the Basic Law, which serves as a quasi-constitution.

Legal expert Issam Abdeen said the legislation would essentially give Abbas power over what laws the new parliament passed, "since he is the one who appoints the judges of the constitutional court."

"He can use [these powers] to nullify laws that are unacceptable to him," Abdeen said.

Hamas spokesman Said Siyam called the lawmakers' actions illegitimate and said Hamas would overturn the laws when the new parliament takes over.

Hamas, which won 74 seats in the 132-member parliament, would need a two-thirds majority -- 88 seats -- to buck Abbas and change the legislation passed Monday.

Fatah will control 45 seats and, if it maintains party unity, could block a coalition of Hamas and smaller parties from revoking the law.

The strengthening of Abbas, a moderate who seeks to resume peace talks with Israel, came as Israel worked to diplomatically isolate Hamas if it does not renounce violence and recognize the Jewish state.

Since Hamas' victory, Western nations have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed aid unless the group, which is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings, transforms itself.

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