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Rivals see ruse in Palestinian political forum to be convened by Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership at his compound in the West Bank [Issam Rimawi/Apaimages]
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership at his compound in the West Bank [Issam Rimawi/Apaimages]

Political rivals accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday of pushing ahead with a rare and disputed national decision-making meeting to tighten his grip on power and sideline them.

Abbas has billed Monday’s convening of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), a 700-member assembly within the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organisation, as a chance to forge a united front against Israel and the United States.

But the event in Ramallah, the Palestinian hub in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has revived old feuds between Abbas’s Fatah party and rivals from other factions, many of whose members cannot attend due to Israeli restrictions.

Last week, 109 PNC members urged Abbas to postpone the meeting to allow greater participation. The call went unheeded, and on Sunday, censure of the president became more pointed.

Read: Experts says Abbas expelled Bishop Hanna from PNC to pass ‘deal of the century’

Mushir Al-Masri, a lawmaker with Hamas, told reporters at a meeting of PNC critics in Gaza:

The PNC meeting that will be held in Ramallah is not legitimate, is factional, and does not represent all of the Palestinians

The Gaza Strip, under de facto Hamas control since 2007, has been a focus of Palestinian infighting. Though Hamas formally resubmitted to Abbas’s authority last year, their reconciliation has been held up by disputes over power-sharing.

“We stress the need to regain Palestinian unity and end the policy of exclusion and unilateralism by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and its hijacking of Palestinian institutions,” said Masri.

Khader Habib of Islamic Jihad, a Hamas political ally, accused Abbas of “holding the PNC meeting to stress his exclusion of all those who oppose him”. Habib told Reuters:

The president is keen for the conference to bring about only decisions that suit his own project

Hamas and Islamic Jihad oppose Abbas’ strategy of peace talks with Israel. However, diplomacy has been on hold since 2014 and many Palestinians’ views have hardened over US President Donald Trump’s recognition late last year of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The PNC last met in extraordinary session in 2009 to replace several members of the PLO’s Executive Committee. It last held a regular session in 1996.

Political analysts in Gaza said a PNC meeting without wide factional representation would weaken the legitimacy of any decisions it may take.

Read: Holding PNC meeting reinforces domination policy, claims ex-PLO official

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