Late Monday afternoon, the Palestinian Parliament empowered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to appoint a new constitutional court that would have far-reaching powers, a decision challenged by the majority Hamas party as a ‘bloodless coup’.Angered by what they see as an abuse of executive privilege, Hamas leadership criticized President Abbas’ move.  After winning a majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament in the Jan. 25th elections, the Hamas party has the constitutional obligation to form a new government.

But with the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Israel all refusing to accept the new Hamas majority, and pulling funding from the new government, the Hamas leadership have found themselves in the difficult position of having to form a government with little international support or funding — despite having been democratically elected in what have been considered the most fair and legitimate elections in the Middle East.

President Abbas, a member of the now-minority Fatah party, decided Monday to stretch his constitutional power in what some have seen as an attempt to limit Hamas’ legitimate democratic right to rule the Parliament.  Abbas also decided Monday to place radio and TV broadcasts under the authority of the president’s office, the Palestinian Maan News Agency said.

Meanwhile, as the makeup of the new Parliament and Cabinet is being discussed by both Fatah and Hamas leaders, four leftist groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) led by Abu Ali-Mustafa, ‘The Third Way’, led by Hanan Ashrawi, al-Badil (‘the Alternative’ – a coalition of several leftist parties), and Mubadarah (The Palestinian National Initiative), led by Mustapha Barghouti, are meeting to form a block in the Palestinian Parliament.  Due to Palestinian Parliamentary Procedure, any Party that has less than five seats in the Parliament has to form a coalition with other Parties to make up the difference.  Together, the parties comprise 9 seats (out of 132 possible seats).  Internal sources expressed some doubt that the four groups could come together due to long-standing conflicts between them, but did suggest the possibility that a visit by several of the groups to jailed PFLP leader Ahmed Saadat might make a difference in helping the parties to unite.  

The progressive and leftist parties were disappointed with their electoral results, each having their votes split between the various leftist factions.  If they are able to combine their seats and form a block of nine, however, the somewhat emasculated left may yet make an impact on the coming legislative session — the first ever such session to have Hamas, and not Fatah, as the majority party.