After 12 years, during which the Palestinian Parliament (Legislative Council, PLC) has not met, Mahmoud Abbas suddenly announced yesterday, that the Palestinian Constitutional Court had dissolved the P.A. parliament:

Abbas: “The [P.A.] Parliament (Legislative Council), which has not been active for 12 years. … The topic reached the constitutional court, and it issued a decision to dissolve the parliament and call for elections for the parliament within six months.” [Official P.A. TV, Dec. 22, 2018]

Why would Abbas suddenly do something that he has not done for 12 years?

In the last P.A. elections held in 2006, Hamas won a clear majority of Parliamentary seats in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. With Hamas holding the absolute majority, it was convenient for Abbas that the Parliament never met. Abbas and Fatah ruled the P.A. directly through government decisions and regulations. Abbas justified the freezing of the Palestinian Parliament due to the civil war, which led to Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Abbas’s change of heart is not because he is suddenly interested in democracy. Rather, Abbas is recognizing that at 83 years old, he must consider what will happen the day he leaves office. Under P.A. law, should the president leave office without a successor, the Speaker of the Parliament takes over as president of the Palestinian Authority for two months, after which presidential elections are held. The current Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament is Aziz Al-Dweik from Hamas.

So under P.A. law Hamas would rule the P.A., should Abbas leave his position.

Significantly, a large majority of Palestinians support implementing P.A. law and having Al-Dweik lead the P.A. should the position of president be empty. A July 2018 poll by Khalil Shakaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), found that 60 percent of Palestinians agreed that “in the case of Abbas’s absence, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Aziz Al-Dweik from Hamas, must become president for two months in implementation of the Basic Law.”

Although Abbas has refrained from explaining his decision to disband the parliament, the rationale underlying the move would appear to be his fear that Hamas would legally take control of the P.A., even without new elections. While the P.A. Basic Law does limit the interim presidency to two months there is no guarantee that Hamas once ruling the P.A. would allow for new elections.

Hamas could use a number of justifications, citing the fact that Mahmoud Abbas himself has been leader for 13 years without calling elections, even though the presidency under P.A. law is limited to four years. If Abbas could breach P.A. law and remain president for such an extended period of time, there is no reason to believe that a Hamas president would rush to relinquish his powers simply because of P.A. law.

The potential result could be, that having legally taken control, Hamas would have no incentive to call a general election, and they could extend their rule indefinitely as did Abbas.

In order to avoid Hamas taking control of the Palestinian Authority, it would appear that Abbas is trying to create a new reality, in which, as a result of its dissolution, there is no “Speaker” of the parliament to replace him.

However, complicating matters for Abbas and Fatah are the latest polls showing that Hamas is more popular than Fatah, and would win both elections for presidency, as well as for the parliament. A December survey conducted by the PCPSR shows that if Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh faced each other, P.A. Haniyeh would win by 7 percent, and if parliamentary elections were held, 34 percent would vote for Hamas and 35 percent for Fatah. The remaining 31 percent would either vote for other parties or are undecided.

Leaving the P.A. without a Speaker of the Parliament does not determine who would replace Abbas should he suddenly have to step down. Abbas’s political party Fatah, which has military control of the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority capital of Ramallah, would certainly attempt to hold their power and through some internal procedure try to quickly appoint a successor to Abbas and announce him as the new president.

Hamas will in all likelihood reject this and claim that the last speaker of the parliament Aziz Al-Dweik from Hamas should be the rightful leader under P.A. law. They will rightfully claim that Abbas’s dissolving of the parliament was just a ploy to avoid the democratic process under P.A. law.

It is unclear when the decision to dissolve the parliament takes effect or exactly when the new general elections will be held, but the interim period may well result in internal Palestinian turmoil.