Fatah and Hamas No Nearer to Unity as Palestinian Parliament's Term Ends

Legislature still hamstrung as rival faction accuse each other of sabotaging democracy.

The two main Palestinian political factions fought Monday over whether the current parliament could continue even though its four-year mandate has expired.

The Islamist Hamas and the secular Fatah movements accused each other of sabotaging democracy in the Palestinian territories.

Hamas cited the Palestinian Basic Law as saying the parliament's mandate ends only when its new members are sworn-in and therefore vowed it would continue to rule until new elections are held. It called for a special session to be held on Wednesday.

Fatah in turn argued the Hamas-dominated chamber's four-year term had legally ended. It maintained that only President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's leader, can call for a session, which may never come.

Hamas scored a landslide victory in parliamentary elections on January 25, 2006, winning 74 of the 132 seats and dethroning its arch-rival Fatah, which had dominated the Palestinian political scene for five decades.

The Hamas-dominated legislature has not been able to function for most of its term, especially after Israel arrested most of its West Bank-based lawmakers following the capture of an Israeli in a Hamas-led cross-border raid in June 2006.

The tensions between the two rival movements culminated in Hamas taking sole control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, by routing security forces loyal to Abbas in a week of bloody gun battles.

Egypt has since tried but failed to mediate a reconciliation between the parties, which have been unable to agree on a date for new elections.

The Palestine Liberation Organization's Central Council, a Palestinian parliament in exile, met in Ramallah last month and asked both the president and parliament to continue functioning until elections are held.

Hamas has not recognized the Central Council's decision.

Meanwhile, Palestinian rights organizations accused both Fatah and Hamas of violating people's right to vote.

"Not holding elections on their legal and constitutional day is a serious violation of the right of the Palestinian citizens to practice their right to political participation through voting," said the al-Marsad rights group.

It maintained that since the constitutional term of the legislative council ends Monday, the current parliament should be considered a "caretaker council with limited powers."

An attempt by Abbas three months ago to hold elections on Sunday failed when Hamas refused to cooperate with the Central Elections Commission in preparing for the poll in Gaza.

An Egyptian proposal for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas calls for elections on June 28. Fatah has signed the paper, but Hamas has not. It demands changes to the document.