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April 29, 2018 11:37 am

Rivals See Ruse in Palestinian Political Forum to Be Convened by Abbas

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Participants attend the Palestinian National Popular Conference in Gaza City April 29, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem.

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 West Bank, has revived old feuds between Abbas’s Fatah party and rivals from Islamist and 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.

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“The PNC meeting that will be held in Ramallah is not legitimate, is factional, and does not represent all of the Palestinians,” Mushir Al-Masri, a lawmaker with the Islamist terror group Hamas, told reporters at a meeting of PNC critics in Gaza.

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”.

“The president is keen for the conference to bring about only decisions that suit his own project,” Habib told Reuters.

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.

Earlier on Sunday dozens of masked youths gathered on the Palestinian side of the Gaza Strip’s main crossing with Israel, threatening to block any PNC official from leaving for the West Bank to attend Monday’s session.

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