Are Mahmoud Abbas' challenges to the judiciary exposing his weakness?
RAMALLAH: Activists in Palestine claim that last month's blocking of Palestinian websites was carried out simply via a phone call from the office of President Mahmoud Abbas to local Internet providers. The activists insist that the attorney general, who is officially and publicly referenced as having made the decision to block the websites, was only privy to the issue later and had to produce the needed legal cover for the decision made in the presidential headquarters. Ammar Dwaik, director general of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, said the decision was most probably made by the people around Abbas and in his name, and the attorney general was asked to find legal cover for it. "This isn't the first time we've seen such a scenario," Dwaik told Arab News, citing the establishment of the constitutional court with little discussion or debate. He said it was created to lift immunity from MP Mohammad Dahlan, a rival to Abbas, and a number of elected legislators close to him. Sources in Ramallah said Abbas' advisers are creating an atmosphere of paranoia, and are advising him to act against alleged conspiracies against him and the Palestinian people. The blocking of the websites was quickly followed by the enactment of the Cybercrime Law without discussion or public debate. Dwaik said a look at the minutes of the last Cabinet meeting shows that approving the law was not on the agenda, "yet shortly thereafter, we were surprised by the law being signed by Abbas." Dwaik said the erosion of the separation of powers has continued gradually in recent years. "During the last two years, the people around Abbas have been trying to control the judiciary," he said. Majed Aruri, executive director of the Civil Commission for the Independence of the Judiciary and Rule of Law, told Arab News that blocking the websites violates the Basic Law and the 2009 Telecommunications Law that was signed by Abbas. "If the affected websites challenge this order in court, they have a good possibility of winning," Aruri said. Ibrahim Barghouthi, legal and technical adviser for the Ramallah-based Musawa Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, told Arab News that what is happening constitutes a shift toward a totalitarian state. "We seem to be in a race for the world record for passing as many laws by presidential decree as possible," he said. "The number of laws signed as presidential decrees is more than twice that of all the laws passed by elected Palestinian legislatures since 1995. Using the very narrow provision that allows the president to enact laws, allowed by Article 43 of the Basic Law, has become the rule rather than the exception." Varsen Shahin, commissioner general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, said: "Palestine has also witnessed security intervention in the judicial system... leading to a decline in judiciary authority and its independence, and the undermining of citizens. This violates the principles and provisions of the Basic Law, the rule of law and the principle of segregation of authorities. It reflects hegemony and individual opinion." Grant Rumley, co-author of the new biography "The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas," told Arab News: "In recent years, Abbas' priorities have shifted to focusing on his survival and the continuation of his rule. He has consolidated his grip on his party, Fatah, through two conferences, and over the Palestinian Authority through kicking out those who disagreed with him, like Salam Fayyad. His recent decision to block websites of his rivals is more of the same. Ultimately, his increasingly autocratic style will only further alienate everyday Palestinians and fuel his rivals' animosity toward him." Kamel Hawwash, vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Society, wrote: "Whatever strategy Abbas has followed is unraveling. He is leading the Palestinians to further fragmentation and separation. It is time he admitted this and stood down. If not, then his own miscalculations could hasten the end of his rule. Even those around him that have benefited handsomely from his rule must now realize the game is up." Israeli military officials are also sounding the alarm. Abbas "is weak and is losing control and no longer represents all Palestinians," said the former head of Israel's Shabak internal intelligence agency. "I expect he'll be leaving the political scene very soon." Dwaik said there appears to be a disconnect within the Palestinian governing structure. "The prime minister and government are much more transparent and liberal, and are attuned to international standards in democratic governance and the rule of law. But the results do not seem to be in sync with the policies of the government. There are clearly conflicting trends within the governing structure in Palestine."
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