Palestinian senior Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan gestures during an interview at his office in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Sept. 16, 2015
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Just two days after President Mahmoud Abbas decided Dec. 12 to strip five members of parliament in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), including dismissed Fatah leader and parliamentarian Mohammed Dahlan, from their parliamentary immunity in preparation for their prosecution on charges of misappropriation of funds and trade of weapons, the Palestinian Corruption Crimes Court issued a judgment in absentia against Dahlan on charges of embezzlement and sentenced him to three years in prison and a $16 million fine.
The court’s decision came as no surprise to many in the Palestinian street, in light of the exacerbating struggle between Abbas and his rival Dahlan. The dispute surfaced after the death of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 2004, when Dahlan — a high-level Fatah official back then — and Abbas exchanged accusations of assassination, collaboration and corruption.
The judgment further inflamed the already heated feud between the two men, prompting Dahlan to reject this sudden judgment in a press statement Dec. 14 to Amad news website, which is close to Dahlan, and to call for an impartial national commission of inquiry to examine the charges leveled by the Corruption Crimes Court, noting that he will accept any decisions to be taken against him by the commission.
Also on Dec. 14, Dahlan accused Abbas from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through various media outlets of embezzling $6 million from a $20 million donation deposited in one of the Palestinian banks by an Arab country, initially allocated to the Palestinian security services for the purchase of equipment, back when Dahlan served as Abbas’ national security adviser in 2007-2008.
On Dec. 16, Paltimes news website published a document dated Nov. 19, 2014, sent by the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission in Ramallah to Abbas calling for his approval on procedures to expedite the indictment and prosecution of Dahlan.
In this context, Abdel Hamid al-Masri, a dismissed member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council and close friend of Dahlan, told Al-Monitor that within a few days, Dahlan will resort to media platforms to reply to his indictment by the Corruption Crimes Court, which he sees as a mere tool in the hands of Abbas.
Masri said, “Abbas has been, for a long time, exploiting the judiciary and all of the Palestinian Authority and PLO’s bodies for personal objectives. He has never hesitated to mobilize the judiciary and security agencies, and all of the power components against his opponents.”
He added, “President Abbas and his sons have embezzled the PA funds the most,” pointing out on another note that Abbas has undermined the Palestinian judiciary by forming the Constitutional Court in 2016, which allowed him to revoke parliamentarians’ immunity even if contrary to the Palestinian Basic Law.
Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, told Al-Monitor that the judiciary has received numerous legal reports and files including charges against a number of members of parliament, which prompted the Constitutional Court to give Abbas the power to lift the immunity of the accused parliamentarians in order to investigate them.
He explained that if the charges against Dahlan are not proven, his parliamentary immunity will be restituted, pointing out that this is a procedure applied in all nations across the world and stressing that no members of parliament should be above the law.
For his part, Hassan Khreisheh, the second deputy speaker of the PLC, told Al-Monitor, “We were shocked by President Abbas’ decision to lift immunity of five members of parliament. The next day after this decision one of these parliamentarians was sentenced to three years in prison and a colossal fine estimated at $16 million.”
He added, “All expectations were that Abbas’ decree on April 3 on the formation of the Constitutional Court aimed to dissolve the PLC, or take other steps related to the amendment of laws without referring to the PLC. But President Abbas surprised everyone and decided to revoke the immunity of some lawmakers — from among his political opponents.”
Khreisheh asserted that the Palestinian Basic Law does not include any legal justification for entitling Abbas to lift the immunity of a member of parliament, calling on all parliamentarians to take collective measures to stop Abbas’ illegal practices.
Article 53 of the Palestinian Basic Law states, “A Member of the Legislative Council shall not relinquish parliamentary immunity without the prior permission of the Council. Immunity shall not lapse after membership in the Council ceases but shall be subject to the limits prevailing during the membership period.”
Salah Abdel Ati, a legal expert and the director of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies – Masarat, told Al-Monitor, “Revoking the parliamentarians’ immunity and the trial of member of parliament Dahlan on charges of embezzlement are not permissible by virtue of the law, since there are clear provisions in the Palestinian Basic Law concerning the immunity of members of parliament specifying that no parliamentarian may be stripped of parliamentary immunity or questioned in civil or criminal proceedings.”
He explained that the immunity of a member of parliament does not expire by the end of the parliament’s mandate but with the formation of a new Legislative Council, which has not happened since the last legislative elections in 2006 in light of the Palestinian internal division. He noted that the trial of a member of parliament deprived of his immunity is an encroachment by the executive power over the legislative and judicial powers.
Abdel Ati warned that if Abbas keeps issuing decrees and decisions unilaterally without referring to the Palestinian official institutions or the law, the entire Palestinian political regime would be undermined, pointing to the trial of a parliamentarian only one day after revoking his immunity.
In this context, Riyad al-Astal, a political science professor at Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip, was surprised by the prosecution of Dahlan and the decision to revoke his immunity along with that of four other members of parliament, against the backdrop of a Fatah internal administrative issue that has nothing to do with public institutions. He told Al-Monitor that he finds no justification for dismissing parliamentarians from their positions outside Fatah, since they were brought to these positions by the people through elections.
Astal said, “The decision of the Court of Corruption against parliamentarian Dahlan is another attempt by Abbas to topple his rivals.” He pointed out that the rift within Fatah is getting wider with such steps that some Fatah members had expected after Fatah’s seventh general conference at the end of November.
(Source / 21.12.2016)