The parliament convenes!
The parliament convened its first session today, amidst American demands for the PA to return some $50 million in direct foreign aid and Israeli moves to bar Gaza workers, people, and good from entering Israel, threatening to be the final nail in the coffin of an already crippled economy.
To quote the Israeli PM's advisor, Dov " Formaldehyde" Weissglas", on reaching an appropriate aid policy towards the Hamas-led government, "It's like a meeting with a dietician. We have to make them much thinner, but not enough to die."
The Israeli government also barred Gaza lawmakers belonging mainly to the Hamas list from traveling to the West Bank to attend the PLC session. It also divided the West Bank into three parts this morning to hinder the movement of Palestinian lawmakers from their respective cities to Ramallah.
Several Gaza lawmakers who were given Israeli permission to travel to the west Bank, such as Independent Palestine MP Rawia Shawwa and Independent Christian candidate Hussam Taweel who was supported by Hamas, chose to remain in Gaza nonetheless in “solidarity” with the MPs who were unable to travel.
“I preferred to stay in Gaza because most of elected Palestinian members were prevented from going to the West Bank and because of that I was staying in solidarity with them here in Gaza,” Taweel told me.
Outside the building currently serving as a council for Gaza’s MPs, the Rashad al-Shawwa Cultural Centre, representatives of different interest groups such as disabled Palestinians and families of prisoners, had gathered to make their voices heard. Many forced their way into the crowded convention centre, despite attempts by riot police to keep them outside.
Before the parliament officially convened, one man, holding a picture of his imprisoned son, walked towards the podium, shouting at security guards who attempted to escort him away. He was calmed down only by a composed Ismail Hanieh, the Hamas leader heading the now ruling party’s victorious list and in line to be the new Prime Minister.
“Nobody understands our plight. I’m here to say to all of these MPs that we take top priority," shouted the man.
Some 7500 Palestinian prisoners are currently serving sentences-most without charges-in Israeli jails.
The commotion turned into a heated debate amongst onlookers as well, with some calling for more order, and others saying this is just a small taste of the parliament can expect to face in coming weeks.
The conference room was packed to the brim-if not by an army of journalists who had gathered to cover the historic day, then by outgoing legislators, civil society leaders, and ordinary Palestinians who wanted to get a glimpse of the members of Parliament they elected into power.
Despite the pre-session ruckus, and initial technical difficulties with transmitting live coverage from the West Bank, with audio cutting off on occasion-and a lengthy introductory speech by Palestinian National Council (PNC) Head, Salim Za'anoun,the session went smoothly.
Za’anoun said that despite the travel ban, the Palestinian parliament would remain united, and called for including the several elected members of parliament serving Israeli prison sentences via videoconference as well. More here in one of my Aljazeera articles.
Also, see the photostory I did for Aljazeera on the views of nine Palestinians nad their expectations from the new government.