When Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in the January 2006 elections, many observers asked whether President Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin), the popularly elected president from the rival Fatah movement, could prevent Hamas from assuming authority.  Once Hamas formed a government, many asked whether Abu Mazin could dismiss or replace it. 

The Palestinian “Basic Law”—the constitutional document for the Palestinian Authority—is untested and its contents are not widely known.  Confusion has been aggravated by the tendency of Abu Mazin’s advisors to pressure Hamas by hinting that the president might use constitutional powers that he simply does not have.  Existing arrangements give Abu Mazin very few tools to act unilaterally.  Almost any change would require either Hamas’s consent or a violation of the Basic Law. 

In a short commentary in question and answer format, Carnegie Senior Associate Nathan J. Brown, an expert of Palestinian politics, explains what Abu Mazin can and cannot do.