Leader faces strong protests in West Bank - GulfToday

Leader faces strong protests in West Bank


Joe Biden. File

Apart from the fact that Palestine-Israel peace negotiations are off the agenda of the United States – this became evident during American President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and Palestine earlier this month – there is trouble within the Palestine Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Gaza under Hamas presents another set of problems. Right now, lawyers are out on the streets in Ramallah in West Bank protesting PA President Mahmoud Abbas ruling through decree as the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) has not met since 2007.

Abbas had promised legislative and presidential elections in West Bank and in Gaza last year but pushed them back since Israel would not allow the election in East Jerusalem. Eighty-seven-year old Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has been in power since the death of Yasser Arafat in 2005. Majed Al-Arouri, director of the Civil Commission for the Independence of Judiciary and Rule of Law, said that there is resistance to laws made through presidential decree. The lawyers are objecting to 400 laws made through decrees. The lawyers are demanding that laws should be made through legislative deliberation. Says Al-Arouri, “Decision by law aim to serve the interests of individuals within the ruling system, or to arbitrate the ruling system in the absence of parliament. The overall interests of the people, including lawyers, are affected because of these decisions.”

It is not just the lawyers – it is reckoned that there are 7,000 lawyers in the West Bank – who are opposed to the laws being made on the basis of the President Abbas’ legal adviser Ali Muhanna’s recommendations and that of the Supreme Judicial Council president Issa Abu Sharar. According to reports, even Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and Minister of Justice Mohammed Al-Shalaldeh did not know about the decrees. Al-Arouri said, “There is specific mechanism for issuing decisions by law. Some are published individually based on the degree of this or that person’s proximity to the president. The government provides some, and only a few are the subject of consultation. The citizen has nothing to do with these decisions.” The criticism and anger are directed against the Supreme Judicial Council and the presidential legal adviser and not against Mazen.

What seems to have angered the lawyers are the decrees affecting the judicial system, but the lawyers say that the restrictive laws affect the people at large. Says Zainab Al-Salfity, “These laws don’t only affect the Bar Association, but also the Palestinian people as a whole. I am here to tell President Abbas that these decrees destroy the judicial system, destroy the ruling authority, and could start a civil war.”

Three decrees seem to have especially irked the lawyers. The first is the 2017 decree Electronic Crimes Law which allowed the general prosecutor to initiate the process to block any website. Human rights groups considered it as restricting freedom of speech. In March 2021 came the decree that the non-profit organisations to submit their programmes and budgets to the Palestinian government. This was seen by lawyers and activists as clamping down on the NGO sector. What irritated the lawyers the most is the decree on the amendment to the criminal procedure law, which restricted the time for appeal to 10 days. “These amendments made by decree reduced the period time for appealing a court ruling to ten days. It’s just impossible for any lawyer to study a ruling that sometimes includes hundreds of pages, and prepare a case in ten days.” This is the one that brought the lawyers on to the streets.

The lawyers are not protesting laws that affect them professionally. They are making the larger point that the people’s voice must be heard, and that this could be done only through a legislature. But it will not be easy for President Abbas to hold elections under Israeli surveillance and restrictions. He is in a no-win position.

Related articles

Other Articles