Chapter IV: The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)
The Incomplete Democracy


One of the most notable events of the interim period was the Palestinian elections of January 1996. The elections, were held for the Palestinian Legislative Council and for President of the PA, were promoted by article I of DOP, which stipulated that “the aim of the Israeli-Palestinian, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim self-Government, the elected council (the “council”), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years,....”.

Article III of DOP elaborated: “in order that the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza may govern themselves according to democratic principles, direct, free, general political elections will be held for the Council under agreed supervision and international observation....” Article III of Oslo II reasserted these elections; “the Palestinian council and the Rae’s (president) of Executive Authority...will be elected by the Palestinian people of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for the transitional period agreed in Article I of the DOP.”

The protocol of elections, was parallel to Oslo II (Annex II), elaborated the basis of these elections, including the mode of agreed supervision and international observation; rules and regulations regarding election campaign; the qualifications of voting; nomination; the provisions of the election campaign; and so on. Art. 1 of the protocol provided a national Central Elections Commission (CEC) appointed by the PA for the purpose of supervising elections.407 The CEC was assisted by sub-commissions at local level, which in turn set up a committee in each polling station with the aim of electoral registration (to register all persons qualified to vote).


To be eligible to vote, every Palestinian must be 18 years old or older, having a permanent residence in the polling district (clearly to prevent Diaspora Palestinians from voting), and not subject to a sentence by a Palestinian court (Art. 2 of the Protocol). With respect to nomination, the protocol denied those who “commit or advocate racism; or pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful or non-democratic means”, the right to run for election (Art. 3). The Palestinian Electoral law, which Arafat ratified on 7 December 1995,408 reaffirmed these principles and established a majority voting system with 16 constituencies for the election of the Palestinian legislative council members.

In this connection, the West Bank (including Jerusalem) was divided into eleven constituencies; Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Tubas, Silfeet, and Ramallah. Similarly, the Gaza Strip was divided into five constituencies; Jabalia, Gaza city, Deir El Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah. Despite this, special regulation was made with regard to Nablus, where an additional seat among the 88 seats of PLC409 was reserved to the Samaritan sect (Art. 5). Also, six seats based on the quota system were reserved to the Christian community in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The number of seats that each constituency contained was proportionate to the size of the population of the constituency compared to the total population.Though the decision of the number of seats each constituency elected and any other issues related to the elections, such as the nomination period and the date of elections, was supposed to be taken by CEC,410 it was Arafat who ultimately decided these issues. On 13 December 1995, for instance, Arafat issued his decree no. 1 for the year 1995, designating 20 January 1996 as elections day and the nominee registration period as nine days starting on 14 December.411 On the following day (14 December) he issued his decree no. 2 distributing the 83 seats of the council among the sixteen constituencies as in the accompanying table:


Gaza Strip


West Bank






Gaza City




Deir El Balah




Khan Younis
























Total 83

Source: Decree no.2 for the year 1995 in Al Waqaea’. op.cit, no.10, 2ed year, 31/12/1995.

When the Israeli government permitted Palestinians to expand the number of PLC seats to 88, Arafat was the one who decided on the distribution of the additional five seats when he issued his decree no. 5 on 28 December 1995, to assign one further seat to each of the following constituencies: Khan Younis, Jerusalem, and Hebron; and two seats to Gaza.412

With respect to the election of the PA president, the WBGS (including east Jerusalem) were treated as one electoral constituency, not sixteen as in the case of the election of PLC members (Art. 60, Para. 4 of the electoral law). This entailed that each member of the electorate had one vote for the election of PA president, and as many votes for the election of PLC members as his constituency had seats in the council. For example, if a given constituency had seven seats in PLC, then each elector in this constituency could distribute their vote among all seven candidates for these seats or, if he preferred, among two or even one candidate. Electors thus had the option to vote for more than one candidate or party as well as for other candidates who might prefer to run in the election as independents, since the nomination of candidates was open to parties and independents as well.


The candidacy for presidency was opened to every Palestinian who had a permanent residence in WBGS and was 35 years old or older on the day of the elections. Meanwhile, the candidacy for PLC seats was opened for every Palestinian who was 30 years old or older on the day of the elections and enjoyed also a permanent residence in WBGS (Art. 9 & 12 of the electoral law). Members of the PA cabinet, civil servants, members of municipal councils, and security forces personnel were denied the right to run in the election unless they resigned their positions ten days prior to the issuance of the final nominees lists (Art. 14).

In the election of the president the candidate who receives the highest number of votes is elected. In case there is only one candidate, this candidate must receive more valid votes than there are blank or invalid votes (Art. 88). For the election of PLC, the best-placed candidates win the seats of their constituency. But in case this constituency is among the partial quota-based constituencies ( for example, if two seats are reserved for Christians among, say, eight seats of a given constituency), then the two best placed among Christians win these two seats even if the counterpart Muslim candidates received a higher number of votes (Art.89). The same principle was applied in Nablus constituency, where one seat was reserved to the Samaritan sect.

The 1996’s Palestinian Elections

On 20 January 1996 1,132,235 Palestinians, registered as eligible voters, they were able to vote at any one of 1696 polling stations distributed between the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. The aim was to elect 88 PLC members from 676 candidates who had nominated themselves. Nearly half of the eligible voters were women, whereas only 22 of the candidates were (3.25%).413 The table below shows the distribution of, polling stations, candidates, and registered voters between the West Bank and Gaza.



No. of Polling Stations

No. of Candidates

No. of Voters

West Bank




Gaza Strip








In the West Bank the polling stations, candidates and voters were distributed among the eleven constituencies in the following way;

The Constituency

No. of Polling Stations

No. of Candidates

No. of Voters

















































Source: Al Bilad & El Nihar on 20 January 1996.


As far as the Gaza Strip is concerned, the polling stations, candidates and voters were distributed among the five constituencies in the following way

The Constituency

No. of Polling Stations

No. of Candidates

No. of Voters









Deir El Balah




Khan Younis












Source: Ibid.

When the elections took place, at least sixteen parties and movements participated, the most important of which were Fatah with 77 candidates, Palestinian People's Party with 26 candidates, FIDA with 11 candidates, the National Democratic Coalition with 5 candidates, and 503 candidates run the elections as independents. Approximately, 87% of the registered voters in Gaza Strip had actually voted, while only 73% of the registered voters in West Bank (including East Jerusalem), voted.414 The high voting turnout of the Gaza Strip in comparison to the West Bank might be explained by the fact that Palestinians of the Gaza Strip- with exception to the elections of 1962 which took place under the Egyptian rule and was confined only to the members of the local committees of the ANU (estimated at 345 persons, see chapter II, Pp. 64-65) - had been denied the right of wide-scale political participation up until January 1996.


In contrast to the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians of the West Bank had enjoyed this right under both the Jordanian rule and the Israeli occupation. In April 1950, around 175,000 of West Bank’s Palestinians participated in the first legislative elections which held after the annexation of West Bank to Jordan (see chapter II, P. 68). In October 1956 further tens of thousands of these Palestinians participated in the legislative elections which held at that time (see chapter II, P. 70). After the Israeli occupation of West Bank in 1967, these Palestinians were allowed to practice their right of political participation through the local elections of 1972 and 1976 (see chapter II, Pp. 80-81, 88-90). Because of this history of relative democratic freedom the West Bank Palestinians were not as hungry for their right to vote as their Gaza Strip counterparts. This is why, as it seems, the turnout was lower in the West Bank than in the Gaza Strip which follows a long historical precedent.

Despite this, West Bankers were represented in the council more than Gazans, with 51 seats went to them as against to 37 seats went to Gazans.415 The geographical differences between the members of West Bank and their Gaza Strip counterparts did not imply differences in the political orientation. The majority of these members (Gazans and West Bankers alike) were either affiliated with Fatah, or close to Fatah. The Fatah party had, in fact, dominated most of the PLC seats; 50 seats going to the party’s candidates, 36 seats to independents, out of which 21 were close to the party, and two seats to FIDA and National Democratic Coalition.416 Consequently, the 88 seats of PLC were distributed as the following table illustrates.

Political Affiliation

Number of Seats



Independent close to Fatah


National Independent




National Democratic Coalition



The seeds of Fatah’s dominance over PLC were sown by the Palestinian electoral law, which stipulated, as we have seen above, the majority system instead of proportional representation, and divided WBGS into sixteen constituencies. In so doing the law left little chance for small factions and parties which enjoy little in the way of a national following to be represented in the council. In October 1995, three months prior to the elections, all Palestinian parties and factions (including PFLP, DFLP, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others) enjoyed a national following ranged between 0.1 and 10.7%, compared to more than 41% for Fatah.417 Fully aware of this, the main Palestinian parties after Fatah--Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, and DFLP--boycotted the elections, arguing that the law favoured Fatah and was structured in a way that would ensure Fatah dominance over the PLC.

But it should be emphasized that these factions' and parties' boycott of the elections was not merely due to the structure of the electoral law, but it was in principle due to their opposition to the Oslo process, and what might be derived from such a process, including the elections. On 16 January 1996, just four days before the elections, Hamas declared that the elections should be boycotted because it; “represented the legitimisation of Oslo process, was to take place under the shadow of occupation through which the Israelis maintained control over all aspects of Palestinian liberty, and failed to take into account the Palestinian refugee population in the Diaspora”. Within two days of Hamas making their position public Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP all concurred and published pamphlets to this effect.418

Despite their principle opposition for Oslo process, the position of these parties toward the electoral law gained the support of some foreign institutions concerned with democratic process, including the International Commission of Jurists, which called on the PA to change the electoral law by introducing a proportional representation system. According to one international foreign observer “...90 percent of the abuses in the elections occurred well before the election itself and took place in full public view.”419


Clearly, the majority representation system stipulated by electoral law paved the way for these abuses to take place. Usually, such a system is appropriate for an ideologically and socially homogenous community. However, in the case of an ideologically and socially heterogeneous community, like the Palestinian one, then the most appropriate system is proportional representation. Only this system guarantees the representation of various ideologies and groups in state institutions.

The implementation of a system like the majority representation system, therefore, facilitates the representation of only the dominant ideology or social group, in this case the Fatah party, and the exclusion of other parties and factions from the government institutions. This was to give Arafat- who won the presidency of PA with more than 88% of the votes as apposed to 9.5% of votes for Samiha Khalil, one of the opponents of the Oslo accords, and ran for the presidency alongside Arafat-420 the freedom to implement his policy of exclusion/inclusion of his opponents/supporters, which he follows within the context of his “neopatrimonial” system (for this system see chapter III).

In addition to this problem was the division of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into sixteen constituencies. Given the tribal nature of the Palestinian society, this division promoted a tribal or familial fanaticismparticularly in the constituencies dominated by big families such as in Khan Younis where families like Al Aga, Al Farah, Al Astal, Barbakh, and Al Masri (among the ayan) enjoyed historical status.


For example, during the elections one of these families sought to impose their own candidate through illegal means. This happened when relatives of Zakaria Al Aga (who ran the elections on Fatah ticket and won only 800 votes) discovered Al Aga's failure in the elections. In reaction, they sought to replace the ballot box with forged ballots so that he would win. This action provoked the family of Barbakh whose candidate won 7,000 votes, and was placed second after Abdel Al Karim Abu Saleh (who ran the elections on Fatah ticket, and won the highest number of votes estimated at 8,000). Though, legally speaking, Barbakh was the one who should be announced winner, the victor list excluded Barbakh to list Al-Aga instead. Clashes, accordingly, broke out between the members of Barbakh family and the Palestinian police, and left six of Barbakh family wounded.421

A similar incident occurred in Ramallah constituency when Mustafa El Barghuti, who ran for election on the People's Party ticket was announced as winner, but after about half an hour, the victors’ list was amended to list Marwan El Barghuti (running for election on the Fatah ticket), instead of Mustafa.422 Both incidents, promoted by the ideological division (alongside tribal lines), prove that the PA, through these elections, deliberately sought Fatah hegemony over the PLC, and the exclusion of the other political factions.

More importantly, it showed that the action of some Palestinians remained guided by principles other than rational ones. The absence of rational-based action among some Palestinians would have negative impacts over the prospects of advancing complete free and fair elections. This problem was not confined only to the electors, but extended to include the candidates, some of whom arrived to the polling stations in the elections days with the intention of influencing the decision of the electors.423


Parallel to these problems was the hostile attitude that the Israeli authorities adopted towards the election. This was most evident in Occupied East Jerusalem and took on a number of different forms. The Israeli authorities prevented the candidates from putting up posters or advertisements on cars. They further restricted the candidates’ capacity to reach the electorate by only allowing them to hold public meeting in certain places.424 On the 15th of January there also appeared a poster, written and distributed by the so called the ‘Young Generation of the Likud Party’. The poster’s clear intent was to dissuade voters from participating in the election. It threatened the voters that if they took part in the election they would have their Identification Cards removed. This was a particularly worrying claim to the Palestinian Jerusalemites as their I.D cards give them some extra rights and privileges though nothing like the rights and privileges enjoyed by Israelis.425

Despite these problems, the elections had been described by Carl Lidbom, head of the European Union election observers, as “largely fair” and “accurately reflect<ing> the aspirations of the Palestinian voters”.426 On 12 February 1996, thus, Arafat swore himself in as the first elected president of the PA, and on 7 March the PLC, addressed by Arafat and Salim Za’nun, PNC acting president, was inaugurated.

The PLC: Toward a Parliamentary Institution

The inauguration of the Council raised great hopes and expectations among Palestinians. Mohammoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) declared that “the elected Council is five minutes away from the announcement of independence, and the Council will declare independence during its three-year term”.427 Upon its inauguration the Council began to institutionalise itself as a step towards its goal of Palestinian independence. Ahmad Qrieh was elected as council speaker, beating his closest rival, Haider Abdel El Shafi, by about 20 votes.428 A Standing Order, comprised of 115 articles, was laid down.429 Its preamble provided “the principle of separation of powers... the independence of legislative authority and its right to legislate and monitor and hold accountable the executive authority... is a first and necessary step toward independence and building a democratic society.”


The Standing Order established the PLC’s internal procedures and structure as well as the mechanisms of legislation, accountability, and monitoring. Article 16 provided for the Council’s annual term, starting in March of every year, and divided it into two periods, each lasting for six months. Article 18 specified the attendance of an absolute majority (half the council members plus one) as pre-condition for regarding any session as legal.430

Articles 2 & 4 stipulated that at the beginning of each term the council re-elect its “Office Commission” comprised of the council speaker, the speaker’s first and second deputies, and the council secretary-general. The Commission was empowered to supervise all the administrative, financial, legal, information, and public relations issues. More importantly, it was charged with following up the implementation of Council resolutions (Article 11).

The head of the Commission (the Council speaker) is held to represent the Council, and to preside over its sessions. At the inaugural session Nahid Munir El Rayes and Mitri Abu Aita were elected the speaker’s first and second deputy respectively; Rawhi Fatoh was elected the Council’s Secretary-General.431 Furthermore, the Council set up its own committees to study and review plans, programmes, agreements, and to perform major tasks in such fields as legislation, accountability, and monitoring.


Article 48 of the council’s Standing Order identified two kinds of committees; permanent committees and ad-hoc committees (formed for a specific purpose and terminated upon the conclusion of their work). According to the same article, 11 permanent committees were set up: the Jerusalem affairs committee, the land and settlement committee, the refugees affairs committee, the political committee, the legal committee, the budget and financial affairs committee, the economic committee, the interior committee, the education and social affairs committee, the monitoring and human rights committee, and the Council’s affairs committee.

Any member of the PLC is eligible to nominate themselves for any committees. Usually, the nomination for these committees takes place at the beginning of each term of the PLC. The Council Office Commission, whose members are denied the right to nominate themselves for these committees, is the body which supervises the process of elections for these committees, before presenting the final list of nominees to the Council for final approval (Articles 49 & 51).

The Standing Order also laid down the procedure of legislation, monitoring, and accountability. Articles 65 & 66 stipulated that either the Cabinet or PLC members might propose a draft law, two readings of which would be required. In most circumstances both the relevant and legal committees of the council have the right to review a draft law passed by either the Cabinet or PLC members. Upon the approval of the draft law by these committees, it is presented to council members for first reading approval. An absolute majority is needed to approve the law in its first reading (Art. 69).


Once the draft law is approved at the first reading, it is passed back to both the relevant and legal committees for further possible comments, before being presented to PLC members for second reading approval. If the draft law is approved at the second reading, it is passed to the PLC speaker, who, on behalf of the council, passes it to the PA President for ratification or comments (Art. 70). By virtue of article 71, the President has thirty days to comment or ratify draft laws. If the thirty days passed without word from the President, a draft law is considered in force and formally becomes a law that bounds every Palestinian in the autonomous areas. The PLC’s mechanism of legislation is illustrated in the accompanying diagram.

At the level of monitoring and accountability, article 15 of the Standing Order empowered the PLC to extend/withdraw confidence in the cabinet or in any minister. Article 74 gave the Council the power to approve the PA’s annual budget, and obliged the PA to present the next year’s budget for the PLC two months before the end of the fiscal year. Furthermore, article 75 enabled every member in the PLC to question any minister over any issue of concern, and to call these ministers to testify at the Council sessions.

The PLC’s Standing Order thus set the necessary norms upon which any democratic relation between the executive and legislative body rested. Through these norms, the Standing Order sought to strengthen the principles of accountability and transparency, and more importantly, to transfer to the PLC much of the power that is concentrated in the hands of the PA, in particular in Arafat’s hands. From the council’s point of view, as the preamble of the Standing Order makes clear, this is a pre-condition for building a democratic Palestinian state and achieving independence. The PLC thus considered itself to be engaged in battles on two fronts; the defence of democracy and the struggle for Palestinian national rights.


Toward this end, over the first four years of its inception (March 1996-March 2000/ the last term before the outbreak of the current intifada) the PLC held dozens of sessions and its committees convened vast numbers of meetings producing scores of reports, resolutions, and laws. In the first two years after its inception, for example, the PLC held no fewer than 30 sessions and its committees held around 260 meetings resulting in 72 reports, 92 resolutions, and 35 laws in different political, economic, legal, and social fields.432

Among the most important laws approved by the PLC over its first four years were the basic law or constitution for the interim period, the law of judiciary, and the NGOs law. The developments concerning these laws, and the means by which these laws were approved by the PLC might serve as empirical evidence to assess the type of relation that developed between the PLC and the PA during the first four years after the PLC’s inception.

The Basic Law, the Law of Judiciary, and the NGOs Law: Unsuccessful Attempts to Combat Arafat’s Neopatrimonial System

A most vital and urgent task of the PLC was the draft of a constitution or basic law for the interim period. Article 3 of the electoral law stipulated that the PLC should, as soon as it was inaugurated, draft a basic law that organizes the relations among the three authorities on the one side, and the relation of these authorities to the people on the other side. Toward this end, the PLC in its session no. 19 of the second term which held in Ramallah on 17 September 1997 approved the law at the second reading and passed it to Arafat for ratification or comment as provided by Article 70 of the PLC’s Standing Order.433 Arafat, in turn, failed to comment upon or ratify the law within the due legal period of 30 days as provided by article 71 of the PLC Standing Order. Instead of declaring the law in force, the PLC passed a third reading to Arafat in October 1997.434


Once again Arafat failed to comment on or ratify the draft law within the due legal period, and from then until the outbreak of the current intifada in September 2000, the law remained blocked, so that Palestinians of the autonomous areas continued to lack constitutional recourse. Arafat’s refusal to ratify the basic law implied his opposition to the principle of the separation of powers and the rule of law, since this principle was the most notable feature of the law that formed up to seven chapters with 112 articles.435 Article 2 of the law, for example, considered the Palestinian people “the source of all power, which shall be exercised through legislative, executive, and judicial authorities based on the principle of separation of powers...”

Article 5 structured the governing system as “a democratic parliamentary system based on political and party pluralism.... The government shall be responsible to the president and to the Palestinian legislative council.” Article 6 equalized the status of all Palestinians before the law; “the principle of the rule of law shall be the basis of government in Palestine. All authorities, powers, agencies, institutions and individuals shall be subject to law”. Article 9 lodged great stress on the principle of the rule of law when it considered “all Palestinians...equal under the law and judiciary, without discrimination because of race, sex, colour, religion, political views, or disability.”

Articles 10-33 emphasized basic human rights including civil, political, economic, and social rights: the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of belief and the performance of religious rituals, the right to fair trial, the right to appeal, the prohibition of torture, the right to freedom of movement, the right to proper medical treatment, the right to housing, the right to work, the right to education, the right to political participation, and so forth. While Articles 43-48 asserted the council’s main tasks of legislating, monitoring/accounting to the PA, and approving the PA’s annual budget, article 54 (2) enabled the council speaker to assume the powers and duties of president in case of the president’s absence for 60 days, during which free elections would be held for a new president.


The power and authority of the PLC was balanced by that of the President. Article 55, for example, placed the Palestinian security forces under Presidential command. Furthermore, articles 57-65 & 100 enabled the President to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws, to issue decisions and decrees that have the power of laws, to enjoy the right to pardon or to commute sentence, to appoint a cabinet not exceeding 19 ministers, to appoint the PA’s representatives to foreign countries and international organizations, and to declare a state of emergency without PLC approval for a period not to exceed one month, after which the approval of two thirds of PLC members is required. A self-standing chapter (Articles 88-100) was devoted to judicial authority, asserting the principle of rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

In short, Arafat seemed unwilling to tolerate any body rivalling his authority even if that body was democratically elected and, like the PLC, expressing the will of the people. Frustrated with Arafat’s position on the basic law, Haider Abdel El Shafi resigned from the PLC on 28 September 1997, protesting what he described as Arafat’s underestimation of the PLC role and his blocking of democracy: “My resignation came as a result of objective considerations and of contemplation as to our concerns and problems.... It is obligatory that the relationship of the Council with the president and his executive apparatus be one of coordination and cooperation on a constitutional basis organized by a basic law for the ratification of which we are still waiting.”436

The basic law was but one sample of the many laws that had been approved by the PLC and remained awaiting Arafat’s ratification. Ra’fat El Najar, a PLC member, confirmed to me that 70-75 laws had waited Arafat ratification since PLC inauguration in 1996 up until 2000.437 Among these laws was one concerning the judiciary. There is no doubt that the independence of the judiciary is a vital condition for establishing the rule of law. The prospects of achieving independence of the judiciary is weakened when there is no law determines the duties of judges; the way they are appointed, paid, promoted, delegated; the procedure for their resignation, retirement, and so forth. These issues if left unspecified by law create the potential for executive authority to intervene in the judicial system, and consequently the independence of the judiciary is weakened, and thereby the rule of law is stifled.


Fully aware of this, the majority of the 78 PLC members who attended the eighth session of the PLC in Ramallah in the period of 23-25 June 1998 approved the law of judiciary in the first reading.438 In the following two months, the PLC intensified its deliberations over the law until it was approved at the second and third readings in its sessions held in Ramallah in the period of 10 August -2 September 1998. On 5 December the council passed the law to Arafat, asking for his comments or ratification. But the fate of the law was similar to the one of the Basic law, as Arafat did not ratify or comment the law, and the law remained blocked during the interim period.439

Arafat’s refusal to ratify the basic law, as well as others including the law of judiciary, prompted the PLC member Ziad Abu Amr to describe the PLC as “institution to draft laws...without capacity to pressure the PA to comply with these laws”.440 But even the right of the PLC to draft its own version of laws is sometimes denied it by the PA. An interesting example of this is the law of NGOs. The Law was approved in the second reading during the tenth session of PLC held in Ramallah on 28-30 July 199.441 In August, the PLC passed the law to Arafat for comment or ratification. Arafat failed to comment or ratify the law within the due legal period of the 30 days. Instead of declaring the law in force, the PLC passed a third reading to Arafat in December 1998442

Once again, Arafat refused to ratify the law within the due legal period and, more importantly, rejected article 4 of the law that empowered the Ministry of Justice to licence any NGO in the PA’s autonomous areas. Arafat demanded the Ministry of Interior be empowered with this right. Arafat’s demand was rejected by the PLC in its fifth session of the forth term on 22 May 1999. Instead, the PLC insisted the Ministry of Justice act as the point of reference for any NGO. The PLC's position enjoyed the support of Palestinian NGOs, for whom contribution to PLC’s version of the law was significant during the meeting held between NGOs representatives and members of the PLC’s political committee in Al-Bireh and Ramallah on 20 July 1998 (the meeting being held to discuss the first reading of the law).


Nevertheless, and in a surprising fashion the debate over the law was settled when Ahmed Qrieh (better known as Abu Ala’) announced during a special session convened on 12August 1999 by the PLC to discuss the PA’s 1999 budget that the law would incorporate Arafat's comments regarding force. However Qrieh, by then the PLC’s Speaker, claimed that the voting on Arafat's comments which had taken place during the 22 May session was insufficient; only 37 members out of the 50 who attended that session had vetoed the comments, making the vote unsuccessful for lack of the necessary absolute majority (half of the 88 PLC members + 1) stipulated in article 71 of the PLC’s Standing Order.

While Qrieh’s claim was correct from a legal point of view, it was also correct in that there was in fact no absolute majority present to accept the comments of Arafat. The time and the manner in which Qrieh made his announcement reflected this fact. Kamal al-Shrafi, who headed the PLC’s Monitoring Committee, pointed out that Qrieh’s announcement occurred “while members were leaving the hall at the end of the one was paying attention”. Mawaia El Masri, a PLC member, confirmed al-Shrafi's observation by adding that “what happened evidences the partnership that had developed between PA and the council speaker and other members”.447

The partnership between the PA and some members of PLC was necessary for Arafat to implement his system of neopatrimonial. As we have seen in chapter III (Pp. 161-174) the success of this system is reliant on the absence of any prescribed legal norms that might restrains the patron’s action. In our case the prescribed legal norms were the Basic Law, the law of Judiciary, and the PLC version of the NGOs law. The blockage of the basic law meant that Arafat was free from any constraints over his action. While the blockage of the law of judiciary meant that there was no independent judiciary, and thus, the abrogation of the central pillar of the rule of law. Furthermore, the enactment of the NGOs law according to Arafat version meant that Arafat had personal supervision and control over the work of these institutions since he was the one who held the interior profile. All of this would enable Arafat to:


  1. Rule by law instead of the rule of law. In the later case all citizens are treated as equal before law, while in the former case the law is selectively invoked and implemented according to Arafat’s own interests. In such circumstances Arafat’s clique or ‘clients’ benefit the most, since they can stand above the law, and thereby enjoy enormous privileges.
  2. The previously mentioned situation encourages a social conflict in which various social groups engage in stiff competition to gain the patronage of the patron (or Arafat) since this is the only way to enjoy access to power and wealth. Consequently, the patron can remain the centre of gravity, and the one who ultimately controls the strings of the game. But because the sustainability of this system remains reliant on the ability of the patron to control the public fund, and to control the decision with regards to its distribution, Arafat and his authority, as we will see in the next section, abrogated PLC’s attempts to regulate the decision making process with regards to how the budgets are presented and approved.

On the Budgetary Conflict between PLC and PA

According to article 74 of PLC’s Standing Order the Cabinet is legally obliged to present the next year’s budget to PLC two months before the end of the fiscal year.448 In October 1996, the PLC called the Cabinet to pass the 1997’s budget so that it could comment or approve it. The Cabinet turned PLC’s demand down, and let five months elapse before it passes the budget to PLC on 16 March 1997.449 The Cabinet decision to pass the budget came against a PLC stormy session held in Ramallah early

February 1997 during which a threat to pass non-confidence motion if the budget was not presented within two weeks, was made.450


In early March, PLC convened the session scheduled to pass a motion of non-confidence in the Cabinet after the later failed to pass the budget by the set deadline. But no vote to withdraw confidence took place after Qrieh, PLC speaker, informed PLC members that he received a letter from Ahmed Abdel El Rahaman, Secretary General of the Cabinet, asking for further time slot to pass the budget. Dawood Al Zir, the secretary of budget and financial affairs committee, considered the letter an “indicator of the Cabinet’s manipulation and underestimation of PLC’s role...451 However, the Cabinet was granted the required time slot. On 16 March, the Cabinet passed the budget to PLC, which turned it to the committee of budget and financial affairs that is chaired by Sa’di El Krunz.

The PLC’s Standing Order obliges the committee to report the PLC over the budget, so that PLC could decide whether to approve/disapprove it. Toward this end, the committee convened a meeting for its members on 23 March after which a report on the budget was presented to PLC.452 In its report, the committee asserted that most of the non-tax revenue (the revenue collected by the ministries and various public institutions in return for services provided for people) is not supplied to the treasury of the ministry of finance.

In addition, the committee highlighted the revenue of the semi-monopolies- like the Palestinian Company for Trade Services (Cement Company), the Palestinian Development & Investment Company, the Petroleum General Commission, and Tobacco Commission. In this connection, the committee asserted that the revenue of these monopolies was not connected to the central auditing system of ministry of finance according to the law,453 and consequently, it asked the ministry of finance to pass a report on such revenue and the non-tax revenue within three months from the date of the PLC’s approval of the budget. Nevertheless, the committee had not made the PLC’s approval of the budget conditional on this being done. The PLC, therefore, approved the budget on 27 May 1997.454


The approval of the PLC for the 1997’s budget, notwithstanding the budget’s deficits highlighted by the financial affairs committee, might be justified since the 1997’s budget was the first to be debated between PLC and PA, and therefore the PLC might seek to avoid confrontation with the PA, in the hope that it (Cabinet) would respect the due legal time and not committee the same mistakes in presenting the 1998’s budget. But the developments concerning the 1998’s budget showed that the ministry of finance had neither corrected the deficit of the 1997’s budget, nor the Cabinet respected the due legal time for the presentation of the budget.

In a similar fashion to 1997’s budget, the Cabinet passed the 1998 budget to PLC in March 1998, five months after it was legally due.455 Accordingly, the PLC’s speaker entrusted Sa’di El Krunz to develop a report over the budget so that PLC could decide whether to approve it or not. On 21 April 1998, El Krunz held a meeting with representatives of the ministry of finance, to discuss the budget. At that meeting El Kruz proposed the same amendments he proposed for 1997’s budget, and further suggested to add some US$ 14 million to ministry of education’s allotment.456 However, the Cabinet failed to revise the budget according to El Kruz’s proposals, and consequently, the PLC scheduled a session for 14 June to pass motion of non-confidence in the Cabinet.457

On 14 June, the PLC convened its scheduled session. But in a similar fashion of 1997’s budget, PLC speaker informed PLC members that he received a letter from Arafat asking for further time slot, and promising a Cabinet reshuffle at the end of June. Accordingly, PLC refrained from passing motion of non-confidence in the Cabinet waiting the promised reshuffle. Though the promised reshuffle was not announced before August, PLC, after being informed by Al Kruz that the Cabinet approved most of the committee amendments but not those related to the semi-monopolies, approved the budget on 29 June with majority of 37, 22 objections, and 6 abstentions.458


PLC’s approval of 1998’s budget, and its failure to adopt any serious measure against PA’s disregard of the legal norms, encouraged the Cabinet, once again, not to respects these norms, and to pass 1999’s budget on 5 April 1999, six months after it was legally due.459 At this time, Azmi al-Shu’abyi, minister of Youth and Sport in 1994’s Cabinet, and the one who was elected to PLC on FIDA ticket, was chairing the PLC financial affairs committee instead of Al Kruz who was appointed minister of Industry in 1998’s Cabinet.

In a report presented to PLC on 21 April, al-Shu’abyi criticized the high rate of the PA’s operational expenses (e.g., postage, phones, business travel, utilities and printing, and so forth), and the irrational appointments in the Palestinian bureaucracy which, according to him, were very harm to PA treasury, and denied important ministries like health, and education, the sufficient fund to supply people with proper health, and education services. Consequently, he called PA to rationalize the bureaucracy through enacting a civil service law, and to connect the revenue of the semi-monopolies to the central auditing system of ministry of finance according to the law. 460

Al-Shu’abyi’s criticisms of the budget forced the Cabinet to amend some of the budget’s items through allocating further NIS 2 million (about US$ 500,000) to the ministry of health, and cutting some NIS 36 million (about US$ 9 million) from the operational expenses.461 These amendments, which promoted a PLC cancellation of a session scheduled for mid-July to discuss the financial affairs committee report, were welcomed by PLC, and considered by Qrieh as “a positive development from the Executive Authority and a major step in the Authority’s handling of the budget”. Dawood Al Zir, secretary of PLC’s financial committee, went further and hinted the possibility of cancelling the committee report on the light of the Cabinet amendments.462 Nevertheless, al-Shu’abyi adopted different position recommending not approving the budget up until the mentioned amendments (mainly the enactment of a civil service law) are implemented. Consequently, PLC decided to postpone voting on the budget after the summer recess.463


In November, upon a various meetings held with representatives of PA apparatuses including the ministry of finance, al-Shu’abyi confirmed to PLC, during a session held to discuss the extent of the Cabinet commitment to the proposed amendments, that the Cabinet failed to implement any of the proposed amendments, and consequently, he recommended, in a report presented to the PLC speaker Qrieh, to pass motion of non- confidence in the Cabinet.464 However, Qrieh turned al-Shu’abyi’s report down, and refrained from circulating it to PLC members for their comments. Angry with Qrieh’s clear underestimation of his report, al-Shu’abyi announced resignation as head of financial affairs committee on 14 November. On 24 November 1999, Qrieh endorsed al-Shu’abyi’s resignation, and appointed Dawood El Zir as head of the financial affairs committee.465

The developments concerning the budgets of the first three years (1997, 1998, 1999), and the budget of the forth year (2000) which was passed to PLC in January 2000, three months after it was legally due,466 show clearly how PLC, over the first four years of it’s inception, failed to force the PA to comply with the legal norms that were laid down to organize both authorities’ relation. Of particular concern were those developments which are related to 1999’s budget. The failure of PLC to adopt any measure against Qrieh’s refusal to circulate al-Shu’abyi’ report for its members’ comment, and it’s endorsement of al-Shu’abyi resignation meant a PLC approval of the budget despite the fact that it was severely overdue, and included many deficits as the report of the financial affairs committee pointed. At another level, these developments strongly highlighted the weakness of PLC vis-à-vis PA, and its failure to combat PA’s continuous attempts to marginalize its role.

PLC’s Weakness vis-à-vis PA: Factors and Conditions

Continuously, PLC members blame PA for blocking democratic transformation and stifling the rule of law. Youssef Abu Safiah, a PLC member, described the relation of PLC with PA as “abnormal....since most of PLC resolutions, and some of its laws, had not been is well known that there is always competition between the executive and legislative the Palestinian situation PA is seeking to marginalize the PLC”.467 Though Abu Safiah’s statement are well supported by the empirical realities explained in the above-mentioned discussion with relation to the basic law, NGOs law, the law of judiciary, and the annual budgets- his statement revealed only one side of the coin.


The failure of PLC to pressure the PA to comply with its Standing Order, and to enact the basic law and other laws, was not only due to PA’s underestimation of democratic principles, but also to PLC’s structure and its failure to build strong ties with its constituencies. While the former factor (PLC’s structure) left PLC missing the will to adopt any serious measure against PA’s regular underestimation of democratic principles, the later factor (its failure to build strong ties with its constituencies) left it as a victim to PA’s manipulations. Similar to any legislature, the PLC was franchised right to hold the executive body accountable by means of motions of no-confidence, ad-hoc committees of inquiry, and other methods of monitoring. But the problem of PLC in this respects is that it is neither structurally nor culturally able to effectively use such methods.

At the head of PLC stood the Fatah affiliated Qrieh as speaker, and Rohi Fatoh as secretary. Both men are considered as loyalists to Arafat, and were elected speaker and secretary respectively for four consecutive years. The other two members of PLC Office Commission were either a Fatah-affiliated or close to Fatah. During the first term, for example, Nahid El Rayes (a Fatah affiliated PLC member) and Mitri Abu Aita (independent close to Fatah) were elected the first and second deputies of the speaker respectively.468 During the second term, the same members of the Office Commission were re-elected. And during the third and forth terms Ibrahim Abu El Naja (a Fatah affiliated PLC member) replaced El Rayes, and in the forth term Ghazi Hanina (close to Fatah) replaced Abu Aita as the speaker’s second deputy.469

As far as the political affiliation of PLC members is concerned, most of PLC members, as we have seen, are affiliated with Fatah or close to Fatah. Furthermore, all the Palestinian factions and parties that might challenge Arafat’s policy and rule (like PFLP, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and so on) had not been represented in the PLC after they boycotted the elections. This fact, according to Abu Safiah, left the structure of PLC as “[a] one-party structure...and consequently, PLC lacked a well organized bloc of opposition.”470


However, the fact that PLC is dominated by Fatah affiliated members does not imply an organized bloc of support for PA or Arafat. In the words of Hanan Ashrawi, who ran the elections as independent and won the highest number of votes after Qrieh for Jerusalem constituency, “everybody who is in the council is not really part of the opposition in the sense that they are against the peace process. Those in the traditional opposition did not participate in the election. So what you have are different degrees of agreement and different perspectives and approaches...”471 In some occasions it is possible to find voices of criticism against PA’s policies among Fatah affiliated or close to Fatah members. Nevertheless, these voices remain expressing personal views, and often leave no significant influence on the overall relation of PLC with PA.

On 8-9 May 1996, for example, PLC held stormy session in Rafah south of Gaza strip, addressing the day-to-day problems of Palestinians. Among the issues which were discussed were Hamas’ prisoners in PA’s various detention centers. At that session the PLC adopted a resolution calling PA to release these prisoners and others.472 In June, Salah Ta’mari, a former Fatah affiliated activist, and head of the land and settlement committee of PLC, called PLC not to extend confidence in Arafat’s Cabinet unless PA implemented the PLC resolution that demanded the release of Hamas prisoners.473

When Arafat presented his Cabinet to PLC in June 1996, Marwan Kanafi, former advisor of Arafat who was elected for Gaza constituency on Fatah ticket, protested PA’s disregard of PLC’s resolutions, and attacked Arafat by accusing him of breaking the electoral law stipulating 80% of cabinet ministers from PLC. Only 60% of the ministers in Arafat’s 1996 Cabinet were PLC members.474 In spite of Ta’mari, and Kanafi’s criticisms of Arafat’s policy, the PLC voted in favour of Arafat’s Cabinet.


The debate around the 1996’s Cabinet might reveal important fact about PLC’s structure. Although some PLC members might stand as opponents for PA’s disregard of the democratic principles and legal norms, these members remain missing the support and backing of their colleagues in the council. Most of these colleagues, who prefer not to go in direct confrontation with Arafat, refrain from supporting any serious measure against PA like the passing of motion of non-confidence. Abed Rabu Abu Uwn, a PLC member, estimates the number of these colleagues at 53 out of 84 PLC members (three PLC members died, and one resigned “Haider Abdel El Shafi”). This means that no less than 63% of the PLC members are considered, in the words of Abu Awn, “Arafat loyalists and clients”.475 Because they are Arafat loyalists, they tend to justify even Arafat/PA’s disregard of democratic principles.

The PLC member Nabil Amr, for instance, ruled out Arafat’s failure to ratify the basic law as indicator of his disregard of democratic principles. In his view, Arafat failed to ratify the law “because the law dealt with issues that are of dispute with Israel”.476 Abdel Karim Abu Saleh, head of PLC’s legal committee, went in the same vein, when he pointed out that; “The law deals with issues like Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees...these issues had not been settled with Israel...that is why the law is blocked”.477 Amr, Abu Salah, and other similar members like Qrieh and Fatoh, are considered PA’s vanguard in PLC. Through these members PA succeeded to penetrate the PLC and divided it around itself in a manner that left it unable to adopt any serious measure toward PA’s disregard of legal norms and democratic principles.

This fact was accompanied with the rise of networks of interests between some other PLC members and PA officials. These networks of interests were the logical outcome of a PA deliberated policy sought to block the media reports on PLC activities. Due to this policy, people were very little aware over PLC achievements and activities, and consequently, their attitude toward PLC was a negative one. The voice of Palestine, the official Radio of PA, is the only media station that is permitted to cover PLC sessions.478 In its coverage, Voice of Palestine is very selective, and usually covers those sessions which are attended by Arafat. The rest of PLC sessions are usually not covered, and local press reports over these sessions are obtained at warp-up press conference made by PLC speaker at the end of each session. This weakened PLC’s creditability among public, and prompted no less than 48% of Palestinians to think that PLC is useless and has no effects.479


Even when PLC seeks to work out its own media station so that general public became fully aware over its activities and achievements, its endeavours in this regards are abrogated. In 1997, for instance, the PLC, with financial support from USAID (United States Agency for International Development), established its own Television Station in Al Quds Education University to broadcast its sessions and activities. No less than six sessions of PLC were aired, before the broadcasts being jammed off by the Palestinian Broadcasting Company (PBC), the official T.V of PA. Following this, Dawood Kuttab, a Palestinian with American citizenship who was entrusted to run the station, was detained by the Palestinian security forces for a week before being released upon American intervention.480 All the equipments and materials of the station were destroyed by Palestinian security forces, and thus, the station stopped working, and the sessions of PLC are no longer aired.

Being unaware over what PLC is, and what PLC’s major tasks are, general public pressured PLC members to play intermediary role between them and policy/law implementation officials, including bureaucracy’s officials. PLC members, seeking to recruit public support for their “battle” with PA, welcomed this role, and consequently, their tasks were confined, in some occasions, to assist public and their relatives in finding job in a given ministry, or to facilitate these public/relatives’ contact with a given ministry or public institution. As the PLC member Rawia El Shawa pointed out; “People weak awareness over the role of PLC...forced PLC to play other roles alongside its roles of legislation, accountability, and monitoring”.481 Although this enabled some PLC members to claim popular support, it left negative impacts over the PLC as independent legislature, and consequently, weakened PLC’s capacity to hold PA accountable.

The Tasks of Monitoring and Accountability: The PLC as Client for PA

Similar to any legislature the PLC owned enjoyed the methods that would enable it to hold the executive body accountable, and to set limits on it’s transgressions. These methods were institutionalized by PLC’s Standing Order, and basic law. Among these methods were the questions, the ad-hoc committees of inquiry, and motion of non-confidence. Over first four years of it’s inception, the PLC directed hundreds of questions to ministers, security officials, and other policy/law implementation officials on different issues related to the operations of their ministries and services provided to people. During the second term, for instance, the PLC directed around 183 questions to these officials.482 In 1997, the PLC questioned Ghazi El Jabali, head of civil police, Mohammad Dahaln, head of Gaza Preventive Security forces, and Jibril Al Rajub, head of West Bank Preventive Security forces, over the operations of their forces.483


In some occasions, PLC went further and directed questions to policy/law implementation officials over issues related to misuse of power and corruption. But these questions remained a matter of parliamentary practice without being followed by effective measures punishing those who were said to be involved in misuse of power and corruption.

On 23 January 1997, for instance, the PLC questioned the minister of supply Abdel Aziz Shaheen over the so called “the flour scandal”, in which Shaheen alongside the minister of finance were said to be involved in a scheme led to the selling of 5,000 tons of expired flour to public. Though Shaheen testified before PLC at that session, he refrained from attending another session scheduled for further discussion over the same issue. No measure was taken against Shaheen or the minister of finance, despite the assertion of some PLC members, like Kamal al Shrafi, head of the monitoring committee, that “an amount of the flour was donated to our people and we are interested to know where that mount went. Did the money go to the PA or to pockets of some officials”?484

In the same token, the PLC formed several ad-hoc committees of inquiry over issues related to misuse of power and corruption. But the findings and resolutions of these committees remained unimplemented, either due to PLC’s failure to follow up these findings and resolutions, or to PA’s underestimation of these resolutions. Of particular concern in this regard is the PLC ad-hoc committee which was formed in 1997 to investigate corruption and misuse of power in various PA ministries and apparatus. The committee was inspired by the 600 pages report of General Monitoring Commission (GMC) which pointed out that some US$ 323 million-almost 40% of PA’s 1996 budget- were misused and mismanaged by PA’s politicians and senior officials.485 It formed up ten PLC’s members; Sa’di El Krunz (head), Youssef Abu Safiah, Hikmat Zied, Azmi al Shu’abyi, Fakhri Shaqqura, Marwan El Barghuti, Kamal al Shrafi, Hatem Abdel El Qader, Jamal El Shati, and Hassan Khrisha (for the membership).486


On 31 May 1997, the committee initiated its investigation. In it’s investigation, the committee was assisted by sub-committees set up for the purpose of carrying out field investigation in all ministries and public institutions mentioned by GMC report, and gathering the necessary documents and reports that might serve the committee in it’s investigation. In addition, the committee sent at least 40 letters for all the ministers and public officials who were said to be involved in corruption and misuse of power by GMC’s report, asking them to testify before it. Some of these ministers and officials had testified before the committee, and other refused. Among these ministers was Nabil Sha’ath, minister of Planning and International Cooperation, who was interrogated for about six hours by the committee.487

On 29 July, the committee reported its findings to PLC. In its report, the committee asserted that some ministers, in particular to Nabil Sha’ath, Ali Qawasmeh, minister of Transportation, and Jamil El Tarafi, minister of Civil Affairs, were involved in misuse of power and corruption. Consequently, it called Arafat to dismiss these minister and others suspected of corruption, and to form new Cabinet from “technocratic and qualified professionals”.488

Furthermore, the committee highlighted the institutional weakness of PA as far as PA’s financial system is concerned. In this regards, it mentioned to the ministry of finance’s lack of well defined procedure with respect to public expenditure. In addition, the committee criticized the involvement of some PA officials in trade activities in violation for the law. In this respects, it shed light on the semi-monopolies that operate outside PA’s regular budget, and demanded to subjecting the revenue of these monopolies to the central auditing system of ministry of finance.489


The findings of the committee were the hardest blow for PA’s ministers and officials, most of who refused to deal with them, asserting them “lies” and far from reality. Due to the ministers opposition of the findings, Arafat called PLC to set up another committee to review the findings of the former one, and to invite all ministers opposing the findings of the first committee to justify themselves before the new committee. Accordingly, a committee of nine PLC members was set up, and held various rounds of hearing with all the concerned ministers. According to El Krunz, and Abu Safiah, who joint the new committee, these rounds of hearings left little doubt among the committee’s members that those ministers had been involved in misuse of power and corruption.490

Following the two PLC ad-hoc committee findings, PLC convened various meetings with Arafat pressuring for fundamental reform. Arafat, who promised a Cabinet reshuffle, was in a serious stalemate when some sixteen ministers of his Cabinet preceded the promised reshuffle, and announced resignation in December 1997.491 To release himself of such pressure, Arafat turned the resignation of the ministers down, and on 7 March 1998, he declared that “the Palestinian National Authority...has been playing a key role in what are difficult circumstances...the record reflects both achievements and failure, and this is the nature of government”.492

Corruption and misuse of power for Arafat, therefore, are a matter of mistakes that might take place in any government. Though Arafat’s view might be correct, it is incorrect that those accused of corruption and misuse of power should be not punished. Arafat’s Cabinet of 5 August 1998 implied the contrary.493 In other words, the structure of the Cabinet implied Arafat’s disbelieve on the necessity to punish the corrupted officials and ministers. All Ministers accused of corruption and misuse of power, like Nabil Sha’ath, Jamil El Tarafi, and Ali Qawasmeh, had kept positions in the new Cabinet.


Furthermore, and in clear violation for article 65 of the Basic law stipulating that “the Cabinet shall comprise of Ministers not to exceed Nineteen Ministers...,” Arafat stepped up the ministerial positions from 23 to 31. New seven ministers were added, most notable were Sa’di El Krunz, who chaired PLC’s committee to investigate corruption, and Youssef Abu Safiah, member of the same committee. Moreover, two of his most critics were fired; Abdel El Jawad Salah, who was demoted from minister of Agriculture to minister without Portfolio, and therefore, refused to join the new Cabinet; and Hanan Ashrawi, who turned the post of minister of Tourism down. Simply Arafat bought off the allegiance of the most active members of PLC committee to investigate corruption (El Krunz and Abu Safiah), and release himself from the pressure of those who are committed to real reform (Saleh and Ahsrawi).

When PLC, in a special session held in Ramallah on 5-9 August 1998, and attended by 86 members, approved the Cabinet with a majority of 55 members, 28 in opposition, and 3 abstentions,494 Ahsrawi and Saleh were the most critical of Arafat new Cabinet. Ashrawi, for instance, considered it as as an indicator of Arafat’s reluctance to initiate real reform; “what is needed, Ashrawi asserted, “is not to maintain the old structure...but a substantial and comprehensive reform”.495 Saleh went further and described the new cabinet as “a real tragedy for Palestinians”.496 Although similar voices of criticism could be heard from other members,497 these voices remained expressing personal view, and did not reflect the overall position of the PLC as a legislative institution.

In fact, here lies the tragedy of Palestinians. It is true that PA’s policies are blocking the democratic transformation in Palestine. But this does not imply that PLC members were very committed to democratic transformation. In fact the contrary was the case. For instance, around 49 PLC members, according to Ra’fat El Najar, committed not to vote in favour of the ministers who were charged by misuse of power. These members did so during a private meeting of PLC members convened just few days before the scheduled date of the PLC session which passed motion of confidence in Arafat cabinet. However, and in a surprising fashion, at least 25 out of the 49 PLC members failed to meet their commitments and voted in favour of Arafat’s cabinet.498 In explaining the reasons of these members’ refrain from meeting their commitments, El Najar highlighted Arafat’s policy of buying off the allegiance of people through distributing various favours and privileges.499


Consequently, the crisis of democratic transformation in Palestine is not only related to PA’s failure to respect the democratic norms, but extended to include the failure of PLC members to respect these norms including the basic law which stipulates, for instance, the Cabinet with 19 Ministers not 31 as the PLC-approved Cabinet showed. In approving the Cabinet, PLC, therefore, was participating in an equal footing with PA in disregarding these norms, and confiscating the right of Palestinians to have legitimate political institutions. As El Najar pointed to the German Neue Zürcher Zeitung “how could anyone expect the Rais (Arafat) to take this body seriously...when it does not even implement it’s own decisions and the motion of censure?.”500

Furthermore, in approving the Cabinet the PLC was unwilling to response to people’s wishes and demands. At least 38% of Palestinians believed that the PLC should not pass vote of confidence in the Cabinet, as against 31% who believed the opposite. In addition, 33% of them believed that the new Cabinet will increase corruption in various PA apparatus, as against 23% who believed the opposite. Moreover, 32% supported the resignation of Ashrawi and Saleh as against 26% who opposed it.501 Therefore, PLC members’ approval of the Cabinet was to detach PLC further from its people.

More importantly, the approval of the Cabinet meant the release of PA from any constraints imposed on it by what Jose’ Maravall and Adam Przeworski call “horizontal mechanisms”502 of accountability. These mechanisms (e.g., motion of non-confidence), seek to set limits on the government transgression, make it possible to predict the government action according to institutionally prescribed norms. When these mechanisms are absent or ineffective, the government becomes unrestrained in its action, and thus, it becomes difficult for the one to predict its action. In this case, only the government interest, decided by the government itself, restrains the government transgressions, and the law turned to be an instrument in the hand of the government instead of being framework of constraints on its action. This was the case of PA following the PLC approval of the Cabinet in August 1998. The sequence of the events which followed the assault of some PLC’s members by PA’s security forces on 26 August 1998 might substantiate our analysis.


The assault took place while these members, alongside human rights activists, journalists, and others, were assembling before the house of a Hamas activist escaped a Preventive Security Forces detention centre in Jericho. The assembly was protesting a siege imposed on the family of this activist by the preventive security forces. While PLC members were protesting against this measure, a number of West Bank preventive security forces attacked them. These members were; Abed Rabu Abu Uwn (elected for Rafah constituency), Jamal El Hindi (elected for Jenin constituency), Suleiman El Roumi (elected for Rafah constituency), Ahmad El Batish (elected for Jerusalem constituency), and Hassan Abdel El Qader (elected for Jerusalem constituency).503 In Abu Awn’s view, the attack was a planned one as these members were the ones who concluded the involvement of the head of the West Bank preventive security forces Jibril Al Rajub in a scheme led to the handing over six-Palestinian activists to Israeli occupying forces. The conclusions of these members were stated in a report presented to PLC just few months before the attack takes place.504

However, from PLC’s point of view, the attack was an unprecedented event, and clear underestimation of its members’ immunity. Consequently, PLC held special session in Ramallah on 30 August in which a committee to investigation the event was set up.505 The committee comprised of the speaker, head of the Interior Affairs committee Fakhri Shaqqura, head of the legal committee Abdel El Karim Abu Saleh, and Head of the monitoring committee Kamal Al Shrafi.506 In its investigation, the committee held several meetings with Palestinian security officials, among whom were Amin El Hindi, commander of General intelligence, and Ismail Jabr, head of Palestinian Security forces in Jericho. In spite of this, the committee failed to meet with Jibril Al Rajub, head of West Bank Preventive Security forces, and whose forces are the party that was held responsible on the assault of PLC members.507

The committee meetings with the mentioned security officials had, as it seems, bore no fruit since, following these meetings, the case was brought before a Military court to decide on the issue. Ironically, the court treated the assaulted PLC members on equal footing with those who were accused of the attack, and summoned both parties to show up. Having heard the testimonies of both parties, the court was said to adopt some measures against those involved in the attack but not against the head of West Bank preventive security forces Jibril Al Rajub who commands these forces.508


As Abu Awn himself pointed out; “in the aftermath of the attack, I was called by Arafat for a meeting with him…During our meeting I told him what happened. Arafat in turn promised to punish Al Rajub. But unfortunately, no measure was taken against Al Rajub, and the findings of the PLC committees which called for trying him were to no vein”.509 The words of Au Awn, coupled with the assault of PLC members by Preventive Security Forces, and PLC’s failure even to question Al Rajub over the event, revealed the intolerable weakness of PLC vis-à-vis PA, and the dilemma faced by PLC in its battle for democracy and rule of law. This dilemma had further escalated with the elapse of the interim period on 4 May 1999.

PLC: Loosing Legitimacy

Despite it’s failure, over the first three terms (March 1996-March 1999), to enact a constitution (the Basic Law), and other important laws like the law of judiciary, and to hold the PA accountable, the PLC remained (at least theoretically speaking), representing the public will, and therefore, was a legitimate body. But from 4 May 1999 onwards, PLC was no longer enjoying this privilege. As Article III of Oslo II stipulated, PLC and the president of the executive authority should be elected for the transitional or the interim period that elapses on 4 May 1999. Article II of the Palestinian electoral law reaffirmed the mandate of both PLC and the president of PA for a period no exceeds the interim period.

Consequently, the Oslo process and the electoral law, according to which the PLC was elected, confined PLC’s mandate to the interim period. The main problem is that; both Oslo process as well as the electoral law had not hinted what should be done after the elapse of this period. In other words, it was not clear whether Palestinians should hold new elections, or whether new bodies would replace the interim period-created bodies like the PLC.


This legal dilemma resulted mainly from Oslo process’ assumption stipulating that by 4 May 1999, negotiations over the third status issues (Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders, water, international relations, and others) would be concluded with agreement ensuring the implementation of the UN security council resolutions of 242, 338, and consequently, with a Palestinian state with new political institutions and constitution. Therefore, it seems that both Palestinian and Israeli negotiator were guided by this assumption, and thus, were unaware over other possible scenarios like the elapse of the interim period without an agreement over the final status issues.

The elapse of the interim period without Palestinian state on WBGS promoted serious legal questions as far as the future and legitimacy of the interim period-created institutions are concerned. On 20 April 1999, the political committee of PLC announced the termination of these institutions’ mandate, and called for new presidential and parliamentary elections on 4 May, 1999.510 The call of the political committee for new elections was not the first in kind, as Marwan Kanafi, a PLC member, was asking since January the Central Election Commission (CEC) to schedule these elections for May 1999.511

The call of the political committee and Kanafi for new elections sought to renew PLC’s mandate and legitimacy. But their demand in this regards was missing the support of PLC itself which failed to make any single move toward new legislative and presidential elections.512 The failure of PLC to organize these elections meant the denial of the right of people to “…reward or punish the incumbent government conditional on its action in office”.513 The only way to secure people with this right is the regular elections. The absence of regular elections implies the absence of the second pillar of any democracy: vertical accountability. PLC’s failure to promote vertical accountability, complemented its failure to promote a horizontal accountability (as we have seen above), and thus, left the principle of check and balance, which locates at the heart of any democratic system, very much questionable.


With this failure, coupled with it’s loss of the main source of it’s legitimacy (the people), the PLC started attaching itself to PA as the only source of it’s legitimacy. The way the PLC turned against it’s members who signed the “The Statement of Twenty” in November 1999 might be the best example that shows not only how PLC had attached itself to PA, but also how some of PLC members became looking for other institutional formula far from PLC to express their discontent and frustration with PA’s policies.

On 27 November 1999, eight PLC members514 alongside twelve public figures published to public a statement accusing PA by following “a systematic methodology of corruption, humiliation and abuse against the people”, and described Oslo agreements as “a barter trade to enrich a number of corrupt people in the Palestinian Authority”.515 The statement, titled “A Cry of the Homeland”, and locally known as the “Statement of Twenty”, promoted what might be described as a political earthquake in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Following this statement, PA security forces initiated a large-scale wave of arrest against those who signed it including; Abdel El Sattar Qassim, a professor of political science at Al Najah University of Nablus, Dr.Yasser Abu Safiah from Nablus, Adel Samara, a professor of Economics in Ramallah, Dr. Abdel El Rahim Kittani from Tulkarm, and Ahmed Qatamesh, national public figure, and the one who survived the longest ever under Israeli administrative detention. Furthermore, a house arrest was imposed on Bassam El Shaka, Nablus’s ex-mayor.516 None of the PLC members who signed the statement was arrested. The task of punishing those members seemed to be entrusted to PLC itself.


On 28 November, PLC held a stormy session in Gaza to discuss the measures that should be taken against these members. The session concluded with a manifesto describing the statement as “attempt to drag Palestinians into civil war”, and threatened to leave immunity over PLC members who signed it if they did not retreat their accusation, and apologize for Arafat.517 PLC’s statement seemed insufficient from PA’s point of view, as in the same day when PLC declared it’s condemnation of the statement, Mawaia El Masri, a PLC member, and one of signatories, was shot in foot with three bullets by unidentified armed men.”518 Following this, Abdel El Jawad Salah, a PLC member, and other signatory, was beaten by PA’s General Intelligence Forces while he, and others, were marching before the Jericho’s detention centre in protest against the detention of some of the signatories.519

Ironically enough, the “Statement of Twenty” had only reaffirmed what had been stated in GMC report, and the report of PLC’s committee to investigate corruption in 1997. Both reports were approved by the PLC, and the latter one was drafted by PLC members. Consequently, there was no reason for PLC to condemn the statement unless it turned against itself and against it’s committees that constitute the building blocks of its institutional identity as a legislature. Actually this happened. Once the PLC condemned the “Statement of Twenty”, it condemned the report of its committee to investigate corruption, and any other report and resolutions calling for the rationalization of the Palestinian public institutions.

Providing this, one will have little doubt over the failure of PLC committee (which was formed on 24 December 1999 to investigate the attack on Saleh,520) to pressure the PA to comply with its resolutions and to hold those accused of the attack accountable. According to Mawaia El Masri, the committee convened several meetings with a number of security officials, and questioned the security personnel who were held responsible on the attack. Some of these personnel admitted their involvement in the attack, while the head of the General intelligence in Jericho confirmed the attack but accused Saleh of attacking the security personnel first.521 Hassan Khrisha, member of the committee, confirmed El Masri’s comments, adding that those involved in the attack will be brought before justice.522


However, it seems unlikely that those accused of the attack were brought before justice since Khrisha statement was made after around nine months of the attack, and therefore, if this long period passed without bringing those accused of the attack before justice, when one should expect this will happen? Even if those accused of the attack were brought before justice, are they the only party which is to be held responsible on the attack or there are other parties like their commanders, and head of Intelligence in Jericho? Whether those parties involved in the attack were brought before justice or not, the occurrence of the attack, which was the second in kind, displayed further PLC’s failure to protect its members and to preserve their immunity. PLC’s failure to do so culminates a long series of failures accumulated over the first four years of its inception.

Over these years, PLC failed to enact a constitution that governs the relation of the ruling authorities from one side, and the relation of these authorities with people from the other side. PLC’s failure in this regards went in parallel to its failure to bound PA with the legal procedure of handling the annual budgets, and implementing hundreds of its resolutions.

Although the PLC enjoyed the tools that would enable it to hold PA accountable, the PLC, as it seems, lacked the will to use these tools. Mawaia El Masri pointed out that “the PLC did not use the motion of non-confidence in any session of the first four terms (1996-2000)...a matter which confirms its lack of will to do so”. 523


PLC’s approval of Arafat’s Cabinet of 1998 might be the most telling illustration of PLC’s crisis in this respect. In spite of the fact that the Cabinet included the ministers who were charged with corruption by the 1997 PLC committee to investigate corruption, the PLC, surprisingly bowed for PA’s wishes and approved the Cabinet. This fact encouraged PA to escalate it’s violation of the legal norms. The escalation of PA’s violation of the legal norms was very evident when PA’s security forces attacked PLC members in August 1998.

With the elapse of the interim period, and the failure of PLC to force the PA to hold new legislative and presidential elections, PLC’s identity as elected legislature that represents public will have collapsed. Consequently, the PLC had no options but to attach itself to PA as its main source of power, and therefore, to become client for PA. This was clear when PLC threatened to leave immunity on its members who signed the statement of twenty, though the statement was not more than a re-affirmation of what had been stated in the report of the PA-created GMC, and the followed report of PLC committee to investigate corruption.

Accordingly, when Abdel El Jawad Saleh was attacked by the General Intelligence Forces in December 1999, PLC’s chance to hold those who were accused of the attack accountable was very weak. Because of this and other things, the PLC member Ra’fat El Najar did not hesitate to declare in April 2000 that “the situation in the Palestine Legislative Council is even worse than anyone could imagine”.524

Footnotes and Endnotes

407  Annex II (Protocol Concerning Elections) in Oslo II op.cit.

408  The full text of the law is cited in Al Waqea’, op.cit.,, no.8, 2ed year, 11/12/1995. The same law was published by Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda on 9 December 1995.

409  Though Oslo II specified the number of Palestinian Council seats with 83 seats, Palestinians were permitted to expand the council to 88 seats. See Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda on 27 December 1995.

410  Even the CEC, which appointed by Arafat on 21 December, was not neutral as Mohammoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was commissioned to chair it. See Presidential decree no.3 in Al Waqaea’ op.cit., no.10, 2ed year, 31/12/1995.

411  The Presidential decree no.1 for the year 1995 in Ibid.

412  The Presidential decree no.5 in Al Waqaea’ op.cit, no.10, 2ed year, 31/12/1995.

413  Al Bilad on 3 January & the London-Based of Al Hayat on 19 January 1996.

414  Figures from the official Webpage of PLC <>

415  Ibid.

416  Ibid.

417  JMCC’s Poll No.10 online <>

418  In fact, rounds of negotiations were held between the PA and these parties, with Hamas in particular, in Cairo during December 1995 with the aim of convincing Hamas, which took the leading role in the opposition, to change its position. In these negotiations, the PA showed readiness to enable Hamas to take part in the government institutions within the context of the Oslo process. But this position was rejected by Hamas which considered itself unbound by the terms of Oslo, and which also refused to dissolve its military apparatus. This fact left the negotiations between the two sides unproductive, and therefore, Hamas declared boycott for the elections. For these rounds of negotiations see Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda on 11, 13, 18, 20, 21, 23 December 1995. And for the position of these parties on the elections see Al Nihar on 17 & 19 January 1996.

419  Robinson, op.cit., P.196.

420  Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda on 22 January & Palestine Report. Vol. 1, no.35, January 24, 1996.

421  See Al Bilad on 22 January 1996.

422  Lamis Andoni. “The Palestinian Elections: moving toward Democracy for one-Party Rule”. In Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol XXV, no.3 (Spring 1996), Pp.14-15.

423  Al Nihar on 21 January 1996.

424  Al Hayat Al-Jadeeda on 14 January, & Al Nihar on 15 January 1996.

425  Al Nihar on 16 January 1996.

426  Palestine Report. Vo. 1, no.35, January 24, 1996.

427  Al Hayat Al-Jadeeda on 22 January 1996 & Ibid.

428  Palestine Report, Vol. 1, no.42, March 15, 1996.

429  The PLC’s Standing Order had been frequently revised. The most updated version had been approved by PLC on 7 June 2000. This version is the one upon which the discussion is based. For this version see PLC official webpage <>

430  The Council sessions were to be alternated between West Bank and Gaza Strip, and two branches for the council were established so that the problem of closure, which denied several West Bank PLC members right to attend the inaugural session in Gaza, is overlapped. See Palestine Report. Vol.2, No.31, January 17, 1997.

431  The Council Speaker as well as his two deputies and the secretary general were affiliated with Fatah. Qrieh was elected for Jerusalem constituency, while El Rayes, Abu Aita, Fatoh, were elected for Gaza, Bethlehem, and Rafah constituencies, respectively. See Palestine Report. Vol. 1, No.42, March 15, 1996.

432  Palestine Report. Vol. 4, no.38, March 13,1998.

433  Minutes of session no.19 of the second term.

434  Al -Hayat Al-Jadeeda on 2 October 1997.

435  The English Text of the Basic Law is cited on <>

436  Al Quds on 17 October, 1997 & Abdel Shafi’s letter titled “in the name of Duty and Honesty”, first appeared in Al-Hayat Al Jadeeda on 17 December 1997. An English translation of the same letter is cited in Palestine Report. Vol. 4, no.29, January 2, 1998.

437  Interview on 7 October 2004.

438  Minutes of the eight session of PLC third term, Al Quds on 25 June, and Al Hayat Al Jadeeda on 26 June 1998.

439  Minutes of eleventh & fourteen session of PLC third term.

440  Interview on 9 May 1998.

441  Minutes of the PLC third term sessions (March 1998-March 1999).

442  Ibid.

447  Interview on 20 August 1999.

448  On 3 August 1998, Arafat ratified the so called “the law of Public finance”. Article 3 of the law obliged the cabinet to present the next year’s budget to PLC two months before the end of the fiscal year. In case the budget, for one reason or other, had not been approved by PLC, then Minister of Finance is empowered to spend at rate of around 8% (1/12) of previous year’s monthly expenditure for up to three months (art. 4). See Al Waqaea’, op.cit., no. 25, 5th year, 24/9/1998.

449  Al Ayyam on 17 March 1997.

450  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda & Al Quds on 5 February 1997.

451  Al Ayyam on 7 March 1997.

452  Ibid, on 24 March 1997.

453  Extraction of the committee report is cited in Palestine Report. Vol. 3, no.1, June 13, 1997.

454  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda, on 28 May 1997

455  Minutes of the third session of PLC third term on 30 March 1998.

456  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda on 22 April 1998.

457  Al Quds on 28 May 1998.

458  Arabic News on I July 1998. Internet English edition <>

459  Al Ayyam, Al Quds, Al Hayat Al Jadeeda, on 6 April 1999

460  Al Quds on 22 April 1999.

461  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda on 15 July 1999 & Palestine Report. Vol. 6, no.8, August 11, 1999.

462  Palestine Report. Vol 6, no.8, August 11, 1999.

463  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda on 12 August 1999.

464  Ibid on 27 October & Al Ayyam on 15 November 1999.

465  Al Ayyam on 15 & 25 November 1999.

466  Ibid on 27 January 2000.

467  Interview on 7 May 1998.

468  Palestine Report. Vol 1, no.42, March 15, 1996.

469  Minutes of the third session of the third term. 7 March 1999.

470  Interview on 7 May 1998.

471  Palestine Report. Vol.2, no.31, January 17, 1997.

472  Ibid., Vo.1, no.50, May 17, 1996.

473  Ibid., Vol.2, No.4, June 28, 1996.

474  Ibid., Vol.2, No.2, June 13, 1996.

475  Interview. On 6 October 2004.

476  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda on 31 December 1997.

477  Interview on 1 June 1998.

478  Palestine Report. Vol.2, no.31, 17 January 1997.

479  According to JMCC Poll no.19, April 1997. Online <>

480  Palestine Report. Vol. 2, no.49, May 16, 1997 & Jerusalem Post on 26 & 28 May 1997.

481  Interview on 24 April 1998.

482  Palestine Report. Vol. 4, no.38, March 13, 1998.

483  According to the PLC member Rafa’t El Najar in Interview on 20 July 1998.

484  Palestine Report. Vol.2, No.33, January 24, 1997.

485  Jerusalem Post on 25 May 1997.

486  Interview with Sa’di El Krunz on 15 July 1998.

487  According to the committee member Youssef Abu Safiah in Interview on 26 May 1998.

488  Excerpts of the committee report are cited on Palestine Report. Vol.3, no.8, August 1, 1997.

489  Ibid., Vol.3, no.9, August 8, 1997.

490  Interview with Youssef Abu Safiah on 26 June, and Sa’di El Krunz on 15 July 1998.

491  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda on 31 December 1997.

492  See “Arafat’s Speech at PLC’s Third Term Opening”. In Palestine Report. Vol.4, no.38, March 13, 1998.

493  See the presidential decree no.2 for the year 1998 concerning the Cabinet in Al Waqaea’, op.cit., no.26, 5th year, 26/11/1998.

494  Minutes of PLC’s Third Term, in particular Minutes of the Special session held in Ramallah on 5-9 August, 1998.

495  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda on 7 August 1998.

496  Ibid.

497  The PLC member Ziad Abu Amr, for example, wondered, “Where are the reform measures that we demanded? And how can we pass confidence in a Cabinet which members accused of corruption? " Ali Abu El Reesh, considered PLC approval of the Cabinet a shame, and called on PLC members “to apologize for those Ministers suspected of corruption”. See Al-Ayyam on 9 & 10 August 1998.

498  Ra’fat El Najar, Interview on 7 October 2004.

499  Ibid.

500  Neue Zürcher Zeitung on 22/23 April 2000. Internet English edition <>

501  See JMCC’s Poll no.28, August 1998. Online <>

502  Jose’ Mar’ia Maravall & Adam Przeworski (ed.,). Democracy and the Rule of Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, P.9.

503  Interview with Abed Rabu Abu Uwn, a PLC member, 6 October 2004.

504  Ibid.

505  Palestine Report. Vol. 5, no.12, September 4, 1998.

506  Interview with Kamal Al Shrafi on 6 September 1999.

507  Ibid.

508  Ibid.

509  Interview with Abed Rabu Abu Uwn, a PLC member, 6 October 2004.

510  Palestine Report. Vol. 5, no.43, April 30, 1999.

511  Al Hayat Al Jadeeda on 25 January 1999.

512  The full text of PLC’s statement is cited on Palestine Report. Vol. 5, no.43, April 30, 1999.

513  Maravall & Przeworski (ed.,) op.cit.,P.9.

514  These members are: Abdel El Jawad Saleh, Fakhri Turkman, Mawaia El Masri, Husam Khader, Hassan Khrisha, Ali Abu Reesh, Rawia El Shawa, Ra’fat El Najar. See Palestine Report. Vol. 6, no.24, December 1, 1999.

515  Ibid.

516  Law’s Press Release on 28 November 1999 & Al Quds Al Arabi on 29 November 1999.

517  Al Quds Al Arabi on 2 December 1999.

518  Ibid & Al Hayyat Al Jadeeda on 3 December 1998.

519  Al Haq’s Press Release on 16 December 1999. Online <>

520  Al Ayyam on 31 December 1999.

521  Interview on 20 August 2000.

522  In Telephone Call with Khrisha on 3 September 2000.

523  Interview on 20 August 2000.

524  Neue Zürcher Zeitung on 22/23 April 2000, op.cit.,

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