The Palestinian people have a dual political system, largely resembling the European system of governance.
The Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) was officially recognized by the Arab League in 1974 as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” in 1991. Its parliament, the Palestinian National Council exists in exile, its members appointed by the leader of the PLO. The Palestinian Central Council is a truncated version of the PNC that meets in the occupied Palestinian territories. The PLO is signatory to all agreements with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) was established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Israel and the PLO signed the interim Declaration of Principles
(often referred to as the Oslo agreement) in 1993. The Basic Law forms the foundation of Palestinian governance in the absence of a formal constitution.
The Palestinian Authority combines the parliamentary and presidential systems of democracy. It is headed by the president, who is elected by the public through direct vote. The balance of power concept has been borrowed from the United Stateszzz*z system. This means that three separate branches of government operate with checks and balances in place to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful. These branches are the legislative branch, the executive authority, and the judiciary.
The Palestinian Legislative Council
(PLC) is the branch responsible for enacting laws. As the Palestinian parliament, it has two main responsibilities: drafting laws and overseeing the performance of the executive branch. The PLC has no powers in terms of foreign relations and all legislation must be approved by Israeli authorities.
The first Palestinian legislative elections took place on January 20, 1996. The PLC was vested with a mandate of a transitional five-year period starting with the signing of the Gaza-Jericho agreement
of May 4, 1994 ( part of the Oslo process
). The main opposition party, Hamas
, boycotted these elections, citing opposition to the agreements that led to the existence of the PLC. Consequently Fateh
(the majority party in the PLO) gained a sweeping majority (75 percent) of the 88 seats. In 2002, the Basic Law was amended to increase the membership of the PLC to 132 seats. Additionally, the position of the prime minister, largely a ceremonial role, was established.
The second PLC elections took place on January 25, 2006. Half of the members were elected according to a proportional representation system, and the remaining half were elected on the basis of sixteen electoral constituencies. This time Hamas participated and won a majority of the seats. Hamaszzz*z clear victory of 74 seats over Fateh’s 45 seats came as a surprise to many observers.
The role of the PLC has since been minimized. Many Hamas-affiliated parliamentarians were arrested by Israeli forces and the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Fateh prevented the legislature from meeting and carrying out its work.
The executive branch consists of the cabinet, the main governing authority of the PA. It comprises the prime minister and a maximum of 24 ministers who are accountable to the president. They are nominated by the president, and subject to parliamentary approval before taking the oath of office. The cabinet can be dissolved either by an emergency presidential decree or a PLC vote of no confidence. The cabinet drafts budgets requiring PLC approval and runs specific ministries, civil services and non-ministerial institutions. It is also responsible for administering and maintaining internal security.
The judicial process in the occupies territories has evolved from a complicated history. Until the end of Ottoman rule in 1917, the Palestinian legal system was a combination of Islamic and European legal systems. Subsequent British rule in Mandatory Palestine added the principles of the Anglo-Saxon common law system, which is based on the concept of judicial precedents.
The next change in the legal system occurred when the Hashemite monarchy of Transjordan formally annexed the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) as part of the Kingdom of Jordan in 1950. During this period, the West Bank was subjected to the Jordanian legal system, which was influenced by south European legal systems.
During this same period, the Egyptian government controlled the Gaza Strip, using the common law system that had been established during the British mandate period. After the 1967 war, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, imposing military law which meant legislation by military decree. After unilaterally annexing East Jerusalem in 1980, Israeli authorities began imposing domestic Israeli law on Palestinians living there.
The 1993 Oslo agreement finally established a uniform legal foundation through the newly-acquired powers of the Palestinian Authority. Since 1994, a consolidated system of legislation has been in effect in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The basic law of the PA stipulates the independence of the judiciary authority. The Higher Judicial Council, a group of senior judges, was established upon order of former President Yasser Arafat in 2002. The work of the council is adversely affected by incomplete sovereignty and interference by Israeli authorities. These factors challenge the independence of the courts and the power of the rule of law in the occupied territories.
A total of 37 courts of law in the occupied Palestinian territories are divided into magistrate courts (also known as courts of conciliation), courts of first instance, and three courts of appeal in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza. Cases decided by these courts can be appealed at higher levels, namely at the high court of justice and the courts of appeal and cessation. The Supreme Court of Justice examines administrative disputes.
According to Palestinian Authority law, judges are appointed by the president after nomination by the Higher Judicial Council. The attorney general is appointed by the president after nomination by the minister of justice.