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June 6, 2002 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 96

Calls for Reform in the Palestinian Authority Part I: Political Reforms

June 6, 2002
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 96

As American and Israeli demands have arisen for reform in the Palestinian Authority, similar demands have been heard from the Palestinian public and its leaders. Top PA officials who have spoken on the matter have stressed their rejection of all external dictates, insisting that their demand for reform had nothing to do with the demands of the U.S. and Israel. Their calls for reform focused on several aspects: establishment of a new government, separation of authorities, holding elections, reducing the number of apparatuses, improvement of supervision over PA funds, and fighting corruption. So far, Yasser Arafat declared his willingness to undertake reform, yet has backed away from implementing any meaningful act.

A. Disband the Government, Assemble a New One
Members of both the Palestinian cabinet and the Legislative Council demanded disbandment of the present failing government and the assembly of a new one. Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Nabil Amru, who led the calls for reform, sought to declare the present government transitional and to put together a new government. Amru, who resigned because his reform proposal was rejected, told the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam that Arafat had showed some understanding of his proposal but disagreed with the suggested ways of implementing it.[1] Postal Minister 'Imad Faluji explained Arafat's rejection of Amru's proposal as a matter of timing: "Arafat supports the need to undertake internal reform, but thinks this is not the right time for any reform."[2]

In an interview with the Israeli Arab weekly Al-Sinnara, Amru presented his thoughts on the idea of a new government: "…On the one hand will act the political leadership, while [on the other hand] will act the government to build its economy and provide services. Therefore, the new government must be separate from the legislature. The other and most important thing is that the new government will have genuine ministries, with budgets and job definitions …and that the Legislative Council will be able to vote no confidence in them."[3]

Another major proposal was to establish a government of Palestinian experts, with a limited number of ministers. A document drawn up by the Legislative Council's Political Committee proposed declaring the present government transitional and assembling a small government of technocrats with no more than 19 ministers.[4] Hatem 'Abd Al-Qader, a Legislative Council member from Jerusalem, proposed "assembling a government of no more than 15 ministers, all of whom would be technocrats, regardless of their political inclinations."[5] Muhammad Dahlan, head of Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip said, "There should be no more than 18 ministries in the new Palestinian cabinet, with 10 from among the present ministers and nine who are new ministers with no [previous] connection whatsoever to the PA."[6]

A more detailed proposal came from Minister of Public Works 'Azzam Al-Ahmad, who is also a member of the Legislative Council's Reform Committee. After consulting with Arafat, he said that the committee proposed reducing the number of government ministries from 34 to 19, by merging the Economic, Trade, and Supply Ministries into a single ministry, eliminating the Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs and the Ministry for Non-Governmental Organizations, and abolishing the two posts of ministers without portfolio.[7] Although Al-Ahumad's proposal followed consultation with Arafat – no specific implementation date was given.

Following the calls for disbanding the government, 20 ministers announced their willingness to submit their resignations if Arafat wanted to disband it. Local Government Minister and negotiating team head Saeb Ereqat told Al-Jazeera television, "All members of the government, not just 20 ministers, submitted their resignations to President Arafat…"[8] To date, Arafat has not yet accepted their resignations.

B. Arafat's Status and Separation of Authorities
Legislative Council Member, Hatem 'Abd Al-Qader openly criticized Arafat in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat. In an interview, he stated: "No single apparatus should execute political negotiations, security tasks, and provision of services simultaneously. It is inconceivable that a security official or minister would be a member of the negotiating team... This means that the brother, the symbol [that is, Arafat], must relinquish some of his executive authorities." 'Abd Al-Qader also demanded that there be a clear separation between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA), saying, "With regard to the political echelon – there is a need to find [clear] borders between the PLO and the PA. There should be no mixed meetings between PLO members and PA ministers...

The PLO is the broad base of the Palestinian people, while the PA is the product of Oslo. There is no need to compete for the PA and to sacrifice the PLO. There is a plot afoot against the PA. Sharon is trying to do away with it. If we sacrifice the PLO [as well] – we are lost."[9]

According to Fatah Secretary-General in the West Bank Hussein Al-Sheikh, separating the authorities will also solve the problem of corruption in the PA: "The source of this corruption is the existing security apparatuses, and how things are carried out [in these bodies] – which permits corruption in the PA. Therefore, we demand changes in the PA bodies and in their methods of operation, and the separation of the judiciary, legislative, and executive authorities."[10]

The Legislative Council's Political Committee also presented proposals regarding the function of the security apparatuses, which, it said, must refrain from engaging in political matters and must not maintain contact with Israel except for security coordination. The security apparatuses must also keep out of economic matters and money collection.[11

In response to the demand of the separation of authorities, Arafat accepted a bill for an independent Palestinian judiciary system at its second reading in the Legislative Council.[12] In a speech to the Legislative Council, he called on the members to "adhere to the principle of separation of the authorities – the judiciary, the legislative, and the executive – and to protect national unity and human rights." He did not, however, refer to the other elements in 'Abd Al-Qader's demand (such as reducing some of Arafat's authorities).[13] The Legislative Council welcomed Arafat's approval of the law, but noted that more steps were necessary for its approval – all of which are under Arafat's jurisdiction. The council also demanded the establishment of a constitutional court, the appointment of a Supreme Judiciary Council, the merging and reconstitution of the Palestinian judiciary, retraining the judiciary staff, establishment of new courts in accordance with the new law.[14]

Another bill, for basic law – declared to be temporary - was submitted by the Legislative Council and approved by Arafat. The law defined the character of Palestine, set out the Palestinian citizen's general freedoms and rights, defined the roles and areas of responsibility of the legislative authority, the executive authority – i.e. the president, cabinet, security forces and police, local government, and central government – and the judiciary, and defined the essence of the emergency laws and the transitional laws.[15]

C. Holding Elections
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, limited the demand for elections to the municipal and Legislative Council elections only. In his Ramallah office, he told journalists, "Naturally, it is difficult to hold Legislative Council elections within a month or two, but there is a need to decide on this matter [and to determine] that they will be held within, say, six months. The same goes for elections to the municipalities: We will decide on them today, and they will be held within a month or two."[16]

But others proposed holding presidential elections as well. Legislative Council members Dr. Hanan Ashrawi and Qaddura Fares called for "elections… for the presidency also, after amendment of the relevant law."[17]

Dr. 'Abd Al-Sattar Qassem, a lecturer on political science at Al-Najah University in Nablus, declared his intention to challenge Yasser Arafat in a presidential election if one were held.[18]

However, in his speech to the Legislative Council, Arafat was completely ambiguous about his position on elections: "Allow me, brothers and sisters, to propose to you, in all honesty and responsibility, that elections be held as soon as possible, on the official and popular level, and that [we should] rely on free elections as a basic means of choosing the leadership … in the organizations, associations, unions, and popular institutions – as basic tools for constructing a civil society." He then addressed the council members in colloquial Arabic, "See, I got it out somehow."[19] Two days later, Arafat expressed a different stand on the matter: "Elections will be held as soon as possible after the end of the occupation of our land."[20]

A few days later, Arafat again referred to the date of elections with two contradictory statements, saying that there would be Legislative Council and presidential elections in the winter, while local council elections would be at the end of the year. Claiming that a withdrawal by Israel was not a precondition for elections, he expressed hopes that an Israeli withdrawal would come "so that the elections in Palestine could be held freely, because elections cannot be held properly when the Palestinians are under siege."[21] Arafat's political advisor Nabil Abu Rudeina reiterated that elections were conditional upon an Israeli withdrawal to pre-September 28 positions.[22]

Information Minister Yasser Abd Rabbou also expressed sentiments that "elections cannot be held in the shadow of the Israeli military siege deployed in the Palestinian areas, which will prevent any candidate from moving freely and presenting his political platform, and will prevent the voter from moving freely as well."[23]

Despite these declarations, Legislative Council Chairman Ahmad Qurei (Abu 'Alaa) announced that elections for the Palestinian municipalities would be held in 2002, while Legislative Council elections would be held in 2003.[24] The Central Election Committee, headed by Abu Mazen, submitted its resignation to Arafat; a committee member who refused to be identified said that this was because no [precise] election date had been set.[25]

Meanwhile, Legislative Council Member Hatem 'Abd Al-Qader proposed the appointment of a deputy to Arafat: "The law allows President Arafat to appoint a deputy, but the president has not actualized this right. If a deputy is appointed for him by decision of the PLO Executive Committee, it will not constitute a reduction of his authority…"[26]


[1] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), April 5, 2002. Also, Legislative Council Memer Qaddura Fares thought there was a need to disband the old government: "In my opinion, the government must submit its resignation within two weeks, or the Legislative Council will withdraw its confidence in it, because the government has failed in carrying out its duties," Al-Ayyam, May 16, 2002.

[2] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), April 5, 2002.

[3] Al-Sennara (Israel), May 10, 2002.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), May 18, 2002.

[5] Al-Hayat (London), May 14, 2002.

[6] Al-Hayat (London), May 26, 2002.

[7] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), May 23, 2002.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), May 19, 2002.

[9] Al-Hayat (London), May 14, 2002.

[10] Al-Sennara (Israel), May 16, 2002.

[11] Al-Hayat (London), May 18, 2002.

[12] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), May15, 2002.

[13] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), May 16, 2002.

[14] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), May 18, 2002.

[15] The entire law was published in Al-Ayyam, June 1, 2002. (An analysis of this law will soon be published by MEMRI.)

[16] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), May 7, 2002.

[17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), May 16, 2002; Al-Hayat (London), May 18, 2002.

[18] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), May 19, 2002.

[19] Palestinian television, May 15, 2002.

[20] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), May 18, 2002.

[21] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), March 24, 2002.

[22] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), March 25, 2002.

[23] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), May 20, 2002.

[24] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), May 19, 2002.

[25] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), May 24, 2002.

[26] Kul Al-Arab (Israel), May 16, 2002. Fatah Secretary-General in the West Bank Hussein Al-Sheikh and head of the Preventive Security apparatus in the Gaza Strip Muhammad Dahlan proposed holding elections in the Fatah movement as well. Al-Sennara (Israel), May 16, 2002; Al-Hayat (London), May 22, 2002.


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