July 16, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 745

Director of Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research Criticizes PA Government

July 16, 2004
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 745

In an article in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, criticized the establishment of the Palestinian National Security Council. The following are excerpts from his article: [1]

The Constitutional Amendment: Guaranteeing Accountability by Giving Authority to the Government

"In March 2003, the Palestinian Legislative Council approved extensive amendments to the Basic Law, which is considered the Palestinian Authority's interim constitution. In accordance with these amendments, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat lost a considerable part of his political and security powers and they were transferred to the government, on which – according to Article 69 – was placed the responsibility of maintaining public order and internal security…

"In light of these constitutional amendments, it was natural that all the Palestinian security apparatuses and the Palestinian police would be subordinate to the government and to the minister in charge of public order and internal security, according to the amended Basic Law – Article 71, which puts him in charge of consolidating the general policy of his ministry and overseeing its execution, after ratification by the government.

"The rationale behind this amendment was clear: Since the principles of separation and balance among the [legislative and executive] authorities assume that the PLC should oversee the executive authority and demand its accountability for all its actions, and since the [unamended] Basic Law did not include demanding accountability from PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, it was logical to give full authority and responsibility to the government and its head. This is because the government, unlike Chairman Arafat, is accountable to the PLC through a no-confidence vote…"

The PA Government Relinquished Its Constitutional Authority by Agreeing to Arafat's Creation of the National Security Council

"But the PA chairman [Arafat] exploited the resignation of Abu Mazen's government and established an emergency government headed by Abu Alaa, and took back the important powers regarding law enforcement and preserving internal security: He created a National Security Council, to be a source of authority in all security matters. This council was established with Arafat at its head, and its members are the prime minister, the interior minister, and the heads of the security apparatuses.

"The prime minister's, government's, and interior minister's compliance [with Arafat's creation of the National Security Council] was an essential violation of the law, because all of them relinquished the powers granted them by the [amended] Basic Law, and thus freed the presidential institution from accountability to parliament. The National Security Council, which is subordinate to this presidency, is not mentioned and does not exist in the Basic Law, and it [need not provide] clarification or accountability to the legislative authority [i.e. the PLC]."

The National Security Council Also Failed

"If the government and the prime minister had relinquished their constitutional powers in acknowledgement of their inability and lack of political will to maintain public order and provide internal security, then he [i.e., the prime minister] should resign.

"The experience of the past six months shows clearly that the National Security Council has neither the ability nor the will to maintain public order and provide internal security. Moreover, it may be that its failure is because there is no accountability to parliament.

"It is difficult to understand the silence and obedience of the PLC in light of the contempt for the amendments it ratified not so long ago. Why don't the legislators demand accountability from the government for its laxity in carrying out its missions and for the voluntary concession of its powers. And why don't they pass another new amendment to set out the rules demanding accountability for the PA chairman, as someone in charge of the National Security Council?

"The continuation of the status quo threatens to create a grave precedent in the Palestinian political regime – one that will bring us back to a [one]-ruler political system. In light of this precedent, what will prevent the ruler from establishing a National Economic Council, a National Justice Council, and other national councils that strip the government of its constitutional powers one by one, transferring them to the head of the PA, and trampling the Basic Law and standards of proper governance?… Today it has become clear that the council's establishment was only one stage in the struggle for powers among the various elements in the Palestinian political system."

[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), June 15, 2004.

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