RAMALLAH: A decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to form a Supreme Judicial Council headed by himself has caused anger among Palestinian human rights institutions and opposition political parties.
Human rights experts told Arab News that Abbas was exploiting the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council to dish out legislation that served the interests of influential groups both within the Palestinian Authority and businesses.
According to the presidential decree issued on Oct. 28, the council comprises the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, the head of the Court of Cassation, the head of the Supreme Administrative Court, the head of the judicial authority of the security forces, the head of the Shariah Judicial Council, the minister of justice, the legal advisor to the head of state and the attorney general.
“The formation of the Supreme Judicial Council headed by President Abbas is a critical matter,” Ammar Dweik, executive director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, told Arab News.
President Abbas should not be involved in these issues, especially since it is related to the judiciary, which must be independent, he added.
Dweik added that the the fundamental problem was that such decrees impacting the rule law were being issued successively without consulting relevant authorities, without consulting public opinion, and without the president’s office clarifying the necessity to issue them.
In the wake of the Bar Association’s recent crisis with Abbas, Dweik said that Jibril Rajoub, Fatah’s Central Committee secretary-general, intervened with the president to solve the problem.
Dweik suggested that the lawyers had been promised decrees would be issued only in the utmost necessity and that judicial authorities would be consulted before they were published.
But he said new decrees were still being issued successively in violation of Palestinian law, which stipulates the need for judicial independence.
The president’s decision has angered Palestinian citizens on social media, many of whom have responded with criticism.
Ali Al-Sartawi, former Palestinian minister of justice and currently a professor of law at An-Najah National University in Nablus, told Arab News the country was in a state of legislative chaos with new laws being issued almost every week.
The former minister pointed out that the issuance of laws by decree began in mid-2007 after the division between Fatah and Hamas, and Hamas gaining control of the Gaza Strip.
Initially, they were issued in separate periods and on matters that were not sensitive. But the frequency of their issuance has increased.
“All countries are run based on the policy of separation of three powers: The executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. But President Abbas is trying, through this policy, to keep the three powers under his command and control,” Al-Sartawi said.
“What is the use of the law if it only serves the interests of one party and cause injustice to others?”
Izzat Al-Rishq, member of Hamas’ political bureau, condemned the president’s move.
“With this decision, Abbas imposes places the executive, legislative and judicial authorities in his control,” he said.
“Does Abbas realize what he is doing? And where is he going with the national consensus that we seek?”
Al-Rishq indicated that Abbas had issued a decree to form a Supreme Judicial Council at a time when Hamas was optimistic about the recent Palestinian reconciliation drive in Algeria.
The Palestinian Bar association is also concerned over the president's actions.
In the past week, the president dissolved the Doctors Syndicate and set up an alternative syndicate loyal to him, but was forced to retract the decision after around 4,000 doctors stopped working in private and public hospitals in protest against the decision.