Palestinian lawyers hold rare protest against Abbas’s ‘rule by decree’

Palestinian lawyers demonstrating in Ramallah (AFP)

The National  /  July 25, 2022

Mahmoud Abbas was elected as Palestine’s president in 2005, following the death of Yasser Arafat.

Hundreds of Palestinian lawyers held a rare street protest on Monday against what they described as the Palestinian Authority’s “rule by decree”, condemning president Mahmoud Abbas for governing without a parliament.

The Palestinian Legislative Council — created under the Oslo Peace Accords with Israel — has been inactive since 2007, meaning Mr Abbas has led without a functioning parliament for nearly all of his tenure as president.

But new leadership at the Palestinian Bar Association has sought to pressure the PA, according to AFP.

The association’s president, Suheil Ashour, told AFP at the protest that his body would stand firm against legislation delivered by presidential decree that curbed Palestinian “rights and freedoms”.

“Our demand is either to stop their implementation now or to cancel” a raft of restrictive laws, said Mr Ashour, who pushed for reforms when he was elected association president earlier this year.

The draft Palestinian constitution allows for presidential decrees “if necessary”, in cases where the PLC cannot act, but lawyers said Mr Abbas has gone too far.

Riot police prevented the demonstrators, clad in their black robes, from marching to the nearby office of Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

Farhan Abu Aisha, a protester, accused Mr Abbas of making decisions “under the cover of darkness”.

“The legislative authority is absent in Palestine, and the judicial authority is completely marginalised,” he said.

Mr Abbas was elected Palestinian president in 2005, following the death of Yasser Arafat.

Hamas Islamists, bitter rivals of Mr Abbas’s secular Fatah movement, swept to victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

Fallout from that vote helped spark a split in Palestinian governance, with Fatah retaining control of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Hamas running Gaza since 2007.

According to estimates by Palestinian legal experts, Mr Abbas has issued about 400 presidential decrees while in office.

He officially dissolved the PLC in 2018 and moves to hold new elections have faced resistance.

Mr Abbas had set dates for presidential and legislative elections to be held last year across the Palestinian territories, with Hamas’s participation, but cancelled the polls citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in annexed east Jerusalem.

Public demonstrations against Mr Abbas and the PA have been on the rise in the West Bank, notably following the death in Palestinian custody of activist and critic Nizar Banat last year. The top Palestinian prosecutor has accused 14 security force members of beating Banat to death.