chapter  1
17 Pages

The politics of Palestinian legal reform: Judicial independence and accountability under occupation


Following the start of the Oslo Peace Process in the 1990s and the creation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Palestinian politics has been marked by the often arbitrary and violent exercise of power. Although greeted with initial euphoria in many European and American capitals, there was an almost immediate disenchantment among many Palestinians with the Peace Process. In this context, Yasser Arafat, as the head of the newly created PNA, tried to limit opposition through a careful balance between the distribution of resources and harsh coercive measures. This saw a huge growth in the number of people employed by the Palestinian civil service, the vast majority of whom held affiliation with Arafat’s Fatah movement. Pressure from Israel and the USA to crack down on Hamas contributed to making the security forces the most prominent aspect of the PNA, and they were frequently used in widescale detention of Palestinians opposed to the Peace Process. Alongside attempts to limit opposition, Arafat was faced with the task of establishing control of the Palestinian Territories after having spent decades in exile. In particular, he tried to retrieve control from the decentralized and institutional forms of politics that had developed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to the PNA, through the simultaneous promotion of patron-client relations and political centralization (Robinson 1997). A combination of weak legitimacy due to the failures of the Peace Process, a powerful security service, an attempt to sideline grassroots activists and the ability to use the language of revolutionary nationalism all resulted in a situation where the PNA ruled through a mixture of authoritarianism and personalism, rather than legal institutions. The USA, Israel and many European states initially encouraged Arafat in his use of coercive measures against the Palestinian population. However, following the start of the second intifada (uprising) in late September 2000 and the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process, the creation of an independent Palestinian judiciary came to be seen as a key factor in the attempts of international donors to produce a more stable and accountable PNA.