Reforming the Palestinian Authority: An Update

February 14, 2003



Domestic and international interest in Palestinian reform in the second quarter of 2002 generated much needed political pressure on the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), forcing him to form a new government and to implement several reform measures. Major laws, such as the Basic Law and the Law of Judicial Authority, were signed by the president in May; new reform-minded ministers, such as Salam Fayyad (finance), were appointed; a date was set for general elections; and a newly appointed ministerial Reform Committee presented a 100 Day Reform Plan. But the reform process remains critically impeded, not only by continued armed confrontations and Israel's siege and blockade of Palestinian cities, but also by the ineffectiveness of the Reform Committee, non-implementation of newly signed laws, and the absence of reform vis-à-vis the Council of Ministers, the Interior Ministry, the judicial system, and public administration in general. The role of the Palestinian Legislative Council remains marginal despite an aborted attempt to strengthen its oversight functions.

Henry Siegman

Former Senior Fellow and Former Director for the U.S./Middle East Project

Other steps should include: constitutional reforms, including the development of a Palestinian constitution and amendment of the Basic Law and the election law; reformingthe executive branch by empowering the Council of Ministers; reforming the judiciary by forming a new Supreme Judicial Council and clarifying its mandate vis-à-vis the Ministry of Justice; introducing security sector reform, including a definition of the functions and the mandate of the Interior Ministry; empowering the Legislative Council by implementing provisions in the Basic Law that assure separation of power; andencouraging the electoral process. Recent events indicate that pressure works when used wisely. It is effective when coupled with positive incentives, such as political, financial and symbolic support. However, framing reform in terms of regime change may have negative consequences. It may have doomed genuine reform by shifting the focus from a reform process that would address serious constitutional and institutional needs, to specific outcomes--e.g. who will be allowed to rule and which candidate can deliver security to Israel.

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Palestinian Territories

In the aftermath of the U.S. demand for Palestinian regime change and the subsequent Israeli siege of the Muqata compound, Arafat has sought ways to put an end to the whole reform movement. It is doubtful he will concede to any further reform steps if it means his own early marginalization. Furthermore, it is doubtful that significant reform can be expected in the absence of progress in the peace process. Reform linked to progress in the peace process is far more likely to succeed.

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Palestinian Territories

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