Palestinian lawyers protest against Abbas governing by ‘decree’

The Palestinian parliament has been inactive since 2007, leaving President Mahmoud Abbas to rule without a functioning parliament.

Hundreds of Palestinian lawyers have held a rare street protest in the occupied West Bank against the Palestinian Authority’s “rule by decree”, condemning President Mahmoud Abbas for governing without a parliament.

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

But a new leadership at the Palestinian Bar Association has sought to pressure the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The association’s President Suheil Ashour told AFP news agency at the protest in the city of Ramallah on Monday 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 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 at the protest said Abbas has gone too far.

“These laws don’t only affect the Bar Association, but also the Palestinian people as a whole. I am here to tell President Abbas that these decrees destroy the judicial system, destroy the ruling authority, and could start a civil war,” Zainab al-Salfity, a lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

Riot police prevented the demonstrators, clad in their black robes, from entering the building housing the office of Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

Lawyers protest against Abbas
Palestinian lawyers demonstrate near the prime minister’s office in Ramallah [Abbas Momani/AFP]

Abbas was elected PA president in 2005, following the death of iconic leader Yasser Arafat.

Hamas, bitter rivals of Abbas’s 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, Abbas has issued some 400 presidential decrees while in office.

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

“We need a legislative council, because laws need to go through different readings before they’re enforced. Now there are a few people making laws and that’s a problem,” Abed Shabaneh, a lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

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 occupied East Jerusalem.

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