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

Palestinian Bar Association president leading demonstration says his group will stand firm against legislation delivered by executive orders, which curb ‘rights and freedoms’

Palestinian lawyers demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister's Office in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on July 25, 2022, to reportedly protest the Palestinian President establishing laws by decree which they consider a violation of the independence of the judiciary. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Palestinian lawyers demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister's Office in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on July 25, 2022, to reportedly protest the Palestinian President establishing laws by decree which they consider a violation of the independence of the judiciary. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Hundreds of Palestinian lawyers held a rare street protest Monday against what they described as the Palestinian Authority’s “rule by decree,” condemning PA 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 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 PA.

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 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 Abbas has gone too far.

Palestinian lawyers demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on July 25, 2022, to reportedly protest the Palestinian President establishing laws by decree which they consider a violation of the independence of the judiciary. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

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

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

A demonstrator lifts a placard in Arabic which reads “Yes to an independent judiciary” during a rally for Palestinian lawyers in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on July 25, 2022, to reportedly protest the Palestinian President establishing laws by decree which they consider a violation of the independence of the judiciary. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

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

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

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

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers statements to the media with the US president after their meeting in the city of Bethlehem in the West Bank on July 15, 2022. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

Fallout from that vote helped spark a split in Palestinian governance, with Fatah retaining control of the 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.

Palestinian lawyers demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on July 25, 2022, to reportedly protest the Palestinian President establishing laws by decree which they consider a violation of the independence of the judiciary. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

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

Abbas had set dates for presidential and legislative elections to be held last year across the Palestinian territories, with Hamas’s participation, but canceled the polls citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in annexed 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 PA prosecutor has accused 14 security force members of beating Banat to death.

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