Division of Powers - Palestine Introduction (2023)


Palestine is a parliamentary democracy, based on political pluralism, and is a multiparty system. Palestine does not have a formal constitution. Instead, its legal framework is based on various historical legal systems (Ottoman, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Israeli) as well as the 2002Basic Law (amended in 2003 and 2005) that functions as a temporary constitution until the establishment of an independent state.[1]

The President of the National Palestinian Authority (PA) is elected by universal, direct suffrage for a 4 year period. The President holds executive powers, shared with the Council of Ministers in charge of enforcing decisions of the Legislative Council. The president appoints the Prime Minister, who appoints the government ministers.

The PalestinianLegislative Council holds the legislative power. Its 132 members are elected by universal suffrage for a 4 year mandate.

In recent years, the Palestinian authorities have been working on strengthening the separation of powers. Pursuant to the 2003 amended Basic Law, the government is to be accountable to the president and to the Legislative Council. However, in practice, there is currently no effective parliamentary supervision of the government’s work.[2]

Palestine is divided into two main geographical units: the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It operates at three different levels of government: the central level, the regional level (Mouhâfazat), and the local level. There are 16 governorates and 405 local government units.

State building efforts have been impaired by political realities, specifically the Israeli occupation, the deepening fiscal crisis and the division between the Fatah-dominated West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Since 2007, the West Bank has been under a state of emergency, and general elections have not taken place. In 2009, President Abbas' legal term as president expired, but he remains in office and is still the acting president of the Palestinian Authority.[3]

A new Palestinian government was established in June 2014. It was endorsed by Fatah and Hamas. However, Israel views Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and is unwilling to negotiate with the new government. This situation perpetuates the political and historical friction (including for example the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict).

Central level

The Oslo Accords[4] led to the establishment of the PA, formed in 1994. It holds civil powers over the Palestinians in the West Bank (but not East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. It is in charge of some forty areas of responsibility, listed in the Oslo Accords, such as agriculture, trade, employment, water, religious affairs, telecommunications, education, the courts, municipal government, health care etc. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is in charge of foreign policy, while Israel remains in charge of security issues and border control. [5]

The Oslo accords divided the occupied territories into the following three areas:

· Area A: consisting mainly of Palestinian cities, is under full Palestinian control, including civil affairs and security issues.
· Area B: consisting of villages and outlying areas, is under joint Palestinian-Israeli control, with Israel controlling the flow of goods and the movement of people; and
· Area C:, includes pastoral areas, Israeli settlements and military installations, remains under full Israeli control, including civilian affairs and security issues.[6]

This division has far-reaching consequences for the everyday lives of the local population. For instance, in the West Bank, the areas over which the Palestinians have, in principle, complete control are geographically fragmented. Nevertheless, most administrative functions that were previously managed by the Israeli military government of the West Bank and Gaza have gradually been transferred to the PA.
According to the 2003 amendment to the Basic Law, the president’s office holds much of the political power at the national level. Under Article 43, the president can issue emergency decrees in cases of necessity and when the Legislative Council is not in session. These decrees are presented to the Legislative Council in the first session convened after they have been issued; otherwise, they will cease to have the power of law.[7] However, since the Legislative Council has not met since 2007, decrees such as the 2007 Electoral Decree currently have binding power[H1] .

According to the 2003 amendment to the Basic Law, the prime minister supervises the work of a cabinet that is limited to 24 members.[8] In the absence of a free and export-oriented private sector, the Palestinian public sector and donors have become the main source of employment and donations constitute the basis for budgetary planning.[9]

The European Union (EU) and the UN have been providing assistance to Palestinian refugees through theUNRWA since 1971. Currently, the EU is the PA's most important donor, with funds being made available to help pay the administration's salaries, rehabilitate municipalities, prepare for elections etc.[10] The EU also focuses on the PA as an important area for its peace keeping initiatives.[11]

Regional level

The 16 governorates (muhafazat) make up the regional level. They are managed by governors who are nominated by the president and are under the direct supervision of theMinistry of the Interior. Legislative power is held by the governorates general council elected by universal suffrage. The executive committee is chaired by the governor. Half the members are elected by the Provincial General Council, the remaining half is appointed by the governor.

Governors do not operate under any specific legal framework but are regulated by presidential decrees, mainly Presidential Decree No. 22 of 2003, regarding the powers of governors. Governors are de facto in charge of the local police force, the supervision of all government agencies in the district and of coordinating state services such as youth and sports, health, agriculture, provincial environmental planning, culture, arts, tourism, assignment of land and building of primary and secondary schools

Tax revenue share from the State's general budget (Law no 5779) is the main income source of governorates. The Bank of Governorates allocates resources based on population (50%), surface area (10%), number of villages (10%), share of rural population (15%) and development level (15%).

In an effort to further decentralise and to improve the accountability of local government, it was agreed to establish governorate councils that would be chaired by the governors. These councils include as members representatives from the MoLG, local government units, the Palestinian Legislative Council, the private sector and civil society organisations in order to lead and guide regional strategic development plans.[12]

Local level

On a local level, 405 localities ( municipalities and village councils) are under tutelage of theMinistry of Local Government. Municipalities hold a status of local authorities, while village councils are de-concentrated state bodies. While in principle, these various statuses vary according to demographic criteria (municipalities being in theory more populated than villages), in practice, they are allowed to control the territory: the granting of the status of “village”, allow the reinforcement of the presence of the state in territories close to Israeli settlements, or can be a means to sanction the behaviour of certain elected representatives.

There are 4 categories of municipalities (A, B, C and D), varying according to demographic criteria. Also, a number of municipalities (the so-called "new municipalities") were established following the Oslo Agreements.

Local government is anchored in legislation, specifically in the
· 1996 Local Elections Law, the 1997 Local Authorities Law No. 1 (“the Local Authorities Law”)[13] and the
· 2008 Law by Decree No. 9 amending theLocal Authorities Law.

In addition, other related laws and regulations deal with local governance, local legislation regarding regional planning is not always the same for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For example, different laws regulate planning and zoning.[14] The legislation allows local authorities to introduce regulations that are needed in order to ensure their proper functioning, e.g. in respect of taxation. These then have to be approved by the MoLG.[15]

In the West Bank, autonomy and powers of municipalities are to a large extent affected by the Oslo Accords, defining three types of areas with various autonomy levels towards Israel: As mentioned above,Areas A are under Palestinian Authority control (corresponding to large urban centres), areas B are areas under partial Palestinian control since Israel controls goods and people flows, and Areas C are under Israeli control.

The Local Authorities Law stipulates 27 areas that are under the LGUs' responsibility, namely:

· Town planning;
· Building licensing and construction control;
· Water supply;
· Electricity supply;
· Sewage management;
· Public markets management;
· Licensing of trades and businesses;
· Public health monitoring;
· Collection and disposal of solid waste;
· Public storage control;
· Public parks;
· Cultural and sport activities;
· Public transport (land and sea);
· Control of peddlers and open markets;
· Weights and measures control;
· Advertisement control;
· Building demolition;
· Disposal of remnants of roads;
· Social services for the poor;
· Cemeteries;
· Precautions against floods, fires and natural disasters;
· Hotel operation control;
· Regulation of pack animals;
· Canine control;
· Budget approval and management;
· Management of the local government's assets and funds.[16]

Some municipalities take over additional responsibilities that are not laid down in the Local Authorities Law, such as providing emergency services and constructing and maintaining schools, while other LGUs do not succeed in fulfilling their basic legal obligations.[17]
The Local Authorities Law excludes the 29 refugee camps from the jurisdiction of the MoLG, governorates and municipalities. Instead, refugee camps fall under the responsibility of different UN relief organisations, especially in the fields of health and education. However, this jurisdiction is not absolute and responsibilities for the provision of certain services are sometimes shared among UN agencies and adjacent LGUs.[18]

Although not part of the Palestinian government hierarchy, the State of Israel is also involved in local government decision-making. The division of the territory into different jurisdictions often forces local governments to ask the Israeli authorities for authorisation for local development projects. This concerns particularly the smaller and newer municipalities in areas B and C. Local law enforcement can also be impaired by this situation, making emergency operations practically impossible to coordinate.[19]

On average the activity of LRAs is often limited to provision of basic services. The case is particularly strong in Gaza, as the primary concern of local authorities there is to rebuild housing and treat water as the water is very salty and constitutes health hazard.

Overall, Palestinian municipal government is fairly decentralised. The central government transfers only 15% of total revenues to local government while some 90% of local property tax stays at the local level. Municipalities also receive revenues from sources such as the education tax, the selling of electricity, issuing building permits, service fees and fuel tax.[20] However, in the absence of strong regulation and compensation mechanism at central government level, large differences occur between local authorities: stronger municipalities offer services that others cannot afford.[21] As a result, many municipalities remain in debt. Palestinian local governments are extremely dependent on outside funds, such as those provided by the World Bank and the EU.[22] Challenges linked to the Israeli occupation and the geographical fragmentation caused by Israeli settlements and the separation wall make it difficult for local authorities to fulfil their responsibilities to their habitants.

Systems of multilevel governance[23]

TheMinistry of Local Government provides oversight over municipalities. At a national level, municipalities are represented on Municipal Committees. Sectoral representation of municipality’s take place through bodies such as the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority.

Since the division of power between municipalities and governorates is not always clearly defined, the central government can extend its influence as it considers necessary. For example, in the absence of clear legal guidelines, personal disputes between governors and mayors are resolved by the central government and the presidency, thus granting central government the power to take the final decision.[24]

The Association of Palestinian Local Authority (APLA) established in 2015 also represents local government interests.

Relations with the EU/Representation at EU level

As of 2015, 9 out of 28 EU member states recognize Palestine. The EU is the single largest donor of foreign aid to Palestinians The legal basis for the EUs relations with the PA is theInterim Association Agreement onTrade and Cooperation signed with the PLO on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Palestine is represented on the Committee of RegionsARLEM partners group and the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly

Palestinian municipalities have also been members of the Standing Committee for the Euro Mediterranean Partnership of Local and Regional Authorities (COPPEM).

The Association of Palestinian Local Authorities (APLA) reconvened in October 2015.[25] It is a member of the Arab Towns Organisation and the United Cities and Local Governments – Middle East and West Asian Section.

[1] ThePalestinian BasicLaw, Facts about the Palestinian Basic Law

[2] Jerusalem Institute of Justice, ‘Hidden Injustices. AReview of PA& Hamas Human Rights Violations in the West Bank and Gaza’’, 2012,

[3] "Freedom in the World 2014", Freedom house, P. 8Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories, Freedom house (2010)

[4] The Oslo Accords, Middle East Information and Research Project, available in:http://www.merip.org/palestine-israel_primer/oslo-accords-pal-isr-prime.html (EN).

[5] A. Signoles, ‘Local Government in Palestine’, Focales 02 (October 2010), p. 14.

[6] Approximately 62% of the West Bank is considered as belonging to Area C, while Areas A and B make roughly 38 percent of the West Bank. See the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Area C Humanitarian Response Plan Fact Sheet, August 2010, available at http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_area_c_humanitarian_response_plan_fact_sheet_2010_09_03_english.pdf (EN).

[7] The Amended Basic Law (Promulgated March 18, 2003).

[8] Ibid.

[9] ‘Building a Palestinian State: Towards Peace and Prosperity’ (December 2007), p. 13, available at:http://www.undp.ps/en/aboutundp/Prdp.pdf (EN).

[10] "Implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy in Palestine Progress in 2012 and Recommendations for Action ", p. 8.

[11] Ibid.

[12] ‘Palestine National Plan 2011-2013’, pp. 3, available at:http://www.lacs.ps/documentsShow.aspx?ATT_ID=4809 (EN).

[13] There is no English translation available for the 1997 Local Authorities Law No. 1. The 27 areas that fall under the responsibility of local authorities are listed in A. Signoles, ‘Local Government in Palestine’, Focales 02 (October 2010), p. 14.

[14] "The Palestinian General National Plan 2011-2013 (Draft)", Palestinian MoLG publication (2010), p. 6, available at:http://www.molg.pna.ps/studies/InterSector_plan_2010.pdf (EN).

[15] "PPI & Palestinian Local Authorities – A Special Study", The Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem 15.7.2009, p. 7, available at:

[16] ‘Local Government in Palestine’, pp. 52-54; "Part 1: Update on Major Interventions in the Local Governance Sector since 2004", pp. 24-26.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., pp. 24-25.

[19] Ibid., p. 33.

[20] Ibid., p. 6.

[21] Ibid., p. 7.

[22] 'Local Government in Palestine', pp. 25-28.

[23] Council of European Municipalities and Regions, Consultation procedures within European States, 2007.

[24] Ibid., pp. 31-32.

[25] VNG International, 2015, First General Assembly held under new chairman of the Association Palestinian Local Authorities

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