A top priority

As borne out by polls as well as the people’s representatives in the Legislative Council, the Palestinian public has identified the issue of law and order as one of the top three priorities for the government to address. The other two–the economy, particularly unemployment and poverty, and reforms and fighting corruption–are hardly unconnected.

A lack of law and order has clear negative consequences for the economy because it discourages investment and reduces possible new economic initiatives. It also hampers efforts toward reform and against corruption, because only through a strong judiciary and due process of law can the government proceed in reducing corruption and enhancing reforms and improving the efficiency and performance of the different branches of the government.

But there is also a political angle. Many people, especially outside Palestine, believe correctly that in order for the Palestinian Authority to be able to fulfil its political and security obligations under any political agreement or plan, such as the roadmap, it would require the ability to enforce law and order. The government can only successfully deliver the people to an agreement if it can enforce the law. That’s why elements both internal and external have an interest in strengthening and improving the ability to implement law and order and due process.

There are two kinds of constraints facing the efforts to this end that the new Palestinian leadership is exerting and is very serious about. The first has to do with the weak inherited structure of the judiciary, in addition to the undue influence on the judicial system of the security services, the executive authority and some political groups and personalities.

Another source of weakness is our one-party political regime, in which the ruling party is dominant in the security and executive authorities as well as other institutions, a phenomenon that reduces the professional performance of some of these authorities and the independence of the judiciary.

Finally, there is an inherited legal problem stemming from the fact that the law regulating the judiciary contains weaknesses and ambiguities reducing its efficiency. The apparent recent fatigue in the Legislative Council is preventing voting into effect any improvement of this law.

The second level of difficulties and limitations are external. It has to do with the Israeli occupation that is significantly weakening the PA and its status vis-a-vis the Palestinian public. In addition, in the last few years of continuous violent Israeli attacks and incursions, the Palestinian security infrastructure, including all prisons, was completely destroyed. This reduces the ability of the law enforcement services to fulfil their role. Police in the PA areas are able to move only to the extent that the Israeli army is prepared to allow, and this is limited and changing. Furthermore, the police do not have enough weapons and are anyway not allowed to carry them in many cases. In contrast, those responsible for violating law and order are armed with the most advanced and modern weaponry, mostly smuggled in from Israel.

The enforcement of law and order in Palestine is necessary for peace process requirements and for economic development needs. It is required by Palestinians and by those in the international community who are trying to help renew the peace process. These efforts are being resisted by elements in Palestinian society that have no interest in strengthening the PA and consequently resuming the peace process. But they are also being resisted by the Israeli government, which seems interested in prolonging the current weakness of the PA, especially in enforcing law and order. The lack of law and order in Palestinian society is being used to justify Israel’s persistence in ignoring calls and efforts to renew the peace process and abide by international legality on issues such as stopping settlement expansion and resuming peace negotiations on the basis of the roadmap–a document that, among other things, calls for ending the occupation that started in 1967.