Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) meets with the Palestinian leadership to sign agreements in Ramallah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A new social security law in the West Bank has sparked protests against both the content of the law and the way it was legislated. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed the law with a presidential decree, as the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) has not functioned for almost ten years.
Palestinians who work for the Palestinian Authority (PA) already have a social security plan, but the new law, which Abbas signed in March, will apply to Palestinians working in the private sector and for NGO’s. Opponents say it abandons rights for disabled workers, includes a minimum wage that retirement benefits that will not be enough to live on, and a provision that discriminates against women by denying death benefits to dependents of female workers.
“A lot of the Palestinian NGOs have their own provident fund mechanism already in place for their staff and employees,” Lubnah Shomali, administrative and financial affairs manager of BADIL, a Palestinian human rights organization told The Media line. “This law would force them to pay into the national social security fund instead.”
News of the law sparked protests in April in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the political and financial capital of the West Bank, with one demonstration attracting almost 10,000 people. The PA leadership formed a ministerial committee that met with NGO’s, trade unions and human rights organizations to discuss amendments to the law, but media reports say those amendments were recently cancelled.
But beyond the specific law, it raised questions about how new laws are passed in a time when the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not functioned for ten years. That is mostly because of the split between Abbas’s Fatah party, which controls the West Bank, and the Islamist Hamas, in charge of the densely populated Gaza Strip. In the last Palestinian election in 2006, Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats in the PLC. However, Fatah has not wanted to meet since then, afraid of laws Hamas could push through. In addition, Israel has not allowed the PLC members in Gaza to reach Jerusalem.
Since then, Abbas has used a provision in the Palestinian Basic Law, meant to be a prelude to a constitution, which allows him to pass laws by decree. Palestinian legal experts say he has passed more than 150 laws this way, including the social security law.
“This is the prerogative of the President (Abbas) but we question if these laws are necessary,” Dr. Asem Khalil, a professor of constitutional law at Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. “This Basic Law is problematic.”
Khalil says that Abbas’s decision is in theory subject to a review by the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court acting as the Constitutional Court. Both of these courts are packed with Abbas loyalists, he says, who rubber-stamp his decisions. The Basic Law is meant to be a precursor to a constitution, he says, not a long-time solution.
In Israel, in contrast, the Basic Law functions as a constitution, as Israel’s secular and religious parties have not been able to agree on provisions for that constitution.
“We oppose the executive use of Presidential decrees,” Essam al-Aruri of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center told the Media Line. “It should be used exclusively for the most urgent issues that cannot be delayed. Any laws made should represent the results of diversified interests of all sectors of the population.”
Many NGO’s have been pushing for new Palestinian elections, especially as Abbas is 81 and has refused to appoint a successor. Most Palestinians agree that those elections cannot be held without “national reconciliation”, meaning that Fatah and Hamas would both agree to honor the results of the elections. As a first step, both movements have agreed to participate in local municipal elections next October. If that goes well, it could pave the way for national elections that would choose a new PLC, and put an end to Abbas passing laws by decree.