Palestinian Prime Minister

This concept deals with the constitutional status of the Palestinian Prime Minister and its implications on the Palestinian Politics.

Definition

The term Palestinian Prime Minister refers to the position created in the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2003 to head the Council of Ministers, which was intended to reduce the executive authorities of the President at the time, Yasir Arafat.

Background

Following the collapse of the Oslo Process and the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Israel and the US viewed the presence of President Arafat as impeding the political process.1 A series of terror incidents that were linked to Arafat prompted the international community to attempt to officially marginalize him.2

Against this backdrop, President Bush officially called for new Palestinian leadership. (See the Bush Vision for the Middle East (6/02)).3

As the removal of Arafat from power was impractical, the US encouraged constitutional reform in the PA, which would include the formation of a new Prime Ministerial position. This demand was echoed by the EU and by internal pressure on the Palestinian side to reform the PA.4

The US conditioned the publication of the Roadmap on the creation of alternative leadership to Arafat, possessing real authority.5 In The First Phase of the Roadmap, the Palestinians would be obliged to produce a draft Constitution6, based on a “strong parliamentary democracy and cabinet with empowered prime minister.” During the Second Phase of the Roadmap, the Palestinians would continue to institutionalize the powers of the office of the Prime Minister.

In March 2003, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) approved an amendment to the Basic Law creating the position of Prime Minister:

  • The Prime Minister is appointed, and may be dismissed by the President of the PA.;7
  • The Prime Minister has the authority to form the Council of Ministers (Palestinian Cabinet), manage and supervise their operations. The Council of Ministers possesses the residuary authority in the PA, i.e. all the authorities that were not explicitly allocated to the President.8
  • The formation of the Council of Ministers must be approved by a majority of the PLC members.9 In addition, the PLC can withdraw confidence from the Prime Minister, a specific minister or the entire Council of Ministers.10

Abu Mazen officially became the first Palestinian Prime Minister in March 2003. As such, Abu Mazen represented the PA at the Aqaba Summit (6/03) and thus officially committed the Palestinians to the Roadmap.

However Arafat did not transfer the authorities as required by the Basic Law. Abu Mazen resigned in September 2003 and was replaced by Abu Ala.11

Following the death of Arafat, Abu Mazen was elected President (1/05) (see Chairman of the Palestinian Authority).

After the Hamas victory in elections for the PLC (1/06), Abu Mazen appointed the head of the Hamas list, Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister. At present the executive powers of the PA are divided between the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers controlled by Hamas, and the office of the President, i.e. Abu Mazen. The division of powers between the President and the Prime Minister seems to have created a constitutional deadlock.12

The two parties have been engaged in heretofore unsuccessful discussions, attempting to resolve the current conflict over the division of authorities within the executive branch of the PA.13 (See Palestinian Elections – Towards Institutional Dysfunction).



1 Rabinovich Itamar, Waging Peace, (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2004), pp. 189-191.
2 For example, Arafat was widely believed to have authorized the Karine A arms shipment from Iran that was heading towards Gaza. Purdum Todd, “President assails Palestinian chief on arms shipment”, New York Times, 1/26/02.
3 In his speech, President Bush said that the Palestinians are required to undergo internal reforms and elect a new leadership, after which the international community and the US would support the establishment of a Palestinian state. (See: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/print/20020624-3.html).
4 For details about the process that brought about the amendment to the Basic Law, see Brown Nathan, Evaluating Palestinian Reform, (Carnegie Endowment, 6/2005).
5 Myre Greg, “Palestinian becomes Premier, Diminishing Arafat’s Power”, New York Times, 3/20/2003.
6 In accordance with the first phase of the Roadmap, the PLO presented a draft constitution towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. The resultant draft created a strong Prime Ministerial position as well. Though there was a focused effort to use the Basic Law as the basis for the constitution, the PLO has continued to work on its version. See Articles 121-123 and 131-140 of the PLO’s constitution delineate the powers of the office of the Prime Minister (See Palestinian Constitution – Third Draft).
7 Article 45 of the Basic Law.
8 See Articles 63, 66, and 69 of the Basic Law. The powers allocated to the President (Chairman) are: veto or authorize laws (Article 41); operate as the Commander-in-Chief of the Palestinian security forces (Article 39); authority to diplomatic representatives (Article 40). See: http://www.jmcc.org/politics/pna/basic3.htm#chap5.
9 Article 67 of the Basic Law.
10 Articles 78-80 of the Basic Law.
11 Rabinovich, Ibid, pp. 217-219.
12 “This structural division of power has limited Abbas's influence on PA institutions and their programs, especially in the many areas where he openly disagrees with Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala’a), the prime minister.” (Yaghi Mohammad, “Empowering Mahmoud Abbas after Disengagement”, Washington Institute, 9/15/05).

13 For example Regular Arnon, “Abu Mazen and Haniyeh yet to Agree on Governmental Authorities”, Ha’aretz, 4/9/06.