Ramallah: The decision last Monday by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to remove immunity of five Palestinian parliamentarians has caused a serious debate.
Legal experts have expressed their rejection of the decision, stating that it is illegal and violates the Palestine National Authority’s Basic Law. They are calling for Abbas to reverse his decision with immediate effect.
Under Palestinian law, parliamentarians are granted immunity from arrest and prosecution.
The five Palestinian parliamentarians, Mohammad Dahlan, Shami Al Shami, Nasser Juma’a, Jamal Al Tirawi and Najat Abu Baker, were to be interrogated and prosecuted for theft of public funds, arms trading and defamation charges. The targeted parliamentarians are from Abbas’s own movement, Fatah, and are members of its parliamentary block at the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
In an unprecedented ruling last November, the Palestinian constitutional court granted the Palestinian president the power to waive the immunity of any parliamentarian. Palestinian human rights and legal groups categorically rejected the ruling.
Immunity is an undisputed and clearly stated constitutional principle in article 53 of Palestinian Basic Law, according to Hassan Khuraishah, the PLC Deputy Head.
“Removing immunity is the sole purview of the PLC itself, and this right is and cannot be disputed by any other party, whether it be the constitutional court or the president himself,” Khuraishah told Gulf News.
Khuraishah noted that removing immunity is an internal process of the council, which needs to be observed in a step-by-step sequence.
“The issue is handled in a specific way,” he explained. “The Palestinian attorney general submits a request to the council to waive the immunity of a certain member of the council. The request is submitted to the council’s legal committee for discussion, and after that, is referred to the council for a vote. To pass, the proposal would have to garner the votes of at least two thirds of the Palestinian members of the council.”
“This is an extremely difficult and complicated feat to accomplish. Such a measure was attempted back in 1998, however, the council failed [at the voting stage] to waive the council member’s immunity.
“The PLC is the cornerstone of the Palestinian political system. The council represents the will of the Palestinian public and should not be treated with disrespect,” he said. “I, and many other members of the council, would encourage President Abbas to dissolve the council rather than remove the immunity of some of its members.”
Khuraishah noted that dissolving the council would be much easier to accomplish, to which end several pretexts, justifications and legal methods can be provided.
“The tenure of the council has already expired, and dissolving it would benefit the Palestinian treasury as the budgets allocated for the council’s various members and committees, which have not been met for the past decade, would be spared,” he said. “The setting up of the Palestinian constitutional court was not legal in the first place, as the members of the court should be sworn in the presence of the president and the head of the council, which did not happen.”
Khuraishah noted that parliamentarian immunity for Hamas members of the council or members of other factions has not been removed, which clearly indicates that the council is being used to settle internal scores within Fatah.
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has already deployed security personnel at the council’s entrances to prevent targeted members from entering the council, which Khuraishah points out is yet another unacceptable move.
The Council of Palestinian Human Rights Organisations, which is a coalition of 21 Palestinian human rights organisations operating in the Palestinian territories, has categorically rejected the Palestinian president’s decision, calling it a new crack in the already disintegrating Palestinian political system, which is suffering a total collapse that will ultimately result in an authoritative system.