Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court was created through a presidential decree issued by president Mahmoud Abbas in April 2016 and is composed of nine judges drawn predominantly from his Fatah supporters. Given the timing and context of its activation, the move was seen as a means of further constraining Abbas’s political rivals and potentially creating a mechanism to anoint a future successor to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

In October 2016, the Constitutional Court backed Abbas’s decision to postpone municipal elections, ruling that these could no longer be held in Gaza given a lack of judicial “guarantees” from the Hamas-backed court system. In November 2016, the court once again ruled in Abbas’s favour, upholding his authority to revoke the parliamentary immunity of his Fatah rival Mohammad Dahlan and of four of his supporters in the PLC. On 12 December 2018, the Constitutional Court issued a decree dissolving the PLC and calling for legislative elections within 6 months — by 12 May 2019.

Given its expansive powers, Abbas may attempt to use the Constitutional Court to rubber-stamp the creation of a PA vice-president that would take precedence over the PLC speaker (Hamas’ Aziz Duwaik) in any post-Abbas succession process.

The Constitutional Court was originally foreseen through a December 2005 amendment to the PA's Basic Law passed by the then outgoing Fatah dominated Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and a subsequent presidential decree issued by president Abbas in February 2006. At the time, this was seen as a means of keeping in check a future Hamas-controlled PLC and government. 

As the Economist's former correspondent, Graham Usher, wrote: this new law gave the PA president “the authority to appoint a new nine judge constitutional court with the power to resolve any dispute between the presidency and parliament, including the right “to cancel any law approved by parliament on the grounds that it is unconstitutional”….according to the [Hamas] movement’s new parliamentary speaker, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Dweik, the move would effectively give “full powers to President Abbas to dissolve parliament any time he wishes.” At the inaugural session of the new [Hamas controlled] parliament on 8 March, Hamas deputies overturned the constitutional court as well as the appointments.”