memorandum by Mr Xuclà, rapporteur
In its Resolution 1830 (2011)
, adopted on 4 October 2011, the Parliamentary Assembly
decided to grant partner for democracy status to the Palestinian
National Council (PNC). It stated that “progress in taking forward
reforms is the prime aim of the partnership for democracy and should
constitute the benchmark for assessing the efficiency of this partnership”
and it resolved “to review, no later than two years from the adoption of
this resolution, the state of progress achieved in implementing
the political commitments undertaken by the PNC, as well as in carrying
forward the specific issues mentioned in paragraph 12” of Resolution 1830 (2011)
On 28 January 2014, the Assembly adopted Resolution 1969 (2014)
on the evaluation of the partnership for democracy in
respect of the Palestinian National Council, in which it noted that
“both the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and
the ongoing Israeli occupation of the largest part of the Palestinian territories
have made it impossible for the PNC to comply with some of the political
commitments entered into upon requesting partner for democracy status
and to implement some of the reforms mentioned in Resolution 1830 (2011)
”. The Assembly resolved to review the situation again
after another two-year period.
3. The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy appointed
me rapporteur on 12 March 2014.
4. In order to prepare the present report, I paid a first fact-finding
visit to the Palestinian territories on 1 December 2014, following
a meeting of our committee’s Sub-Committee on the Middle East and
the Arab World in the region from 28 to 30 November. I carried out
a second fact-finding visit to the Palestinian territories on 6
and 7 October 2015.
5. As developments concerning reconciliation between Fatah and
Hamas and elections had been announced, including by President Mahmoud
Abbas when I met him on 7 October 2015, the committee accepted my
proposal to postpone the debate on the evaluation of the partner
for democracy status with the PNC, which would normally have taken
place in January 2016. Unfortunately the expectations have not yet been
2 The criteria
6. The Assembly had stressed the
importance of free and fair elections as a cornerstone of a genuine democracy
and had indicated that it expected to be invited to observe parliamentary
elections in the Palestinian territories as from the next general
elections, which have been announced since 2012.
The PNC committed itself to the same values as those of the
Council of Europe, namely pluralist and gender parity-based democracy,
the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,
and committed itself in particular to:
7.1 continuing its efforts to raise the awareness of the public
authorities and the main players in politics and civil society of
the need to make progress in the discussion of issues relating to
the abolition of the death penalty and to encourage the authorities
concerned to maintain the de facto moratorium
on executions that has been in place since 2005;
7.2 making full use, in its institutional and legislative
work, of the experience of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council
of Europe, as well as the expertise of the European Commission for
Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), bearing in mind that
the Palestinian National Authority has observer status with the
7.3 continuing its efforts to create favourable conditions
for holding free, fair and transparent elections in compliance with
relevant international standards;
7.4 encouraging equal participation of women and men in public
life and in politics;
7.5 encouraging the competent authorities of the Palestinian
National Authority to accede to relevant Council of Europe conventions
and partial agreements that are open for signature and ratification
by non-member States, in particular those dealing with human rights,
the rule of law and democracy issues;
7.6 informing the Assembly regularly about the state of progress
of the implementation of the principles of the Council of Europe.
Furthermore, the Assembly considered that a number of specific
issues were of key importance for strengthening democracy, the rule
of law and the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms
in the Palestinian territories. It included their implementation
– in addition to the implementation of the commitments listed above
– among the criteria against which the partner for democracy status
should be evaluated. These were:
concluding the negotiations for the formation of a government of
national unity and setting universally acceptable dates for the
presidential, parliamentary and local elections;
8.2 holding such elections in accordance with relevant international
standards throughout the Palestinian territories;
8.3 taking definite and significant steps in the direction
of the three pleas made by the Quartet: to refrain from violence;
to recognise the right of the State of Israel to exist; to abide
by all the agreements signed by the Palestinian representatives
in recent years;
8.4 reforming the structure of the PNC so that it becomes,
to the largest possible extent, a democratically elected body;
8.5 actively promoting equal opportunities for women and men
in political and public life; fighting all forms of discrimination
(in law and in practice) based on gender; ensuring effective equality
between women and men, including as regards marriage, divorce, polygamy
and inheritance law and, where necessary, initiating a process of
legislative revision; fighting all forms of gender-based violence;
8.6 abolishing the death penalty set out in the Penal Code,
going beyond the de facto moratorium
on executions which has been in place, at least in the West Bank,
8.7 explicitly rejecting the use of terrorism and actively
combating it actively with measures respecting human rights and
the rule of law;
8.8 adhering to and effectively implementing relevant international
instruments in the field of human rights, including full co-operation
with United Nations special mechanisms and implementation of the United
Nations Universal Periodic Review recommendations;
8.9 guaranteeing freedom and pluralism of the media;
8.10 eradicating and preventing torture and inhuman or degrading
treatment of persons deprived of their freedom; fighting impunity
for crimes of torture and ill-treatment;
8.11 improving conditions of detention, in line with the United
Nations prison-related norms and standards;
8.12 fighting racism, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination;
8.13 fighting corruption;
8.14 strengthening local and regional democracy;
8.15 ensuring full respect for freedom of conscience, of religion
and of belief, including the right to change one’s religion;
8.16 guaranteeing and promoting freedom of association and
of peaceful assembly.
9. As pointed out by my predecessor as rapporteur on the evaluation
of the partnership for democracy in respect of the Palestinian National
Council, partnership implies responsibilities for both partners
and the present evaluation should also consider how the Council
of Europe, and in particular the Parliamentary Assembly, performed
with respect to its own responsibilities.
10. For instance, the Assembly had hoped that granting partner
for democracy status to the PNC would contribute to intensifying
co-operation between the Palestinians and the Council of Europe
and promoting Palestine’s accession, in due course, to Council of
Europe conventions and other pertinent instruments. It had therefore
encouraged the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, in co-ordination,
as appropriate, with the European Union, to mobilise the Organisation’s
expertise, including that of the Venice Commission, with a view to
contributing to the full implementation of democratic reforms in
the Palestinian Territories.
3 The findings
11. On my first visit, I had meetings
with the Chief of the Anti-corruption Commission, the Chief Justice
and former Minister of Justice, the Minister of Agriculture and
Social Affairs, who is a former human rights activist, non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) and media representatives; I also had a meeting
with the European Union Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police
Support (EUPOL COPPS).
12. I explained to all my interlocutors the exact scope of my
mission but some of them had difficulty in going beyond what they
considered to be evident, namely that everything was a consequence
of the Israeli occupation and therefore the only matter worth discussing
was how to bring an end to such occupation. Although my mandate
is on the (second) evaluation of the partnership for democracy in
respect of the Palestinian National Council and not the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict or the Middle East peace process, these issues are so overwhelming
in the everyday life of Palestinians, that they cannot be ignored
in this report.
13. According to the Chief of the Anti-corruption Commission,
the levels of democracy and freedom of expression in the West Bank
are higher that elsewhere in the region. He confirmed that elections
were needed and indicated that Hamas would not accept them. When
I suggested to the Commissioner that his office co-operate with
the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), he replied that
they already co-operated with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF)
of the European Commission in Brussels.
14. Some representatives of civil society organisations expressed
concern at the concentration of powers in the hands of the President.
In addition, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was not functioning
and the government was unable to take real measures. Europe should
be prepared to recognise the result of the elections (unlike in
2007) and should play a more important role and not let the United
States be the only actor in the region. Young people were in general
more optimistic about the future, although pointing out that things did
not change fast enough. The police and the secret services were
accused of trying to interfere with the media, including the social
media, and there had been cases of invasion of privacy. This situation
leads to a lack of confidence in the institutions. Violence against
women is also present in what is still seen by some as a patriarchal/tribal
15. Media representatives complained about violations of media
freedom, mainly by Israel, but also by Hamas in Gaza, where there
was no independent media. The fact that the PLC was not functioning
since 2007 had a negative impact on society. Without it, neither
the President nor the executive were accountable. Journalists confirmed
that elections were needed but could not say whether they would
16. The Chief Justice, who is the former Minister of Justice,
was grateful to Europe for support through recognition of the Palestinian
State. Concerning human rights, the situation was not ideal, mainly
due to the occupation. Other challenges were the division between
Gaza and the West Bank and the lack of resources, including judges.
There had been some recent improvements in the functioning of the
judiciary. The Jordanian Penal Code of 1960 was still in force in
the West Bank and the British Penal Code of 1936 was in force in
Gaza. Many of the civil laws were still those of the Ottoman Empire.
17. I visited the EUPOL COPPS, which has been advising all the
levels of the judiciary since 2006. My interlocutors confirmed that
the legal instruments were long outdated and the protection of human
rights was not well covered by the laws.
18. Finally, the Minister of Agriculture and Social Affairs, who
is a former human rights activist, confirmed that there were human
rights violations by the police and the security forces. In the
West Bank, the press was free and human rights organisations were
strong. From a political point of view, the situation had become
worse since the Oslo agreements. Negotiations had never led to a
path for peace and he did not believe that the Israeli Government
wished to reach an agreement. International instruments should be
used to protect the rights of Palestinians, who were asking for
a time frame for the end of the occupation. The government believed
that unification with Gaza should happen and that the problems might
be solved. He had spent one week in Gaza. Without pressure from
Europe, Israel would feel protected and would not change its attitude.
19. On my second visit to Palestine, I held meetings in Ramallah
and in East Jerusalem with President Abbas; Dr Ziad Abu-Amr, Deputy
Prime Minister; Dr Saeb Erekat, PLO Secretary General and Chief Negotiator;
representatives of Blocs and lists in the PLC, including Hamas;
the Chair and the Executive Director of the Central Elections Commission;
officials in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs; Palestinian intellectuals
and academics; and representatives of Palestinian NGOs, women’s
and youth organisations and the media. I also had a meeting with
representatives of the civil police and visited the Beitunia Detention
Centre in Ramallah.
20. This visit took place at a moment when clashes between Palestinian
youths and Israeli police, the army and settlers were happening
daily and the risk of escalation was real with several deaths of
Israelis and Palestinians. It had all started because of the controversy
around Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
21. This is the third holiest site in Islam, and Muslims believe
it is the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven.
To Jews, this is Temple Mount and marks the place where the sacred
temples of their faith stood in ancient times, in particular the
Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Western
Wall (or Wailing Wall) is considered to be a vestige of that temple.
22. According to a long-standing tradition, Muslims alone have
the right to pray at the site, although people of other faiths may
visit. When Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem during the
war of 1967, it handed control of the compound back to an Islamic
religious authority (Waqf) which continues to administer it to this day.
Under the terms of the Israel–Jordan peace treaty, the Muslim holy
shrines in Jerusalem remain under Jordanian custodianship.
23. In recent times, some orthodox Jews have begun to argue for
a change in the status quo which would also allow them to pray there.
Any hint of such change is viewed with deep anger in the Islamic
world. Many Palestinians consider Israeli presence at Al-Haram Al-Sharif
extremely provocative. The visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif by the then
Likud party leader, Ariel Sharon, in 2000, accompanied by around
1 000 police officers, is widely seen as the spark of the second
24. On 18 September 2015, the United Nations Security Council
stressed that Palestinian Muslim worshippers at Al-Haram Al-Sharif,
in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, must be allowed to worship in peace, free
from violence, threats and provocations. Its members called for
full respect for the sanctity of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, noting the
importance of the special role of Jordan as confirmed in the 1994
peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. The Security Council members
expressed their “grave concern” regarding escalating tensions in
Jerusalem, especially surrounding the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound,
including recent clashes in and around the site, and called for
the exercise of restraint, refraining from provocative actions and
rhetoric, and upholding unchanged the historic status quo at Al-Haram
Al-Sharif — in word and in practice. They appealed for the restoration
of calm and encouraged increased co-ordination between Israel and
Jordan’s Waqf Department.
25. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on 24
September 2015, the King of Jordan referred to this situation: “The
Hashemite Custodianship of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian Holy
Sites is a sacred duty, and we join Muslims and Christians everywhere
in rejecting threats to the Holy Places and the Arab character of
this Holy City.”
26. All our Palestinian interlocutors were deeply worried about
the situation, while rejecting the idea that it was the beginning
of a third intifada. President Abbas had sent messages to try to
stop the escalation.
27. Representatives of Palestinian human rights NGOs stressed
that the absence of a functioning PLC led to a lack of checks and
balances detrimental to the good functioning of a democratic society.
Administrative detention was still being used for political purposes.
There were reports of serious problems of torture in Gaza. Corruption
was not perceived as an important issue, although this was not a
unanimous position. Some NGOs complained about harassment from the
government and of a recent deterioration of their situation. Disrespect for
human rights and lack of transparency were mentioned.
28. The Deputy Prime Minister was well aware of the importance
of restoring democratic life. The absence of accountability and
of oversight was damaging the government. The impact of the split
with Hamas was highly destructive and everything should be done
to put an end to it. Co-operation with the Council of Europe was important
and should be increased.
29. The three high-level Palestinian intellectuals and academics
we met painted a rather bleak picture of the situation: due to the
occupation and internal divisions, the PLC had not functioned properly
since 2006. Israel was not ready to end the occupation and did not
show any interest in solving the conflict. The United States had
proved unable to put pressure on Israel and the occupation was becoming
more invasive. Nobody seemed to believe in a two-State solution,
the Palestinians were frustrated and their leaders had lost a lot
of credibility. As a consequence of the ongoing Israeli settlement
policy, there was no longer space for a Palestinian State. The economic
situation was collapsing, 44% of university graduates had no jobs
and young people in general were giving up hope. The few who could
emigrate did so. The international community did not help and the Palestinian
issue was at the bottom of the international – and regional – agendas.
30. Media representatives referred again to the consequences of
the Israeli occupation and of the division among Palestinians: no
elections and a lack of checks and balances. The government did
not speak to them and did not respect the rights of trade unions.
Security forces had imprisoned journalists for criticising the Prime Minister.
On the other hand, some journalists did not act ethically. Political
parties were not trusted. Many journalists had left Gaza as they
were accused by Hamas of “working for Ramallah”.
31. Representatives of PLC blocs and lists confirmed that the
occupation and internal divisions were responsible for the non-functioning
of institutions. Palestinians lived in a catastrophic situation,
the mediation efforts of the United States had failed miserably
and Europe remained their only hope. Respect for human rights and
democratic institutions was increasing and, contrary to Israel,
Palestinians respected international agreements and commitments.
Gender equality was taken seriously, as was the strategy to combat
violence against women. Two members of the Palestinian delegation
to the Parliamentary Assembly questioned the compatibility between
the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Knesset observer status
with the Parliamentary Assembly. Some of the parliamentarians present
were optimistic about reconciliation, the formation of a unity government
and the holding of elections.
32. The Central Elections Commission confirmed that everything
was ready for elections from a technical point of view, including
in Gaza. A political decision on holding elections was crucial however.
In the meantime, the Commission conducted awareness-raising activities.
33. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I pointed out the importance
for Palestinians to accede to Council of Europe conventions. We
were told that a high-level delegation had been to Strasbourg recently
to discuss co-operation at intergovernmental level (see paragraph
45 below). I was informed that Ambassador Amal Jadou had been appointed
“focal point” for the Council of Europe.
34. Dr Saeb Erekat started by recalling that the whole Middle
East was going through a crucial transformation. Some people did
not seem aware that ideas could not be killed with bullets, only
with better ideas. When some people decided to “protect God” things
could not but go wrong. Democracy was needed in the Arab world.
The two-State solution was the only possible solution for the Israeli-Palestinian
issue. Mr Netanyahu’s aim however was one State with two systems
and he was using religion to provoke the Palestinians. In this he
was not different from Daesh. The Israeli settlements were a violation
of international law and everybody should refuse to meet the settlers.
If Palestinians saw any hope in achieving something by peaceful
means they would not fight, but otherwise they would die fighting.
He was optimistic about a Palestinian reconciliation agreement in
the near future.
35. The representatives of the civil police referred to contacts
with Europe in general and with the Council of Europe’s Co-operation
Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs (Pompidou
Group) in particular. A complaints department had been set up in
2009 to ensure respect for human rights in Palestine, with the support
of the EUPOL COPPS and the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP). Honour crimes still happened but their number was decreasing.
In some areas, co-operation with the Israeli police was effective.
36. I had the opportunity to visit the Beitunia Detention Centre
in Ramallah, which houses 248 prisoners, both pretrial and convicted,
divided into two groups: the dangerous and the less dangerous. The
inmates are offered classes in mathematics, Arabic and religion.
On the occasion of my visit, an Imam was teaching the Quran to a
class of 15.
37. Representatives of women’s and youth organisations referred
to a lack of communication from politicians to the population on
the political agenda and in particular on what sort of State was
being built. Young people complained about an unemployment rate
of 30% among 18 to 35 year olds. The market was just too small.
One youth representative told us that the main problem with political
parties, NGOs and officials was that they had no idea about what
young Palestinians were thinking.
38. President Abbas expressed concern about Israeli-Palestinian
clashes sparked by the controversy around Al-Haram Al-Sharif and
felt that the Israeli Government was behind the provocations. He
was confident that it would be possible to put an end to the division
of Palestinians in the short term and that elections might be possible
in the first half of 2016. He wished to address the Parliamentary
Assembly again. Europe was helping Palestine both politically and
financially and he hoped that Europe would put more pressure on
the United States. The Arab Peace Initiative was at a standstill
and 57 Arab and Muslim States would recognise Israel overnight if
an agreement was reached with the Palestinians. However, Mr Netanyahu
did not believe in peace, contrary to the Israeli people.
39. Our meeting with intellectuals in Jerusalem, including an
Armenian activist and a Roman Catholic priest, confirmed the picture
gathered in Ramallah: the occupation, which was much more oppressive
in East Jerusalem, did not allow for normal life; the reunification
of Palestinians was crucial; Israel was not interested in the end
of confrontation; Palestinians and Israelis were not capable of
solving their conflict and Europe, much more than the United States,
should help them. The partnership with the Assembly was positive
and should be pursued.
40. More than two years after the
Assembly debated the first evaluation of the partnership for democracy
in respect of the Palestinian National Council, the situation on
the ground is almost the same: Israel continues to occupy most of
the Palestinian territories and, in spite of the optimism showed
by many Palestinian politicians, Hamas continues not to respect
the successive reconciliation agreements. Therefore this report
and its conclusions cannot be much different from those expressed
two years ago.
41. The need for elections is becoming crucial: most of the present-day
Palestinian population did not participate in the last elections
as they were too young. As a consequence, those elected in 2006
no longer represent the electorate.
42. Even if all the previous reconciliation agreements between
Hamas and the other groups in the Palestinian political landscape
have failed to deliver, I believe that we must remain hopeful that
one day this situation will change.
43. On the other hand, we must take note that, unfortunately,
negotiations with Israel are at a complete standstill and I see
no prospects for a change to this situation anytime soon. Here again,
I hope that one day the situation will change.
44. When the Secretary General of the Council of Europe visited
Palestine in May 2012, the Palestinian authorities had expressed
interest in co-operating in the areas of the reform of the judiciary,
the promotion of good governance and the prevention of trafficking
in human beings. When granting partner for democracy status to the
PNC, and again when it carried out its first evaluation of the partnership
for democracy in respect of the PNC, the Assembly had hoped that
this would contribute to intensifying co-operation between Palestine and
the Council of Europe.
45. On 7 and 8 September 2015, a Palestinian delegation composed
of the Chief of the Supreme Court, the General Commissioner of the
Palestinian Independent Instance of Citizen’s Rights, the Director
of the Palestinian Judicial Institute and the Assistant Minister
on European Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held talks
on co-operation at the Council of Europe. Four years after the granting
of the partnership, the efforts of both the Secretary General of
the Council of Europe and the relevant Palestinian partners to mobilise
the Organisation’s expertise with a view to contributing to the
full implementation of democratic reforms in the Palestinian territories
have not yet produced practical results. It is proposed now to draft
an action plan-type document called “Neighbourhood Co-operation
Priorities”, which should be agreed to before the end of the year.
46. All our Palestinian interlocutors referred to the importance
of participation in Council of Europe activities in general and
in the partnership for democracy in particular. In this respect,
the Assembly should congratulate again the Palestinian delegation,
most ably led by Dr Bernard Sabella, for its active participation
in its work.
47. A detailed assessment with respect to each of the commitments
accepted by the PNC when it became a partner for democracy with
the Parliamentary Assembly can be found in the draft resolution.
Like my predecessor, I am also convinced that the PNC would like
to comply with the commitments it undertook when signing the partnership.
However, given the circumstances, it has become increasingly difficult,
or even impossible, to meet some of these commitments. The ongoing
Israeli occupation and the failure of the successive reconciliation
agreements are the main blockades.
48. While I do not agree with our Palestinian interlocutors who
feel that the Israeli occupation is the basis of all their problems,
I have to state that such occupation makes solutions for the problems
much more difficult and sometimes impossible for the Palestinians.
49. The fact that Palestine is not a full member of the United
Nations prevents full co-operation with its special mechanisms,
including the United Nations Universal Periodic Review. However,
the non-recognition of Palestine as a State by most member States
of the Council of Europe does not prevent it from adhering to Council
of Europe conventions and other legal instruments, provided that
there is agreement within the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers
(by a two-thirds majority) and among the States Parties to such
50. The Assembly should continue to encourage the Secretary General
of the Council of Europe, in co-ordination, as appropriate, with
the European Union, to mobilise the Organisation’s expertise, including
that of the Venice Commission, with a view to contributing to the
full implementation of democratic reforms in the Palestinian territories.
51. In conclusion, the Assembly should continue to review the
implementation of political reforms in Palestine and to offer its
assistance to the Palestinian National Council. Finally, it should
make a new assessment of the partnership when appropriate.