The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) established a parliament-in-exile in 1964, but its membership was largely appointed. In 1996, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) became the first popularly elected legislature of Palestine. The unicameral PLC, with its 88 members, constitutes a transitional body until the peace process is concluded and a Palestinian state is declared.
Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians’ movement impede the operations of the Council and particularly its work with the constituencies. In 2003 the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) arrested two PLC deputies, Husam Khader and Marwan Barghouti, on accusations of involvement in terrorist activity. Barghouti was convicted by an Israeli court of belonging to a terrorist organization in May 2004 in a trial he described as “illegal and immoral”.
The fact that Palestinians living in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip elect the PLC adds to its legitimacy. Nevertheless, the PLO, while not based on elections, represents all Palestinians, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora. The nature of the PLC’s relationship with the Executive Committee of the PLO and with the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the parliament in exile, has not been clarified in the draft Basic Law, and the issue of dual membership in the PLC and the PNC has not been settled. The PLC's role in the negotiations with Israel and in ratifying treaties is still subject to discussion. The Interim Agreement of 1995 prohibits the PLC from legislating on a wide range of issues that remain subject to peace negotiations led by the PLO.
The Council reinforces the Palestinian right to self-determination, and its role in questioning ministers and in forming committees to investigate the executive branch contributes to establishing accountability. Work in the constituencies, looking into the complaints of citizens who elect its members, has added over the years to the Council’s representativeness.
The PLC cooperates closely with the PLO and the executive branch. At the same time, it is trying to assert its independence in the relatively new Palestinian governmental structure. In 1996, the PLC rejected the executive branch’s assertion that the Council is part of the PNC, but allowed PLO Executive Committee members to participate in its plenary debates, albeit without the power to vote on its decisions.
Between 1996 and 2001 the PLC approved 24 laws and submitted them for the signature of the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PLC has also approved its own by-laws, reviewed and submitted the Draft Basic Law of 1996 to the executive branch, enacted the law governing the election of local authorities, approved the local government law, and drafted a civil service bill. The PLC has also increased its cooperation with Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and passed the NGO Law in 1998. Recent PLC discussions have addressed issues such as public health, job creation, and the ongoing peace process
The PLC may propose the enactment of laws and may question the government or individual ministers. The PLC approves laws, debates policy, approves the budget and development plans, issues general amnesty and approves pardons, approves the appointment of the cabinet ministers, and withdraws confidence from them.
Sessions, Dissolution, State of Exception
The PLC has two ordinary sessions every year, each to last for no longer than three months. The president or speaker may call for the PLC to meet in extraordinary session. The speaker may also call for extraordinary session if he receives such a request from not less than one third of the members of the Council. According to the Basic Law, the PLC cannot be dissolved during a state of emergency.
During its first session, the PLC elects a speaker, two deputies and a Secretary General from amongst its members, and these three officials compose the Office of the Speaker. The PLC has set up a record-keeping system and a General Secretariat charged with the administration and organization of its departments and staff. The secretariat also oversees the 16 district constituency offices, as well as administrative, financial, media, public relations, legal, and other departments.
The Standing Order of the PLC governs the institution’s internal functioning. Members of the Council enjoy legal immunity during the life of the Council. No criminal proceedings may be instituted against members except in case of flagrant crime and with the permission of the Council. When the Council is not in session the speaker's permission is needed.
Committee Structures and Membership
The committee system plays a particularly significant role in the internal dynamics of the PLC. Committee sessions are closed to the public, and the Council can establish any temporary committee it deems necessary. The PLC has formed 12 permanent committees. The committees may request information directly from cabinet ministers or other senior officials, or request their attendance at hearings on issues. In addition to standing committees, the PLC may form specialized, joint, and interim committees and subcommittees.
Legislative Drafting Processes
Meetings of the Council require a quorum of at least half of its members. All decisions are taken by a simple majority of the members present. The government or any member of the PLC may propose a law, and laws approved are published in The Palestinian Gazette. They come into force in 30 days after their publication. The prime minister may propose a vote of confidence in the cabinet before the Council. A no-confidence motion may also be proposed by at least ten members of the Council and may be passed by a simple majority.
The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is a member of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).