Local Government History
The Israeli occupation undermined many local institutions in the West Bank and Gaza. Indigenous political institutions atrophied, but at the same time the Palestinian civil society was mobilized by the national struggle. Many NGOs and political organizations formed to oppose the Israeli government and the occupation. Since the Oslo Accords, the concept of decentralization has received popular support both among the populace and in the Palestinian Authority (PA) government. The PA has worked to develop a framework for political decentralization, though implementation has been difficult. Palestinian officials participated in international conferences hosted by the World Bank and the Council on Foreign Relations on devising effective political decentralization for the West Bank and Gaza.
The four tiers of administration, region (muhafaza), province (lewa), district (qada), and municipality (nahiya), were to be reduced to two: the muhafaza and nahiya. These reforms are being developed in the Ministry of Local Palestinian Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior. The three main political institutions engaged in the transition to decentralization are the Ministry of Local Government, the Union of Palestinian Municipalities, and a special committee for capacity building developed in concert with the World Bank.
Municipal and Local Government Budgets
In the West Bank and Gaza, political and administrative circumstances led to decentralization. As a result of the Israeli occupation and the lack of a Palestinian central government, local institutions took control of services. The people supported and continue to support the municipalities and NGOs that provide services in health, education, agriculture, manufacturing and research.
Local Government Budgetary Reform
Fiscally, Palestinian municipal governments are already fairly decentralized. Fund transfers from the national government only accounted for 15% of total revenues. In Gaza, municipalities collected property taxes directly and kept 90% of revenues, while passing on the remaining 10% to the national government. In the West Bank, the proportions of distribution were the same, but the national government collects property taxes. Other taxes, such as the fuel tax, were centrally collected and supposed to be partially transferred to the municipalities according to current laws. The enforcement of these provisions remains under discussion. If they received their share of fuel and license revenues, they would not need aid. Municipalities implement most infrastructure projects, which are financed primarily by donor countries that provide oversight and whose priorities often take precedence.
The first municipal elections in the West Bank since 3 decades took place on December 23, 2004. The first stage of the municipal elections covered Jericho and 25 villages in the West Bank. 886 candidates competed over 360 municipal and village councils. The final results were as follows: Fateh Movement won the majority of seats in 17 councils, while HAMAS Movement won the majority of seats in 9 councils. The popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine came third. Fateh won 135 seats and HAMAS won 75 seats. The participation rate was 84% of the 140,000 eligible voters. A quota of 16% of all seats was reserved for women. International and local observers declared the municipal elections to be fair and transparent. The first municipal elections in Gaza strip, which had been postponed due to violence hindering the registration of voters, took place on January 27, 2005. Hamas candidates won 78 municipal seats out of 118 seats. FATEH candidates won 30 seats, independents won 9 seats, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine won one seat.
The third phase of Palestinian municipal elections took place on September 29, 2005. Elections were held in 104 villages in the West Bank. The total number of eligible voters was 127,000. The elections were conducted according to proportional representation. 297 electoral lists competed for 1018 municipal seats. A total of 2274 candidates including 558 women competed for 814 municipal and local seats because 22 electoral districts were uncontested, of which Fateh alone won 16 districts and won the other 6 districts in alliance with other political parties or prominent families. Participation rate was 81%. The chairman of the Supreme Elections Committee, Jamal Asshowbaki declared that Fateh won 51 municipalities, Hamas 13, and other political factions and family lists won the remaining 40 municipal councils. In terms of municipal seats, Fateh won 547 seats and Hamas won 265 seats. In terms of vote percentages, Fateh won 53.73%, Hamas 26.3%, the Popular Front (PFLP) 5.40% and the People's Party 1.77%. Elections were supposed to take place in 132 electoral districts, but they were postponed in the district of Gaza, Jenin and in 2 districts in Nablus region as a result of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza Strip in the same month. The fourth phase of Palestinian municipal elections took place on December 15, 2005. It covered 42 cities and villages in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The elections committee did not announce the total results of these elections. However, results in the 4 largest cities in the West Bank were known, namely: Nablus, Jenin, El-Bireh and Ramallah. The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) was the main winner in 3 cities while Fateh Movement was the main loser. Hamas won 13 out of 15 seats that constitute Nablus municipal council; while the remaining 2 seats were won by independent candidates (Nablus has 50,000 registered voters). Hamas also won 8 seats of Jenin’s 15-member municipal council; thereby it qualified to head the council. In El-Bireh, which had been characterized as a secular city, Hamas won 9 out of the 15 seats of its municipal council. The city of Ramallah, with a Christian majority, was won by Fateh and its allies on the one hand and the Popular Front and its allies on the other. Hamas won only 3 municipal seats in Ramallah. According to published information Fateh won in the rural areas, but no figures were given. There remains a fifth and last phase of municipal elections to be held in 60 cities and villages, including Gaza city and Hebron.