The Separation of Powers and Addressing the ‘Salad’

Class of ’99 alumnus talks this and more from the West Bank (Illustration by Karen Kurycki)

One needs to look no further than the Palestinian Territories to see how a governing body and its people deal on a day-to-day basis with a mixture of international and local laws. Throughout its history, Palestine has been subject to many different legal systems because of the many different ruling authorities. Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Egyptian laws, Israeli military orders, and “Urf” (local customs and practices) still influence and affect the current legal system and structure. One commentator opined that: “The Palestinian legal system can be compared to a tossed salad, with layers of different laws and systems all mixed up into a
confused mess…”

Practicing in the middle of all this is Kosty M. Ziadeh, of the Ziadeh Law Office in Ramallah, West Bank. Known as “Gus” to friends and faculty, Ziadeh was a member of the charter and first graduating class of Florida Coastal School of Law in 1999.

“Attending Florida Coastal School of Law was one of the best decisions that I ever made,” said Ziadeh. “The school started with a unique vision of responsibility to the legal profession and its students. Back then I had no doubt the school would become something special among law schools nationwide and internationally.”

After about 10 years in Northeast Florida, where he received his high school, undergraduate and law school degrees, Ziadeh returned to Ramallah to join his father’s law office. A younger brother was subsequently added, and today the three partners are the legal advisors to a wide range of companies, banks, hospitals, nongovernmental organizations and municipalities. The firm covers all areas of the Palestinian Civil Law, handling issues in corporate, contract, property, financial, tax and customs laws, in addition to agency, distribution, patent, labor and insurance law.

“Much like Coastal Law’s philosophy, at our law office we strongly believe in alternative dispute resolution methods, mainly arbitration due to its regulated, efficient and more expedient path under Palestinian statute,” said Ziadeh. “When going to court we only accept high profile and sensitive cases with difficult legal issues, mainly at the last two stages in the litigation process, meaning only in front of the highest court in the Palestinian Territories.”

In Ziadeh’s view, how is the “salad” of laws and systems being addressed?

“As we know, in January of 1996 the Palestinian people took their first step toward democracy by participating in free elections, which led to the issuance of the Palestinian Basic Law and its amendments later on, and many other laws and statutes organizing the various aspects of Palestinian life,” he said. “The Basic Law tries to break away with past systems by providing for a bill of rights that is subject to judicial review by a Constitutional Court. Thus, a central function of the judicial branch is to ensure the separation of powers within the Palestinian society. Judicial review is the most effective weapon in the hands of the judiciary to protect the rights of the minority from assault by governmental officials. It is contributing significantly to the development of these laws and their application to the changing conditions within the Palestinian society, and to the elimination of the mixing up or confusion of these laws.”

According to Ziadeh, despite the number or origin of the various laws in the “salad,” the good news is that the executive branch is committed to the principle of separation of powers and to the reform process.

“Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is very serious about reform and is doing his best to build a new modern Palestinian state, a state of people and institutions, where the rule of law is the prominent theme,” said Ziadeh. “This will strengthen the Palestinian economy and will make it rise and grow on solid ground by attracting international investors and have it stop relying on foreign financial aid. This will be a step toward an independent Palestinian state among the 193 independent countries at the United Nations.”

Against this larger backdrop, technology is now also playing a role. The Palestinian Legal and Judicial System, “Al-Muqtafi,” is the first legal databank in Palestine, similar to Westlaw or LexisNexis. Over the last decade, legal researchers and IT programmers at the Institute of Law at Birzeit University (located on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Birzeit) have designed and developed the databank. To date, the system includes more than 50,000 pages of legislation over a period of 150 years of Palestinian history. It also includes full texts of 1,200 regulations published in the Palestinian Official Gazette and all Palestinian high court judgments since 1994.

“‘Al-Muqtafi’ is greatly valued by me and my colleagues in the legal profession. It enables us to search the ‘salad’ in a more professional and efficient way to find the latest precedents,” said Ziadeh. “In addition, the Palestinian Bar Association and the Judicial High Council (composed of the highest-ranking judges from certain Palestinian courts) have developed and implemented an online service for the attorneys in Palestine to obtain the minutes of their current trial proceedings.”

Yet, despite all the outside legal influences Palestine has dealt with in its history, more continue to come its way. The European Union, as well as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), have been sponsoring and funding many “Rule of Law” initiatives in Palestine. Ziadeh said the Palestinian people and government are nothing short of grateful for the support.

“These foreign initiatives offer the Palestinian people the democratic experiences of these generous and leading countries, experiences that are deeply rooted in their traditions, customs and cultures,” he said.