U.S. attorney brings rule of law to Palestinian Authority

(JTA) — A former U.S. attorney is moving to the West Bank to help the Palestinian Authority establish stronger rule of law in anticipation of statehood.

John McKay will work for the U.S. State Department supervising a staff of thirty Palestinian lawyers, law-enforcement professionals and others, the Seattle Times reported.

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His team is tasked with establishing initiatives aimed at strengthening the Palestinian justice system in the West Bank, including courts, prosecutors and police.

A report earlier this year by The American Task Force on Palestine, a pro-Palestinian advocacy group in Washington, D.C., detailed problems with the justice system in the West Bank.

There is a widespread sense that rulings by PA courts and their enforcement depend on favoritism, the report said. The report added that PA security forces sometimes ignore unfavorable legal decisions, eroding the justice system’s credibility.

According to a study cited in the report, only 50 percent of Palestinians said they trust the court system.

McKay told the Seattle Times he will work to “reverse engineer” the Palestinian justice system which includes remnants of the legal systems of Britain and Israel, as well as elements of Islamic Sharia law.
“It’s a daunting task, no question,” McKay told the newspaper, of what will be a two-year assignment based in Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government.

He added that he was “stunned” to learn that Israeli settlements exist throughout the West Bank and that the PA had full civil and security control over only 18 percent of the West Bank.

McKay, 56, served as western Washington state’s top federal prosecutor from 2001 until he was fired in 2007 during a controversial purge of prosecutors by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Following his firing McKay, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

McKay now teaches courses on constitutional law, terrorism and national security at Seattle University. The university announced on Facebook that McKay left for Ramallah on Sunday.

“As I told my law students, if we believe that rule of law can be an instrument of peace, then each one of us has to be willing to live that anywhere we are needed,” McKay said.