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Palestinian Authority

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (PA, the Palestinian designation being Palestinian National Authority), semi-official, self-governing Palestinian body established in May 1994 in accordance with the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles (DOP) signed on September 13, 1993 on behalf of the *Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). On its establishment the PA governed most of the Gaza Strip and the town of Jericho in the Jordan Valley, representing the first step in the implementation of the interim arrangements for Israeli withdrawal ("redeployment") from territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This process was to culminate in "permanent status talks" to begin in May 1996 on all major issues in dispute between the two parties (settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and the final status of the PA and its territory). The DOP agreement stipulated that the transfer of responsibilities to the PA would be completed within five years and would include education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism. It was also agreed that a Palestinian police force would be established in order to maintain internal security and prevent hostile acts of terror against Israel by the Palestinian population under its authority. Israel would retain overall authority for security and defense regarding all external threats, and particularly the safety of the Israeli settlers.

The Israel-PLO negotiations that led to the establishment of the PA became possible following King Hussein's proclamation, on July 31, 1988, formally relinquishing Jordan's legal and administrative control over the Palestinian territories. After this act, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) unilaterally declared, at its November 1988 meeting in Algiers, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based on the UN partition resolution of November 1947. On May 17, 1994, Israel and the PLO signed the Cairo Agreement. This elaborated the transfer of authority to the Palestinians as well as the security arrangements between the two sides. Soon after, the PLO officially established the PA. It was the nucleus of a government apparatus, which assumed control of the Gaza Strip (excluding the Israeli settlements) and Jericho. Before the end of June of that same year, Yasser *Arafat arrived in Gaza to chair the PA. The interim agreement (Oslo II), signed on September 28, 1995, between Israel and the PA, set the timetable and modalities for the later stages of the process. In accordance with this agreement, by late December 1995 the IDF had withdrawn from five major towns in the West Bank (out of the six stipulated in the agreement) in preparation for elections to both the Palestinian Council and the office of PA chairman. Withdrawal from the city of Hebron was postponed by Shimon Peres's government as a consequence of terrorist attacks and growing Israeli public resentment of the Oslo process.

The interim agreement divided the West Bank into three jurisdictional zones:

Area A (3 percent of the West Bank territory), including the urban areas, under full Palestinian authority; Area B (27 percent of the West Bank), including a large part of the rural area, under Palestinian authority for all civil matters, including public order, and Israeli authority for security matters; and Area C, the rest, and most of the West Bank, including the settlements, the IDF bases, the Jordan Valley, and the desert area – under full IDF authority, except for personal law. In February 1995 the Higher State Security Court was established in Gaza. One of its first decisions was the abolition of the Israeli legal system (military and civilian) that had existed since the occupation of these territories in 1967. Instead, the previous legal system was applied – the Jordanian law in the West Bank and the British Mandatory law in the Gaza Strip. According to the interim agreement, both legal systems were to be valid in criminal and civil matters only. The agreement, however, left in force Israeli law in all three zones of the West Bank.

The PA held its first meeting on May 26, 1994, with 20 members of the temporary nominated forum (with the absence of its chairman, Yasser Arafat). The lion's share of the PA's bureaucracy initially came from PLO headquarters in Tunis, though it was later complemented and probably outweighed by active local members of Fatah, the mainstream organization, many of whom had spent varying periods in Israeli prisons or in exile. The PA's new bureaucracy doubled the already existing apparatus of teachers and officials (about 20,000), who had been employed by the Israeli civil administration in the West Bank and Gaza. Furthermore, the PA created a huge body of various security and police forces, encompassing 25,000–30,000 men, mostly from previous Palestinian security apparatuses and military units. Within a short time the PA became the largest employer in the territory under its control. Furthermore, Palestinian dependence on external financial aid channeled through the PA gave the latter increased power, which would also be bolstered by its strategy of centralizing the economy.

Within less than two years, by building up official institutions of power, the PA managed to bring to bear policy-making capabilities and enforce order in a society that had never enjoyed self-government. This was mainly apparent in the emergence of numerous security organizations, all subordinated to Chairman Arafat but lacking coordination among them and fighting for power and financial allocations. In November 1994 the PA's security apparatus clashed with Islamist rioters at the Filastin Mosque in Gaza, killing a number of them. The riots were the result of accusations made by the Islamic Jihad that the PA had provided Israeli security apparatuses with intelligence that enabled it to eliminate one of its leaders. Similarly the PA had the upper hand in the clash with Jordan over the appointment to the prestigious position of mufti of Jerusalem. In October 1996 Arafat's security apparatus acted to enforce the appointment of Sheikh ʿIkrameh Sabri to this position and replace the Jordan-appointed Sheikh ʿAbdin.

In addition to establishing its radio and television authority, the PA also established its own print media organs. Apart from the independent daily al-Quds, which had been published in Jerusalem since 1968, two other daily newspapers were launched by the PA or at its behest in Ramallah in the West Bank in 1995. Al-Hayat al-Jadida ("The New Life") was founded by PA Cabinet member Nabil ʿAmr. The paper has been considered the PA's official organ. The other daily, al-Ayyam ("The Days"), was started by Akram Haniyya. In the summer of 1997 the PA also opened a stock exchange in which only companies registered in the PA areas could be listed. In the field of education the PA inherited eight universities and 15 colleges. By the late 1990s these institutes of higher education encompassed 71,000 students and 4,100 faculty members.

On January 20, 1996, the first elections to the Palestine (Legislative) Council (PLC) and PA presidency took place under international supervision. Many participated – approximately 88 percent of eligible voters in Gaza and 70 percent in the West Bank. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem also participated in the elections, though in a much lower proportion. The Islamic Resistance Movement (*Hamas) officially boycotted the elections. In practice, however, the movement encouraged its adherents to cast their votes in favor of independent candidates – identified as Islamists – winning five seats in the PLC. As expected, the Fatah list – shaped and backed by Yasser Arafat – won 49 of the total 88 seats in the PLC (more than 55 percent). In addition, other independent Fatah candidates were elected, giving the movement 75 percent of the Council's seats.

Political opposition to the PA remained in disarray, having negligible impact, except for Hamas. The opposition, whose leaders and sources of political and financial support were based outside the Palestinian territory, had consisted of three main types and forms: (a) The Ten Front, a loose Syrian-based alignment of militant Palestinian groups, including: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP; in March 1999 it was expelled from the Front because of its leader's repeated statements recognizing the State of Israel); the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF); Palestine Popular Struggle Front (PPSF); Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), Palestine Revolutionary Communist Party, Fatah al-Intifada (Fatah of the Uprising), al-Sa'iqa, Hamas; and the Islamic Jihad; (b) Individuals like Haidar Abdel Shafi (who resigned his membership in the PLC in 1996) and other Cabinet and Council members, most conspicuous of whom was Abdel Jawad Saleh, former mayor of al-Bireh and PLO Executive member; c) PLO mainstream figures in the Diaspora, such as Faruq al-Qaddoumi, head of the PLO Political Department, who voiced his objections to the Oslo Agreement and its implementation by Arafat. Despite this opposition Qaddoumi not only retained his position but maintained his working relationship with Arafat and was considered the strongest candidate to succeed him as PLO Chairman.

The PA's performance came under growing Israeli public criticism as a result of continued terrorist attacks on Israelis both in the occupied territories and within the Green Line, carried out mainly by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The debate in Israel about Arafat's policies turned increasingly toward the view that he had been avoiding decisive measures of repression against Islamist terrorism and its sponsors because he was not interested in putting an end to violence and in fact perceived it as a legitimate means of struggle even in the course of the Oslo process. Arafat was forced to take decisive measures against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad following the suicide bombings of February–March 1996 in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ashkelon. However, the scope of his measures then was never repeated. In fact, Arafat used the Islamic opposition as an instrument in the face of Israeli delays and procrastination in the peace process, using rapprochement and antagonism vis-à-vis his own opposition in accordance with his needs vis-à-vis Israel. In December 1995, prior to the elections to the PLC slated for January, Arafat's delegates tacitly gave the green light to Hamas's leadership in Cairo to continue its attacks against Israel as long as it did not "embarrass" the PA, namely, did not leave signs that the action had been initiated from PA-controlled areas. Arafat's policy in this respect became a major obstacle in the peace process and a primary arguing point for all the opponents of the Oslo process in Israel. Another argument against the PA was the continued incitement against Israel in the PA's official media and school textbooks, perceived by many Israelis as a clear indication that the PA was not seeking peace and coexistence with Israel. This became apparent during Netanyahu's government (1996–99), which in the Wye Memorandum insisted on reciprocity in the implementation of the provisions of the agreement, making it conditional on putting an end to terrorism and incitement.

The main criticism of the Palestinian militant opposition organizations against the PA leadership revolved around the terms and modalities of the DOP. In this view, Arafat had made excessive concessions to Israel, leaving important issues up in the air, dependent on Israel's good will, such as Jerusalem, the territory to be ceded to the PA, and most of all the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. Criticism against the PA within the Palestinian community, primarily in the West Bank, hinged on the dominant role played by the PLO people arriving from Tunisia and other Arab states after capturing key positions at the expense of local inhabitants. This criticism may have been unjustified given the large number of local Palestinians in the PA's bureaucracy and yet it was and remained a dominant perception among many Palestinians. The international community of donors, which provided the bulk of the PA's budget, expressed similar concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability and the general financial management of the PA.

By 1997 internal criticism of the PA grew vehement, revolving around Arafat's authoritarian rule, the PA's centralized decision-making process, mismanagement of financial allocations, and growing manifestations of corruption, abuse of power, and human rights violations by the security agencies and senior officials of the PA. The campaign of criticism came from within Fatah itself, particularly the younger members of the PLC. This led to the appointment of an investigative committee, whose report to the elected PA Council was submitted in the fall of 1997. The report revealed that $326 million (or 37 percent of the PA's budget) was unaccounted for due to fraud, corruption, and mismanagement. The report also recommended the dismissal of three cabinet members on grounds of corruption. Although the three resigned, Arafat refused to accept their resignations or adopt the report, even though he accepted it in principle. In August 1998, after much procrastination and pressures by the critics, Arafat announced a new cabinet, enlarged by ten new members, leaving the three ministers charged with corruption in place and shifting the three leading critics within the cabinet to posts without portfolios. Though the new cabinet won a vote of confidence in the PLC, 28 members voted against it, of whom 11 were Fatah members. The reshuffle led to the resignation from the cabinet of the minister of agriculture, Abdel Jawad al-Saleh, and the minister of higher education, Hanan Ashrawi.

The foundation of the PA, along with the elections to its Council, finally shifted the center of gravity of Palestinian politics from the Diaspora to the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This centralization came to the fore in Arafat's dual role as chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and PA chairman. This initially drew the criticism of many Palestinians, especially among the West Bank intellectual elite. However, this criticism diminished with the growing use of coercive means by the PA, along with policies of control, containment, and cooption of existing non-government organizations and institutions of higher education.

From the outset, the PA's existence was marked by dependence on external financial sources, due to the urgent need for infrastructure and economic development. To insure the implementation of the Oslo Agreement, in October 1993, the major economic powers (particularly the U.S., Canada, the European Community, and Japan) met under the auspices of the World Bank to devise plans for financial aid to the PA. Pledges made in late 1993 reached $2.4 billion over four years (by late 1997 the total amount of pledges had reached $3.68 billion), of which a total of $1.8 billion was provided in two main forms: long-term projects for infrastructure, industry, and other development purposes; and short-term, stopgap measures such as creating new jobs to curtail unemployment and cover budgetary deficits. The World Bank founded the Holst Fund (named after late Norwegian Foreign Minister Jorgen Holst) to marshal the short-term aid. (This was originally intended to operate until late 1997, but was extended to 1998.) An Ad Hoc Liaison Committee was set up to monitor the disbursement process, while the PLO established PECDAR (the Palestine Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction) as the main vehicle for economic policy. For the first three projects of the World Bank's Emergency Assistance Program (EAP), which were approved in May 1994, donors pledged an immediate $42 million. However, problems arose soon after the funds started flowing to the PA. There were discrepancies in accountability and transparency concerning the way the financial aid was being spent. A number of PA ministries contended for primacy, including the PLO political department headed by Farouq Qaddoumi. Other problems were caused by external economic circumstances such as the Israeli curfews, roadblocks, and closures of Palestinian cities, imposed because of terrorist acts perpetrated by the Islamic opposition movements. The closures had an immediate effect on the Palestinian population's ability to pay their taxes to the PA. Moreover, the PA-Israel economic agreement signed in 1994 in Paris remained mostly unimplemented. All this came against the backdrop of years of uprising (Intifada) and the large-scale expulsion of Palestinians from the Gulf states since 1990, reducing remittances from these Arab countries. Thus, much of the aid flowing to the PA was spent to make good the PLO's deficits. In response the donor nations tended to hold back further sums. In August 1994, the UN appointed Terje Larsen, who had been the initiator of the Oslo academic track negotiations, as the envoy in charge of the disbursement of funds in Gaza. Larsen's plan included a new mechanism for controlling the funds through committees composed of representatives of both the PA and the donor countries. All the committees were to be devoted to key areas, such as the creation of jobs, education, infrastructure, etc. Private Palestinian investors are another source of investment in the PA. They come mainly from Jordan, but there are also some from elsewhere in the Diaspora. In 1993, Padico (Palestinian Development and Investment Company) was founded with a capital of $200 million. This initiative helped build factories and some tourist projects with the financial aid of Palestinians, Jordanian banks, and U.S. and Egyptian companies. Following the interim agreement in September 1995, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher hosted an Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) aimed at creating a framework for increased assistance to the PA by the European countries. More specifically, it meant to support projects that addressed infrastructure needs and created employment opportunities for Palestinians. However, prospects for a larger scope of private investment by Palestinians faded because of the PA's centralized economy and the sense of insecurity caused by terrorist attacks and closures. These obstacles to sustained economic development culminated in the virtual halt of the Oslo process after the formation of a right-wing government in Israel headed by Binyamin Netanyahu (May 1996).

The Netanyahu term as prime minister led to significant erosion of PA trust in Israeli intentions regarding the future implementation of the DOP. The Hasmonean Tunnel riots of September 1996 (in which the Palestinians lost 79 people) essentially set the tone for the next two years of Netanyahu's stay in power, despite the agreements the latter signed with Arafat – the Hebron Agreement (January 1997) and the Wye Memorandum (October 1998). While the Hebron Agreement was fully implemented, the Wye Memorandum, which accounted for further Israeli redeployments in order to bring about the final status talks, was only partly implemented. In addition, other issues on the agenda remained long-delayed, such as the release of prisoners from Israeli prisons, opening the "safe passage" from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, and building a harbor and airport in the Gaza Strip (the latter was finally opened in 1998). At the same time, the economic conditions of the Palestinian population constantly deteriorated due to repeated closures imposed by Israel following terrorist attacks on its civilians inside the "Green Line." The advent of a Labor-led government headed by Ehud *Barak in May 1999 raised Palestinian expectations for rapid progress in the peace-making process. However, the continued delay in implementing further Israeli deployments and fear that Barak was trying to gain time and achieve a settlement with Syria first sowed increasing doubts about the prospects for a breakthrough in the Oslo process.

The combination of growing economic depression and continued diplomatic stalemate aggravated the PA's problem of legitimacy and played a significant role in shaping its political conduct. Arafat's legitimacy problem was clearly manifested by the growing opposition within his own organization, Fatah. It is in this context that from the fall of 1998 Arafat made repeated declarations regarding his intention to proclaim an independent Palestinian state by May 4, 1999 (the deadline for reaching a final status agreement). These declarations, apparently meant to pressure Israel into moving faster in implementing further redeployments in the West Bank, met with widespread international objections and forced Arafat to back down from such a unilateral measure. However, this was another setback for the PA and for Arafat personally, further eroding his standing. In November 1999, 20 academics and members of the PLC – including Fatah members – signed a declaration condemning the peace process as a conspiracy against Palestinian national aspirations and accusing PA leaders of corruption and oppression. Although Arafat was not directly blamed for the stalemate and corruption, this petition was yet another indication of the growing impatience among Palestinians with the PA's performance on both the diplomatic and economic fronts.

In December 1999–January 2000 the PA enjoyed a temporary respite due to the celebration of the new millennium. In the previous years both Israel and the PA had made efforts to prepare for expected waves of pilgrims and tourists, with not much coordination, though each side invested a great deal of financial and administrative effort in these preparations (the number of hotel rooms in Bethlehem was doubled within two years). In March, Arafat hosted Pope *John Paul in his visit to PA-controlled Bethlehem.

In view of the failure of the Camp David summit and subsequent American mediation efforts to bring about an agreed-upon Framework Agreement for Permanent Status, the growing Palestinian frustration culminated in the eruption of the al-Aqsa Intifada in late September 2000. Though the riots began in response to the visit of Ariel *Sharon to the Temple Mount, the continued violence and its encouragement by Arafat pointed to the underlying causes, namely, frustration over the stalemated Oslo process and over the PA's conduct as a governing institution. After the outbreak of the violence dozens of representatives of the multi-factional Intifada leadership met with Arafat and urged him to declare war against corruption. The demand to stop the embezzlement of funds led to the assassination of the head of the PA's broadcasting service, allegedly on grounds of transferring funds to his personal account. The perpetrators, identified with Fatah's armed branch (tanzim), were never prosecuted. These events had some effect on the willingness of potential donors to continue providing funds to the PA. Thus, the Arab League refused to transfer millions of dollars in aid to the PA out of fear that top officials would get their hands on the money. Western donors, however, while reducing aid transfers, also changed priorities in aid commitments. Thus, less funds were disbursed for direct budget needs and more was allocated for specific projects and emergency aid.

The continued violence and Israeli reprisals – directed at the PA's offices, security headquarters, police stations, prisons, and, finally, the symbols of authority connected with Arafat himself, brought about a steady and systematic destruction of the PA's capabilities and risked its very existence. Under Sharon's leadership, Israeli policies toward Arafat became more vehemently hostile. The growing terrorist attacks by Palestinians of all factions, with Fatah taking the lead, and unprecedented understanding of Israel's need to fight terrorism following the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington and the capture of Karin A, a boat manned by Palestinian security personnel loaded with arms provided and financed for by Iran, led Israel to intensify its attacks on the PA's symbols of authority. In December the government declared Arafat "irrelevant" after placing him under virtual house arrest at his headquarters in Ramallah and preventing his arrival in Bethlehem for the Christmas Mass at the Church of the Nativity. This was followed by Israeli statements, especially from right-wing politicians, expressing the wish to expel or get rid of Arafat, ostensibly in order to allow an alternative leadership to take over with whom Israel could negotiate. The deterioration of security in Israeli cities due to the increasing wave of suicide bombings culminated in Israel's invasion of PA areas and the "isolation" of Arafat in his office while it raided Palestinian cities, refugee camps, and villages throughout April 2002 in order to destroy the terrorist infrastructure.

Although the Israeli incursion ("Operation Defensive Shield") temporarily shifted international criticism from Arafat to Israel, it brought the PA to its lowest point ever, leaving in its wake tremendous destruction and disarray after four weeks of operations, a heavy Israeli military presence around the cities of the West Bank and continuous Israeli military raids to destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure. Henceforth, Palestinian terrorism was reduced considerably in the West Bank.


G.E. Robinson, Building a Palestinian State, the Unfinished Revolution (1997); H. Frisch, "The Palestinian Strategic Debate over the Intifada," in: Terrorism and Political Violence, 15:2 (Summer 2003), 1–20; A. Jamal, Media Politics And Democracy In Palestine: Political Culture, Pluralism, and the Palestinian Authority (2005); H. Frisch, Countdown to Statehood: Palestinian State Formation in the West Bank and Gaza (1998); "Jews, Israel and Peace in the Palestinian Authority Textbooks: The New Textbooks for Grade 4 and 9," compiled and translated by Arnon Groiss (2004); B.M. Rubin, Barry and J.C. Rubin, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography (2005); "A Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," at:

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.