The Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA) is a semi-autonomous state institution nominally governing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It was established as a part of Oslo accords between the PLO and Israel. The Palestinian Authority has control over both security-related and civilian issues in Palestinian urban areas (called in Oslo accords "Area A"), and civilian control over Palestinian rural areas ("Area B").
The Oslo accords did not explicitly deal with the future of the PA, but there was an unwritten understanding on both sides that it would become the basis of an independent Palestinian state in the process of the final settlement.
The Palestinian Authority enjoys so far an international recognition as the organization representing the Palestinian people (albeit a limited one). It has an observer status in the United Nations, and receives considerable funds as aid from the European Union, the United States and Israel. The Gaza International Airport was built by the PA near Gaza, but operated for only a brief period before being shut down by Israel, following the outbreak of Palestinian violence against Israel in 2001. A sea port was being constructed in Gaza (see below).
The PA maintains official uniformed armed services ranging from 40,000 to 80,000-man(1) employing armored cars and whose members carry automatic weapons. Officially termed a "police force", it is in reality something in between a militia and an army. In violation of the Oslo Accords which limit the PA to a police force of 30,000 without any para-military or military groups or formations.
Many Palestinians are dependent on access to the Israeli job market. During the 1990s, Israel however began to replace Palestinians with foreign guest workers. They were found to be economical and also were useful as a means limiting dependence on Palestinians as a source of cheap labor due to security concerns. This hurt the Palestinian economy, reducing the popularity of the PA.
Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1993, only one election has taken place. All other elections have been deferred for various reasons.
A single election for president and the legislature took place in 1996. The next presidential and the legislature election were scheduled for 2001. To date (10 May 2004) these elections have not taken place.
On May 10, 2004 the Palestinian Cabinet announced that municipal elections will take place for the first time. Currently, municipal leaders are appointed. Jericho will be the site of the first municipal election in August 2004. Subsequently, elections will be held in certain municipalities in the Gaza Strip. It was announced in July 2004, that municipal elections scheduled for August 2004, will be postponed until November 2004.
The Palestinian Authority has historically been associated with the PLO, with whom Israel negotiated in the Oslo accords; as such, it has been headed so far by Yasser Arafat, and manned almost exclusively by PLO officials, most of them locals who have participated in the Tanzim (Operations), PLO's militant branch established for the First Intifada.
In 2003, Arafat gave in to international pressure, and appointed Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as "prime minister" of the PA. Both Israel and the US refuse to negotiate deals with Arafat, whom they regard as linked to terrorists. Arafat is leader of the PLO, regarded by some Western analysts as a "terrorist" group despite its observer status at the United Nations.
Arafat's administration is characterized by the lack of democracy, by the wide-spread corruption among officials, and the division of power among families and among the numerous governmental agencies with overlapping functions. Thus, Yasser Arafat controls through various mechanisms no less than 8 distinct security organizations, and his education ministry boosts more than 20 chairmen. After a single round of elections in 1996, which he won by a land-slide, Arafat cancelled elections for an indefinite period; some would claim that the resulting structure bears a strong resemblance to the dictatorial Middle Eastern regimes, implementing the mantra: "one man, one vote, once."
In spite of attempts to pre-empt the PLO (and Arafat personally) from the West Bank and Gaza in the 1970s and the 1980s, both the Western powers and Israel have decided by the time of the Oslo Accords that Arafat's presence would be the least of evils, providing a certain degree of stability and keeping at bay the influence of Islamists (Islamic fundamentalists). Following the Second Intifada (below), both American and Israeli leaders declared they lost trust in Arafat as a source of stability. This began a push for change in the Palestinian leadership. Democratization is held to be the optimal way to achieve such a change, although it is unlikely to take place with PLO men in positions of power.
Overall, the divide et impera scheme implemented by Arafat personally, guarantees that in the atmosphere of power-struggle forever present in the Authority, he will always be able to control the antagonists by pushing them down with the help of his comrades; an added value is that he is able to create a smoke-screen over his actions, by asking his subordinates for something, and then at worst claiming that they did so spontaneously, as a part of their struggle with their comrades. Members of the hierarchy are encouraged for their membership via the distribution of power, goods and means of income (such as controlling the taxation of some kind of activities).
While granting the above-mentioned advantages, this scheme also means that Arafat's overall control is diminished, parts of it being split among his subordinates. This in turn means that he is less able to cope with non-PLO organizations, mainly the Islamic militant movements Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. While on the street, PLO and the movements are often at odds, there's a higher-order relationship among them when it comes to external affairs, in which Arafat gets to regulate the movements' activities (in particular, violence against Israel), for the sake of what he calls "Palestinian national interest", in return for protecting them. However, the Islamic movements do enjoy a great degree of independence when it comes to internal affairs, and so after Arafat's demise as the oracle of this "national interest", they may become openly hostile to the PLO.
The Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority is a figurehead position without powers, as stated by Minister Saeb Erekat regarding the Ahmed Qurei's attempted resignation on July 17, 2004: "How can he continue to run a government without powers? He feels he has failed to carry out any of is duties because he has no powers."  (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=5718109)
As of July 14, 2004 "Private investment has all but vanished [from the Palestinian Authority]. But donors stepped in, doubling their contributions, to a billion dollars a year, an amount equal to one-third the Palestinian gross national product last year of $3.1 billion. That works out to roughly $310 a person, more aid per capita than any country has received since World War II"  (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/15/international/middleeast/15pale.html) (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/03/international/middleeast/03mideast.html?oref=login)
Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, a growing number of Palestinians have stopped accepting the Palestinian Authority as a representative of the Palestinian people. Some claim that has become a tool of the Israeli government, and that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad represents the Palestinian interest more loyally. However, polls indicate that the Israeli attack on the West Bank since the spring of 2002 has strengthened the standing of Arafat among the Palestinian people.
Israel, on the other hand, has accused the Palestinian Authority of ignoring and covertly sponsoring the waves of violence towards the Israelis. Israeli experts claim that Arafat specifically intended to lose authority in favor of the Islamic movements, so that he could still use terrorism without actually controlling it. The prolonged support and participation of his own private militia, the Fatah, in terrorist attacks, reinforces that claim. This view has been officially accepted by the United States in summer 2002, which decided then to halt most sorts of negotiations with the current Palestinian authority, pending a fundamental organizational change. The non-governmental American Council on Foreign Relations has declared the Palestinian Authority under Arafat a haven for terrorism.
During the Intifada, Israel has often targeted Palestinian Authority personnel and resources, whom they accuse of harboring terror. In particular, many of the people arrested, assassinated or killed in action because of their terrorist activities were employees of the Palestinian authority's security forces or militias. In Operation Defensive Shield Israel has captured documents that allegedly prove that the Palestinian Authority officially sponsors terrorist activities, which are carried out by its personnel as "shadow jobs". For instance, Israel Marwan Barghouti, a prominent leader of Fatah, for his role as leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.
Israel has also targeted Palestinian Authority infrastructure; in particular it has closed and destroyed parts of the Palestinian sea and air ports, that were used, as it claimed, to transport terrorists and their equipment. Israel's incursions during the Intifada also led to damage to some of the Palestinian computer infrastructure, though it is not clear to what extent it was deliberate.
These moves were criticized by the Palestinians, who claim that the Palestinian Authority is nearing collapse, and is no longer able to carry out its internal and external obligations. Israel claims that that the current Palestinian Authority is fradulent and impossible to trust, and hence no longer relevant to achieving a future peace agreement.
Due to heavy Israeli, American and European pressure, Arafat has recently declared a series of reforms that would perhaps also include carrying out elections in early 2003. Most experts, however, find that these reforms will not be able to significantly change the above-described state of the Authority, if solely done from within.
On July 7, 2004, the Quartet of Middle East mediators informed Ahmed Queria, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, that they are "sick and tired" of the Palestinians failure to carry out promised reforms: "If security reforms are not done, there will be no (more) international support and no funding from the international community" (Reuters) (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=HNWNLX4N3PPK0CRBAEZSFFA?type=worldNews&storyID=5610729)
On July 18, 2004, United States President George W. Bush stated that the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005 is unlikely due to instability and violence in the Palestinian Authority. (Le Figaro) (http://www.lefigaro.fr/magazine/20040716.MAG0008.html)
In February, 2004, it was reported that the European Union (EU) anti-fraud office (OLAF) is studying documents suggesting that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority diverted tens of millions of dollars in EU funds to organizations involved in terrorist attacks, such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Its final report is expected in 2004. A provisional assessment (http://europa.eu.int/comm/anti_fraud/press_room/pr/2004/15_en.html) released in August 2004 said that "To date, there is no evidence that funds from the non-targeted EU Direct Budget Assistance to the Palestinian Authority have been used to finance illegal activities, including terrorism."
A separate EU "Working Group" has issued a report in April 2004, adopted by a 7-6 vote, which covers the period from the end of 2000 to the end of 2002, states that EU aid has not been siphoned off to Palestinian militants carrying out attacks on Israelis: "There is no conclusive evidence, to date, that the EU non-targeted direct budgetary support was used to finance illegal activities, including the financing of terrorism". British European Parliament Member Charles Tannock, who was part of the probe, describes the report as "a partial whitewash." "The Working Group Majority Report has chosen to ignore signed payment orders by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to the tune of $39,000 to people linked to terrorist activities or their families on the basis that these are circumstantial evidence only and do not prove anything, as payment cannot actually have been shown to have taken place"
The EU has changed the way it funded the Palestinians and now targeted aid for specific purposes. From April 2003, money is only handed over if various conditions are met, such as the presentation of invoices for bills the Palestinians need to pay. The EU remains the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority.
In April 2004, it was claimed in an Israeli newspaper that General Haj Ismail Jabber, commander of the Palestinian Authority's National Security force, considered the largest of the Palestinian security forces, has been collecting the salaries for 37,000 members when the force has only 30,000. The General has been pocketing the difference of $2 million each month. Furthermore, the General has been receiving the salaries based upon the international currency exchange rate of 4.5/US dollar and paying the force members at the exchange rate of 3.7/US dollar, resulting in an additional $500,000 for the General each month.  (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/411056.html)
Failure to Protect Holy Sites
Under the Oslo Accords, the PA accepted the obligations to safeguard the holy sites, Jewish and Christian, and ensure unrestricted access by worshipers.
Failure to suppress lawlessness
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group reports everyday disagreements and clashes between the various political factions, families and cities that a complete picture of Palestinian society is painted. These divisions have during the course of the al Aqsa Intifada also led to an increasingly violent ‘Intrafada’. In the 10 year period from 1993 to 2003, 16% of Palestinian civilian deaths were caused by Palestinian groups or individuals (http://www.phrmg.org/intrafada.htm#_ftn5).
Erika Waak reports in The Humanist Of the total number of Palestinian civilians killed during this period by both Israeli and Palestinian security forces, 16 percent were the victims of Palestinian security forces. (http://articles.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1374/is_1_63/ai_96417155)
Accusations of collaboration with Israel are used to target and kill individual Palestinians: Those who are convicted have either been caught helping Israelis, spoken out against Arafat, or are involved in rival criminal gangs, and these individuals are hung after summary trials. Arafat creates an environment where the violence continues while silencing would-be critics, and although he could make the violence impossible, he doesn't stop it. (http://articles.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1374/is_1_63/ai_96417155/pg_3)
Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World 2001-2002, reports Civil liberties declined due to: shooting deaths of Palestinian civilians by Palestinian security personnel; the summary trial and executions of alleged collaborators by the Palestinian Authority (PA); extra-judicial killings of suspected collaborators my militias; and the apparent official encouragement of Palestinian youth to confront Israeli soldiers, thus placing them directly in harm's way. (http://articles.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1374/is_1_63/ai_96417155)
Palestinian security forces have declined to arrest those responsible for the October 2003 killing of three Americans members of a diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip. Musa Arafat, head of Palestinian Military Intelligence and a cousin of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has stated regarding the United States pressures to arrest the killers that "They know that we are in a very critical position and that clashing with any Palestinian party under the presence of the occupation is an issue that will present many problems for us". Since the October 2003 attack, United States diplomats have been banned from entering the Gaza Strip.  (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/480576.html)
It is believed that some of the smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt and the Gaza Strip are controlled by one of the Palestinian Authority security services under the command of Moussa Arafat, cousin of Yasser Arafat. Moussa Arafat is believed to receive a portion of the profits derived from the smuggling tunnels.  (http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=542373)
Descent into Chaos
On October 15, 2003, three members of a United States diplomatic convoy are killed and additional members of the convoy wounded three kilometers south of the Erez Crossing into the Gaza Strip by a terrorist bomb. The perpetrators remain at large.
In February 2004 Ghassan Shaqawa (the mayor of Nablus) filed his resignation from office in protest of the Palestinian Authority's lack of action against the armed militias rampaging the city and the multiple attempts by Palestinian terrorists to assassinate him.
Through the first three months of 2004, a number of attacks on journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been blamed on the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, most clearly the attack on the Arab television station Al-Arabiya's West Bank offices by masked men self-identifying as members of the Brigades. Palestinian journalists in Gaza called a general strike on February 9 to protest this rising violence against journalists.
Karen Abu Zayd, deputy commissioner general for the UN Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip stated on February 29, 2004: "What has begun to be more visible is the beginning of the breakdown of law and order, all the groups have their own militias, and they are very organized. It's factions trying to exercise their powers."  (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17536-2004Feb29.html)
Ghazi al-Jabali, the Gaza Strip Chief of Police, since 1994 has been the target of repeated attacks by Palestinians. In March 2004, his offices were targeted by gunfire. In April 2004, a bomb was detonated destroying the front of his house. In July 17, 2004, he was kidnapped at the at gunpoint following an ambush of his convoy and wounding of two bodyguards. He was released several hours later. (Reuters) (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=5691768) Less than six hours later, Colonel Khaled Abu Aloula, director of military coordination in the southern part of Gaza was abducted.
On July 18, Arafat replaced Ghazi al-Jabali, with his nephew Moussa Arafat, sparking violent riots in Rafah and Khan Yunis in which members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades burned PA offices and opened fire on Palestinian policemen. During the riots at least one Palestinian was killed and dozen more seriously wounded.
On July 20, 2004 David Satterfield, the second-in-charge at the United States Department of State Near East desk stated in hearing before the Senate that the Palestinian Authority has failed to arrest the Palestinian terrorists who murdered three members of an America diplomatic convoy traveling in the Gaza Strip on October 15, 2003. Satterfield states:
On July 21, Nabil Amar, former Minister of Information and a cabinet member and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was shot by masked gunmen, after an interview to a TV channel in which he criticized Yasser Arafat and called for reforms in the PA.  (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/mideast_dc)
On July 22, 2004, The United Nations elevated its threat warning level for the Gaza Strip to "Phase Four" (one less than the maximum "Phase Five") and plans to evacuate non-essential foreign staff from the Gaza Strip.  (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=5743863)
The firing of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel is strongly opposed by those living closest to the firing location due to frequent Israeli military responses to Qassam rocket launches. On July 23, 2004, an Arab boy was shot and killed by Palestinian terrorists of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades after he and his family physically opposed their attempt to set up a Qassam rocket launcher outside the family's house. Five other individuals were wounded in the incident. (http://www.israelnn.com/news.php3?id=66197)  (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/23/international/middleeast/23CND-MIDE.html?hp)  (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/455377.html) (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3920181.stm)
On July 25, 2004, 20 members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades seized the governor's office in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis. Among their demands are that Yasser Arafat's cousin, Moussa Arafat be dismissed from his post as chief of general security in Gaza. In a separate attack, unidentified persons stormed a police station and burned the structure causing extensive damage.
On July 31, Palestinian kidnappers in Nablus seized 3 foreign citizens, an American, a British and Irish. They were later released. Also, a PA security forces HQ building was burnt down in Jenin by the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. A leader of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said they torched the building because new mayor Qadorrah Moussa, appointed by Arafat, had refused to pay salaries to Al Aqsa members or to cooperate with the group.  (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/mideast_dc)
On August 8, 2004 the Justice Minister Nahed Arreyes resigned stating that he has been stripped of much of his authority over the legal system. Last year, Yasser Arafat created a rival agency to the Justice Ministry and continues to control the judiciary and in particular the state prosecutors. (AP) (http://washingtontimes.com/world/20040807-112344-3852r.htm)
On August 10, 2004, a report by an investigation committee Palestinian Legislative Council for the reasons for the anarchy and chaos in the PA was published (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/462724.html) by Haaretz daily newspaper. The report puts the main blame on Yasser Arafat and the PA's security forces, which "have failed to make a clear political decision to end it". The report states,
The report also calls to stop shooting Qassam rockets and mortar shells on Israeli settlements because of it hurts "Palestinian interests". Hakham Balawi sais:
Despite the criticism against Yasser Arafat, the chaos still rages. On August 24, the Lieutenant Commander of the Palestinian General Intelligence in the Gaza Strip, Tareq Abu-Rajab, was shot by group of armed men. He was seriously injured.  (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/mideast_dc)
On August 31, the Jenin Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, threaten to kill Minister Nabil Shaath for participating in a conference in Italy attended by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, declaring "He will be sentenced to death if he enters. The decision cannot be rescinded, we call upon his bodyguards to abandon his convoy in order to save their lives."  (http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/52FB3D32-2E49-4481-8809-2C2B2CE2D44F.htm)
On September 8, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, threatens to resign, again. Three weeks have elapsed since he retracted is resignation, originally tendered six weeks ago.  (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=6184807&pageNumber=1) (http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20040909-080855-4852r.htm)
On October 12, Moussa Arafat, cousin of Yasser Arafat and a top security official in the Gaza Strip, survived a car bomb assassination attempt. Recently the Popular Resistance Committees threatened Moussa Arafat with retaliation for an alleged attempt to assassinate its leader, Mohammed Nashabat.  (http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=6481140§ion=news)
On October 14, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia stated that the Palestinian Authority is unable to stop the spreading anarchy. While routinely blaming Israel for the PA's problems, he pointed out that the many PA security forces are hobbled by corruption and factional feuding. Due to the lack of governmentals reforms demanded by international peace mediators, Palestinian legislators demanded Qureia present a report on the matter by October 20, at which point they will decide upon holding a no-confidence vote.  (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/488826.html)
On October 19, a group of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades members, led by Zakariya Zubeidi, seized the Palestinan Finance ministry and Palestinian parliament.  (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/490691.html)
Payments to militants in prison
On July 22, 2004, Salam Fayyad Minister of Finance of the Palestinian Authority in an article (http://www.jerusalem-times.net/article/news/details/detail.asp?id=449&edition=539) in the Palestinian weekly, The Jerusalem Times, detailed the following payments to Palestinians imprisoned for terrorist offences by the Israeli authorities:
Legal Action against Palestinian Authority
On July 5, 2004, a federal court in the United States issued a default judgement against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO regarding the Ungar's claim that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO provide safe haven to Hamas. The default judgement was issued when those organizations refused to comply with discovery requests and refused to make Yasser Arafat, and other PLO leaders, available for questioning. Previously the court found Hamas guilty in a civil lawsuit regarding the 1996 murders of Yaron and Efrat Ungar near Beit Shemesh, Israel. Hamas has been ordered to pay the families of the Ungar's $116 million.
1 David Hirst, "The New Oppressor of the Palestinians," Guardian (London), July 6, 1996, reprinted in World Press Review, October 1996, p. 11. Hirst suggests that there are 40,000-50,000 security officers. For Israeli press reports about there being 40,000 officers, see Steve Rodan, "Gov't: PA Has 16,000 More Policemen than Permitted by Oslo," Jerusalem Post (international edition), May 2, 1998, p. 3. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli defense sources said in September 1996 that the number of armed men in the PA had risen to 80,000. See Steve Rodan, "Palestinians Have 80,000 Armed Fighters," Jerusalem Post, September 27, 1996, p. 5.
de:Palästinensische Autonomiegebiete eo:Palestina Aŭtonomio es:Autoridad Palestina et:Palestiina fr:Autorité palestinienne [[he:הרשות הפלשתינאית]] nl:Palestijnse Autoriteit pl:Autonomia Palestyńska