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Palestinian Authority

Palestinian Authority (PA) or Palestinian National Authority, interim self-government body responsible for areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Palestinian control. The terrritory is officially recognized as Palestine by many nations and international organizations; more than 110 nations have officially recognized Palestinian independence. The PA was authorized by the Oslo Accords (1993) and subsequent Palestinian agreements with Israel, and was established in 1994. As now constituted the PA includes a president, prime minister and cabinet, a legislative council, and security forces; Ramallah is the administrative center.

In 1994 Yasir Arafat, the leader of Al Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was a party to the Oslo Accords, appointed an interim 19-member Palestinian National Authority, under his direction, to administer Palestinian affairs in the areas of self-rule. Under a 1995 accord, self-rule was extended over a two-year period to all major Arab cities and villages in the West Bank, except East Jerusalem.

In 1996 the first Palestinian Legislative Council was elected, with 88 members chosen from the West Bank and Gaza, and Arafat was elected by popular vote as president of the PA. In the first legislative council, Al Fatah, the dominant group in the PLO, had a majority of the seats. Agreements with Israel in the late 1990s gradually increased the area of the West Bank under PA control.

Negotiations with Israel in 2000 proved unfruitful, and widespread violence erupted in the West Bank and Gaza in the fall after the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited the Haram esh-Sherif (or Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. Efforts to resume talks were subsequently largely unsuccessful, stymied by mutual distrust and a cycle of fighting and violence, including suicide bombings by Palestinians and Israeli attacks on PA facilities and reoccupation of Palestinian territory. The continuing growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which nearly doubled in population from 1992 to 2001, also proved a major irritant to Arabs and stumbling block to peace.

In Mar., 2003, the legislative council established the post of prime minister, effectively reducing Arafat's powers as president. The appointment to that post of Mahmoud Abbas—regarded as more moderate than Arafat—and the acceptance by Palestinians and Israelis of the internationally supported "road map for peace" led to a brief reduction in violence and new talks, but the cycle of attacks and reprisals soon resumed. Abbas resigned, and Ahmad Qurei was appointed to succeed him, but Qurei, like Abbas, clashed with Arafat over control of the security forces.

Following Arafat's death in 2004, Rawhi Fattouh became interim Palestinian president until Abbas, who had succeeded Arafat as PLO chairman, was elected president of the PA in 2005. Abbas and Sharon (now Israel's prime minister) subsequently agreed to a truce, and in Mar., 2005, Israeli forces began handing over control of Jericho and other West Bank towns to the Palestinian Authority. Subsequent violence, however, halted and reversed the process.

In 2005 Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip, and a few settlements in the N West Bank were also evacuated. In the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, Hamas won a majority of the seats in a victory that in part was a rejection of the corruption and failures associated with Al Fatah. The formation of a Hamas government, led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, and Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist led to tensions with President Abbas and the cutoff both of much Western aid and taxes and duties collected for the PA by Israel, creating a financial crisis. There was also jockeying for the control and allegiance of PA security forces between the president and Hamas political leaders.

The politically unsettled situation continued into early 2007, when Hamas and Al Fatah agreed to form a national unity government; the tensions between the two groups at times erupted into violence. When Hamas guerrillas captured an Israel soldier in June, 2006, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and arrested several dozen PA leaders, mainly Hamas politicians, in the West Bank. The 2007 power-sharing agreement did not restore U.S. and EU direct aid to the PA, as Hamas continued to refuse to recognize Israel.

Subsequent clashes in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Al Fatah led in June to Hamas's seizing control of the territory. Abbas accused Hamas of an attempted coup, dismissed the government, and appointed a government that did not include Hamas. The United States, Israel, and others subsequently released aid and other funds to the new government. The PA was effectively divided into two territories and two governments as a result of the event, with Hamas in control in Gaza and Al Fatah in the West Bank. In 2009 the PLO voted to extend Abbas's PA presidency indefinitely when it and Hamas could not agree on an election date; Hamas rejected the move to little effect. Attempts to reestablish a unified government have been unsuccessful. In 2011 the PA unsuccessfully sought recognition from, and full membership in, the United Nations as part of its wider drive for international recognition in the face of stalled peace negotiations with Israel.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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