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The Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA) is a semi-autonomous state institution nominally governing the Palestinians in 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 civlian 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 understaning 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 a 45,000-man uniformed organization 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, and its size is about 3 times that permitted by the Oslo accords.
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, and reduced the popularity of the PA.
The Palestinian Authority has historically been associated with PLO organization, 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.
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.
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 accusted 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.
In February, 2004, it was reported that the European Union 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 April 2004.
- The office of PA President Arafat
- The Palestinian Legislative Council
- Council on Foreign Relations: Palestinian Authority
- List of documents allegedly captured by the IDF, indicating abuse of foreign contributions by the PA, including the sponsoring of terrorism
- Institute for Combatting Terrorism - The Palestinian Security Services: Between Police and Army