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Palestinian Territories

Palestinian Territories

In September 2015 the UN General Assembly approved a proposal to raise the Palestinian
flag at its headquarters, a symbolically important move. Still, its status is not recognized by the United Nations, Israel and major Western nations such as the United States. Previously, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request to join the United Nations as a full member state in 2011, but stalled this request a year later. Instead he pursued a ‘non-member observer status’, which was granted in 2012. Relations between Fatah and Hamas have been tense. A unity government formed in 2014 was forced to resign in June 2015 after it failed to operate in the Gaza strip. The closing of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and continued Israeli –Hamas violence have deteriorated conditions in the Gaza Strip, leading to more resistance. The creation of the state of Israel and the strive for the restoration of a Palestinian state has been at the heart of the Middle Eastern conflicts.
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Israel declared independence in 1948 comprising 54 % of the former Palestinian territories. This was very much against the wish of the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab countries and the Arab-Israeli War (1948-1949) was a fact. It was the first in a series of wars fought between Israel and its Arab neighbours. The Arab-Israeli War resulted in the occupation of the Westbank by Transjordan and the Gaza Strip by Egypt. Later, during the 1967 Six Day War, Israel subsequently gained control over Gaza and the West Bank, ignoring the so-called Green Line that was agreed upon in the 1949 Armistice. The Green line used to mark the line between Israel and the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula (the latter was returned to Egypt in 1982).

In 1987 the first intifada (1987-1993), (literally translated as “shaking off,” usually translated as “uprising”) broke out. The Oslo Accords in 1993 made an end to the violence. In essence, these accords called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank and affirmed the Palestinian right to self-government within those areas through the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA, 1994). Despite the momentum of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at the time, unfortunately, no solution has come into reach.

During the Camp David summit in July 2000 Ehud Barak, Israel’s prime minister, Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and US President Bill Clinton, aimed at reaching a `final status´ agreement. In September that same year tensions between the Palestinians and Israeli’s escalated when Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the election campaign. The outbreak of the second intifada was a fact and peace negotiations were stalled. However after the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 and the subsequent election of the moderate Mahmoud Abbas as President, both Israel and the PA on a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in 2005 declared their intentions of ending any bloodshed and revitalizing the Quartet Road Map. As a result, Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza in September 2005, but did keep its control on maritime, airspace and most access to the Gaza Strip.

Victory Hamas parliamentary election

With the democratic victory of Hamas in January 2006 in the Palestinian legislative elections the tide turned once again. A general fear for the Islamic party and the fact that Hamas rejected the existence of Israel led to sanctions imposed by Israel, the United States and some European countries. Hamas and Fatah, however, could not agree on a government acceptable to the international community so as to lift the economic sanctions on Palestine. Early June 2007, violence between Hamas and Fatah intensified, cumulating in the Battle of Gaza, June 7-15. This lead to the current situation where the West Bank is ruled by the government under Fayyad in cooperation with Abbas, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Abbas decided to dissolve the cabinet of National Unity and appointed an emergency government headed by Salam Fayyad. Hamas rejected this government stating that a new government needed to be ratified by the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC).

Gaza War
The takeover of Gaza in 2007 by Hamas was met with an economic and political blockade by Israel on Gaza. As a result a huge smuggling network erupted that worked through tunnels under the 11-kilometer boundary between Egypt and Gaza, through the Sinai dessert and Gaza‘s 40-kilomter coastline. Most importantly was the smuggling of arms that Hamas used to attack Israel. In June 2008 a six-month ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza strip was agreed on. The truce was violated by both Hamas and the Israeli’s several times. On December 27, 2008 Israel started a surprise air strike on Gaza, codenamed "Operation Cast Lead" and on the 3rd of January they started a ground offensive. After nearly a month Israel completed the withdrawal of their troops on the 21st of January from the Gaza Strip. About 1400 Palestinian, of which 83% citizens, were killed against 13 Israeli deaths. The Goldstone report was released in September 2009 in which both Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian militants were accused of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Israeli West Bank barrier
Since 2002, the Israeli West Bank barrier between Israel and the West Bank is one of the most controversial issues in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The 703 km. barrier separates Israel and the Palestinian Territories mostly along the so-called “Green Line” the territorial boundary between Israel and the Palestinan Territories agreed upon in 1949. Supporters of the barrier state that it is build to stop the acts of Palestinian terrorism, predominantly bus-bombings. Opponents of the barrier argue that Israel tries to annex Palestinian land illegally under the guise of security. The idea for the barrier was initially from Yitzhak Rabin in 1992. However, it lasted until 2002 before Israel, under prime-minister Ariel Sharon, started to built the barrier. Two similar barriers, the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier and the Israeli-built 7-9 meter wall separating Gaza from Egypt, which was temporarily breached on January 23, 2008, are just as controversial.

Recent developments
Al Jazeera, a TV and internet channel based in Qatar, had been given unhindered access to the largest-ever leak of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in late 2010, beginning of 2011. Al Jazeera released the documents, dubbed the Palestinian papers, between January 23-26th, 2011. The leaks showed the concessions that Palestinian negotiators were willing to grant to Israel, contrary to their public posture during peace talks in 2008. This caused great anger among the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

It emerged that the source for the Palestine Papers came from the office of Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's (PLO) chief negotiator. Consequently he resigned on the February the 12th 2011 and additional on 14 February 2011 the whole cabinet of the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by PM Salam Fayyad resigned. President Mahmoud Abbas re-assigned Fayyad to form a new government. The shake-up in the Palestinian government was long demanded by Fayyad (Third way, party) and some in the Abbas Fatah faction.

On April 27, 2011, officials from both Fatah and Hamas announced the two organizations had reached an initial deal to unify the two parties into one government, and to plan elections for 2012. On 7 February 2012 the two parties actually signed a reconciliation deal in Doha, in swhich they agreed on a national unity government headed by Fatah-leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The deal paves the way for new parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Territories later this year. Israel strongly condemns the accord, rejecting the conciliatory stance of Abbas towards the ‘terrorist group’ Hamas.


1923 Palestinian Territories part of ‘British Mandate for Palestine’
1948 Declaration of independence Israel and Arab-Israeli War
1967 Six Day War
1973 Yom Kippur war
1987 Start First Intifada
1993 Oslo Accords
2000 Second Intifada
2002 Beginning building Israeli West Bank barrier
2004 Death Yasser Arafat
2005 Mahmoud Abbas elected as President
2005 Withdrawal Israeli settlements from Gaza
2006 Victory Hamas in Parliamentary Elections
2006 Operation "Summer Rains" (Israeli intervention)
2007 “Battle of Gaza” violence between Fatah and Hamas (June)
2008 “Gaza War,” Operation Cast Lead (28 December)
2012 Operation Pillar of Defense
2014 Operation "Protective Edge" (July-August)

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On a national level, the Palestinians elect a head of state - the president - and a legislature - the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC), a unicameral parliament consisting of 132 members. After the election law of 2005 came into force, the Palestinian Authority has a mixed electoral system combining both a majority system (districts) and a system of proportional representation (lists). The law divides the 132 seats of the PLC equally between the majority system (66 seats) and the system of proportional representation (66 seats). The PLC is elected for a four-year term.

Based on the majority system, the Palestinian Territories are divided into 16 electoral districts (11 in the West Bank and 5 in the Gaza Strip). Each district is allocated a number of seats in the parliament according to the number of its population. Six out of the 66 seats allocated to the majority system are reserved for Christians, because it is considered the minimum quota for their representation in the council.

In the system of proportional representation, Palestine is considered as one electoral district. Following the election law, each electoral list must include a minimum of 7 candidates and a maximum of 66 candidates. As well, each list must include at least one woman in the first three names, at least one woman in the next four names and at least one woman in each of the five names that follow in the list. Lists that receive a minimum of 2% on the basis of the proportional representation system are allocated the number of seats proportional to the total number of votes that the list receives. Its population determines the number of seats each electoral district receives.

It is important to distinguish between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) on the one hand and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) on the other. The PLO was founded in 1964 aiming at liberating the Palestinian state with its 1947 borders. Until today it is the sole representative of the Palestinian Diaspora in international institutions as the United Nations (UN) and the Arab League. The PNA on the other hand was a direct result of the 1993 Oslo Accords, founded as a 5-year transitional body during which final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestine’s were to take place.

In 2007 President Abbas unilaterally changed the electoral law to full proportional representation. He insisted he could issue the change by decree as long as the PLC was unable to convene. The move was seen as a bid to lessen the chances of Hamas in the next election. Hamas declared the move to be illegal. The call for elections by Abbas early in 2011 and the resignation of the cabinet at the same time has not ended the rule of decree yet. The question whether next elections will be on the basis of a mixed proportional representation and majority system or a full proportional representation was not clear until the time of this writing.

Parliamentary Elections 2006
On 25 January 2006, the first since 1996, elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council have been held. Islamic Hamas that contested as the List of Change and Reform were victorious winning 74 seats; an absolute majority. Nationalist Fatah that had effectively been in power in the last several decades received a severe blow winning only 45 seats.

According to analysts it was Hamas’ focus on clean policy and its successful attacks on widespread corruption within the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority that provided for its electoral victory. International observers considered the elections to be conducted quite fairly, showing Palestinian commitment to democratic elections, also considering the high turnout rate of around 74%. However, there were some reports of problems during Election Day itself. Voters in East Jerusalem were not provided voting privacy, and it was said that Fatah had used Palestinian Authority resources for its campaign, whereas in many mosques campaigning activities on behalf of Hamas (List of Change and Reform) have been reported.

Alliances and Parties

Seats (Proportional/District seats)

Hamas (List of Change and Reform) 74 (29/45)
Fatah 45 (28/17)
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine 3 (3/0)
The Alternative 2 (2/0)
Independent Palestine (consisted of Palestine National Initiative and some independents)
2 (2/0)
Third Way 2 (2/0)
Independents 4 (0/4)
Total (turnout: 74.6%) 132 (66/66)

On 29 March 2006 President Mahmoud Abbas swore in – much to the displeasure of among others the EU and the United States – Hamas’ 24-member cabinet led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. This cabinet consists of mostly Hamas members and includes one Christian and one woman. The government’s political programme stresses the need for comprehensive reform within the Palestinian Territories, fighting corruption and enforcing the rule of law as well as democratic principles and institutions. It only considers negotiations with Israel (consequently referred to as ‘the occupation state’) if Israel completely withdraws its settlements from the Palestinian Territories. Until then, the government recognizes any form of resistance as a legitimate right of the Palestinian people to end the occupation.

Presidential Elections 2005
The most recent Palestinian presidential elections took place on January 9, 2005 in the West Bank and Gaza. In accordance with the Palestinian Basic Law these elections were to be held within 60 days after the death of former President Yasser Arafat. Seven candidates contested in the election. Three of them withdrew during the campaign.

PLO chairman Abbas won over 62% of the votes, with independent Mustafa Barghouti coming second, winning 19% of the votes. Palestinian Legislative Council member and Fatah leader in the West Bank Marwan Barghouti was seen as the only candidate who could hope to seriously compete against Abbas. However, his proposed candidacy met with resistance from Fatah activists, fuelling rumours that the Fatah party was internally divided along generational lines. After successive contradictory announcements, Marwan Barghouti retired from the race because of discussions between his representatives and the Fatah leadership. 

Candidate Party (Party) Percentage of votes
Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) 62.52
Mustafa Barghouti (Independent) 19.48
Taysir Khald (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine)
Abdel Halim al-Ashqar (Independent) 2.76
Bassam al-Salhi (Palestinian People's Party) 2.67
Sayyid Barakah (Independent) 1.30
Abdel Karim Shubeir (Independent) 0.71
Invalid Ballots 3.82
Blank Ballots 3.39
Total 100

The election campaign faced some problems – Mustafa Barghouti was arrested by Israeli forces when he was on his way to hold an election speech in East Jerusalem; other candidates were denied access to East Jerusalem as well - due to the widespread blockade of the Palestinian territories by Israel. Also on Election Day a number of incidents were reported. Voting was controversially extended for two hours, apparently at the request of Fatah, which lead to the subsequent resignation of the head of the Central Elections Commission. Despite all this, international observers considered the elections to have been conducted fairly. The turnout rate was around 48% according to the Palestinian Election Commission.


The new local election law of 2005 states that political parties must have at least one woman among the first three on the list, at least one woman among the next four, and one woman among every five for the rest of the list. This guarantees about 20 percent women among the candidates. As of June 2009, only 5 out of 23 ministers and 17 of 131 legislative councils seats belonged to women, which comprises 13 percent of the total number of PLC members. Still women's representation in the PLC is higher than that seen in other Arab parliaments.

Women rights 
According to Article 9 of the Palestinian Basic Law, amended in 2005, all Palestinians are equal before law and there is no distinction between them on the basis of ethnicity, sex, color, religion, political point of view or disability. Article 4 however stipulates that the Sharia (Islamic law) is a main source of legislation, opening the door to discriminatory provisions. Despite the Basic Law's guarantees described in article 9, many laws currently in force do not penalize gender discrimination. The laws that do so are difficult to enforce due to weak institutional mechanisms for handling such cases. The Personal Status law, based on religious laws, puts women at a disadvantage in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Although the Palestinian Authority is making progress in improving the lives and legal rights for women in the West Bank, the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Parliamentary elections have led to greater restrictions of women’s rights in Gaza, where the Sharia is implemented more strict. Domestic abuse, rape and “honor killings,” in which relatives murder women for perceived sexual or moral transgressions, are common, and these crimes often go unpunished. In the West Bank, as noted before the situation is better but all abuses are not uncommon. Under Hamas, women’s dress and movements in public have been increasingly restricted by the so-called morality police, who are tasked with enforcing orthodox Islamic customs.

Despite the fact that Palestinian women form a majority of university students in the West Bank, they are underrepresented in most professions and encounter discrimination in employment. In 2009 women only accounted for 15.1 percent of the labor force and the female unemployment rate stands at 23.8 percent.

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Fatah versus Hamas
In the last decades it has been Fatah that was in power in the Palestinian Territories, leading to a dangerous symbiosis between Fatah and the state. Dangerous in the sense that corruption was widespread among Fatah officials. Some Fatah organs only survived because of PA financial support and many positions in the bureaucracy were awarded to party activists. Fatah leaders also served, and still do, as the backbone of the security services. From its foundation in 1987, Hamas on the other hand did not recognize the PLO and the later Palestinian Authority. Because of that, Hamas politically sidelined itself despite the fact that during the nineties it became increasingly popular with the Palestinians.

With the astonishing victory of Hamas in the last local and parliamentary elections, this Fatah power base has been severely contested. Hamas focussed on ending corruption in the Palestinian Authority as well as on social and political reforms. The Palestinian Territories are now divided between Fatah and Hamas supporters. Main point of struggle is the recognition of the state of Israel. Whereas Fatah has recognized this Israeli right, Hamas fervently excludes it.

The following parties have won seats in the latest parliamentary elections of January 2006.

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Partyleader: Mahmoud Abbas (effective leader), Farouk Kaddoumi (secretary-general of Fatah central committee based in Tunis.)
Number of seats: 45
Fatah is a full member of the Socialist International. (Upgraded from consultative member status agreed by the Council, to be ratified at the next Congress in 2012.)

The word Fatah is the reverse acronym of the Arabic for Palestine Liberation Movement and meaning Conquest. Fatah is a nationalistic, social democratic party, containing 45 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Parliament . They are the second largest party in the territories and the largest faction within the PLO. Fatah was founded in 1959, by amongst others Yasser Arafat - and became dominant in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian National Authority. Fatah aims at the establishment of a Palestinian state, but since the Oslo Accords of 1993 it moderated its stance towards Israel favouring a two-state-solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After decennia of political dominance within the PLO and the PA, things changed dramatically for Fatah in the 2006 parliamentary elections after Hamas defeated Fatah. Also on a local level, it has lost to Hamas.

In the run-up to the most recent parliamentary elections, Fatah has been beset by internal strife with younger and more popular figures like Mohammed Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti levelling allegations of corruption against the Fatah leadership – Mahmoud Abbas and its protégés. They even submitted a list dubbed Al-Mustaqbal (The Future), headed by Barghouti wanting to reform the party and end the conservative momentum within it. However, the leadership of the two factions managed to agree upon submitting a single list, headed by Barghouti, mainly because of the electoral threat Hamas posed. Despite this, the two groups are by no means fully reconciled.

Fatah has maintained a number of militant groups since its founding. It’s mainstream military branch is al-Assifa. Fatah is generally considered to have a strong involvement in terrorism in the past though, unlike its rival Islamist faction Hamas, Fatah is no longer regarded as a terrorist organization by any government.

Palestine National Initiative (PNI)
Partyleader: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti
Number of seats: 2 (as a part of the Independent Palestine list)
The PNI has an observer status in the Socialist International.

The PNI (Al Mubadara al Wataniyya al Filistiniyya) strives for an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza within the 1967 borders. The list describes itself as a ‘democratic third force’ that backs non-violent resistance to occupation and opposes the dichotomy of ‘the corruption of Fatah’ or ‘the fundamentalism of Hamas.’

The PNI aims at improving democratization and rule of law within the Palestinian Territories and therefore promises to fight corruption and nepotism. In addition the PNI aims for peace with Israel based on a two-state solution, Palestinian independence in all of the occupied territories and right for refugees. The latter would include a commitment to the principle of return, to be mutually agreed between Israel and Palestinian representatives. The PNI also stresses the importance of a viable civil society – which forms an important pool of supporters of the PNI.

Mustafa Barghouti campaigned on a platform of democratization as the PNI's candidate in the January 2005 Palestinian presidential elections and took second place with 19.48% of the vote – with Hamas boycotting these elections. The PNI made minor gains in the first phase of the Palestinian local elections, in January 2005. Together with some like-minded independents it took part in the 2006 PLC elections as Independent Palestine, winning a total number of 2 seats. Until now, it thus has not become the third force it wants to be.

The Third Way
Partyleader: Salam Fayyad and Hanan Ashrawi 
Number of seats: 2

The Third Way was founded before the parliamentary elections of 2006 by Dr. Salam Fayyad who is the current prime minister and Hanan Ashrawi, an important Palestinian politician, who served as the official spokes person for the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Process and is the former PA Minister of Higher Education and Research. Both Fayyad and Ashrawi had been active for Fatah for years, but grew tired of the corrupt practices within the party.

The Third Way is considered a moderate, elitist and centrist party. They won two seats in the 2006 parliamentary elections. They focus on reform of the security forces and democratic improvements as well as socioeconomic progress and the implementation of the rule of law. Concerning Israel, it follows the official stance of the PLO, striving for a two-state solution within the pre-1967 borders and an agreement on the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

The Alternative (Al-Badeel)
Partyleader: Abou Leila
Number of seats: 2

This list is a coalition of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Palestinian People's Party (PPP) (Hizb Al Sha'ab), the Palestine Democratic Union (PDU) (Fida), and various independents. The list is headed by Qais Abd al-Karim (Abou Leila) from the DFLP.

As for the presidential elections of 2005, the PPP candidate, Bassam al-Salhi, received 2.67% of the vote. In the list vote, its best vote was 6.6% in Bethlehem, followed by 4.5% in Ramallah and al-Bireh and 4.0% in Nablus. The alliance dissolved in 2007.

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List of Change and Reform (Hamas)
Leadership: Khaled Meshaal (head of political bureau, based in Damascus), Ismail Haniyeh (Leader of Hamas in Gaza), Mahmoud Al-Zahar (deputy leader , Hamas in Gaza and Foreign minister of the PNA), Sheik Hassan Youssef (Leader Hamas in the West Bank).
Number of seats: 74

The letters of the word Hamas are the reverse acronym of Islamic Resistance Movement. The major political party in the Palestinian Legislative Council is the Islamist party Hamas, which currently governs the Gaza Strip. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, leader of the Gaza wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was assassinated by Israeli forces in 2004, founded Hamas in 1987 at the beginning of the First Intifada against Israel. Hamas is opposed to the existence of Israel and to the Oslo accords. Its stated goal is to establish an Islamic state in the area that is currently Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It also refuses to surrender the option of armed resistance claiming that it is an unalienable political right of the Palestinians. However, after the elections in 2006, Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Al-Zahar did not rule out the possibility of accepting a "temporary two-state solution."

The military wing (Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades) of Hamas is notorious for its suicide bombings and rocket attacks. But at the same time Hamas has an active welfare wing that, amongst other things, organises clinics and schools. This serves the Palestinians who feel entirely let down by a corrupt PA and contributes hugely to the popularity of Hamas.

Since its founding, the contacts between Hamas and the PLO and Fatah have been far from warm. Hamas did not recognize PLO’s monopoly on Palestinian representation and decision-making and Fatah, being nationalistic rather than Islamic, tried to exclude Hamas from the political platform. With the start of the second intifada the relations between the two main political powerbases temporarily improved. However, after the parliamentary elections of 25 January 2006 in which Hamas won a decisive majority, relations dramatically worsened again leading to the battle of Gaza after which Hamas retained control of Gaza while its officials were ousted from government positions in the West Bank.

The reality of a Palestinian Authority dominated by Hamas has alarmed Western governments, who almost universally consider it to be a terrorist group, and withdrew a great part of their financial aid that makes up almost half of the PA's budget. This has deteriorated economic conditions (most profoundly) in the Gaza strip. 

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Partyleader: Ahmad Sa’adat
Number of seats: 3

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was founded in 1967 by members of the Arab National Movement (founded in 1951) and other factions as a Marxist-Leninist, nationalist resistance movement. During the seventies it became the second largest member of the PLO, after Fatah. However, the PFLP grew more disillusioned with the PLO’s practices and condemned the Oslo Accord of 1993 and officially boycotted the Palestine Authority’s first indigenous elections. Considering the relations with Israel PFLP originally favoured a hard-line stance, not recognizing the Israeli right for an independent state. However, in the late nineties it has become more moderate.

During the last presidential elections the PFLP supported the independent candidate Mustafa Barghouti, after it had unsuccessfully tried to present a left-wing alternative together with the Palestinian People’s Party. In the 2006 parliamentary elections PFLP took part as the Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa list, named after Abu Ali Mustafa, the General Secretary of the PFLP who was assassinated by Israeli forces in 2001. It won 3 seats of the popular vote in the 2006 parliamentary elections. It gained only one seat in the municipal elections of 2004-2005.

The EU and the US consider the PFLP to be a terrorist organisation due to the numerous deadly attacks on Israeli civilians – and on the Israeli Minister for Tourism Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. The attacks by the PFLP’s armed wing, the Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, are a retaliation of the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa. In the early seventies the PLFP was the first organisation to openly use terrorist attacks as a means of establishing a Palestinian state.

After the death of Mustafa, the former Mathematics teacher in Ramallah Ahmad Sa'adat was elected General Secretary on 3 October 2001. In January 2002, PNA authorities detained Sa’adat without charge in a prison in Jericho, following a compromise agreement with the US, UK and Israel. In 2006 the US and Britain withdrew monitors from the Jericho prison holding Sa’adat, following which Israel raided the facility and took Sa’adat and six others into custody. He is currently in solitary confinement in an Israeli prison.

The PFLP-GC (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command) as well as the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) originate from the PFLP. 

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abbas.jpgMahmoud Abbas
President of the Palestinian National Authority
Leader of Fatah
(Image Flickr, by: Olivier Pacteau)

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen (father of Mazen, his deceased son), was born in 1935 in the city of Safed a town in present-day northern Israel. He and his family fled to Syria during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Abbas graduated from the University of Damascus, after which he went to Egypt to study law. Abbas later entered graduate studies at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow where he earned a Candidate of Science degree.

Abbas co-founded Fatah together with Yasser Arafat and a number of others in the late 1950s in Kuwait. He established contacts with left-wing Israelis in the 1970s and was the main Palestinian architect of the 1993 Oslo accords, which led to the foundation of the Palestinian Authority.

In March 2003 he was appointed as Prime Minister. Plagued by power struggles with Arafat over the control of the Palestinian security apparatus and over planned reforms. Abbas resigned in September 2003. However, he succeeded Yasser Arafat in 2004 as the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), having been Arafat's deputy since 1969.

After the death of Yasser Arafat on 11 November 2004. Mr. Abbas won the January 2005 Presidential elections. His current term was set to have ended in January 2009, but in 2008 he announced he was extending his term by another year, in order to allow presidential and parliamentary elections to be held at the same time. Hamas denounced the move. In November 2009, Mr Abbas said he would not stand again in elections scheduled for 24 January 2010, in protest against the continuing impasse in attempts to resurrect peace talks with Israel. The elections were postponed, and he has continued in office on an interim basis.

Many analysts regard Mahmoud Abbas as a moderate. He has condemned the armed Palestinian uprising and favours the resumption of negotiations with Israel.

4663161355_c03743d22f_b.jpgIsmail Haniya
Prime Minister Gaza

Haniya was appointed Prime Minister after the parliamentary elections in 2006, but was dismissed by Abbas on 14 June 2007 who appointed Salam Fayyad instead. This has been deemed illegal by the Legislative Council. As a result Fayyad governs in Fatah-controlled West Bank, while Haniyeh continues to govern in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Ismail Haniyeh was born in 1963 in the Al-Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. In 1987, he graduated from the Islamic University of Gaza with a degree in Arabic literature. In 1989, he was imprisoned for three years by Israeli authorities for participation in the First Intifada and membership with Hamas. Following his release in 1992, he was exiled to Lebanon with Ahmed Yassin, Hamas' spiritual leader, who as noted before was assassinated by Israeli forces in 2004, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi and other senior Hamas politicians. A year later, he returned to Gaza and was appointed as Dean of the Islamic University.

In 1997 Haniyeh was appointed to head Yassin’s office. His position within Hamas continued to strengthen during the Second Intifada due to his relationship with Yassin, and because of the assassinations of much of the Hamas leadership by the Israeli security forces. Haniya rose through the Islamist movement in Gaza to become the leader of the victorious Hamas campaign for the 2006 Legislative Council elections. President Abbas appointed him prime minister, but on 14 June 2007 Haniyeh was also dismissed by him at the height of the Fatah-Hamas conflict. Haniyeh did not acknowledge the decree Abbas imposed and continues to operate as prime minister in Gaza. He is recognized by a large number of Palestinians as the legitimate acting prime minister.

salam_fayyad.jpgSalam Fayyad
Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority 
Third Way
(Image, Flickr: by World Economic Forum)

Salam Fayyad was born in Deir al-Ghusun in 1952, a town in the West-Bank. He graduated from the American University of Beirut, received his MBA from St. Edward's University (Texas, US) and successively got a PhD in economics from the University of Texas at Austin. From 2002-2005 he was the finance minister under the Fatah-controlled administration in the Palestinian territories. He resigned from the cabinet in late 2005 to found and run the Third Way Bloc, an independent party. The party won two seats in the parliamentary election in January 2006.

After the formation of the Palestinian unity government in February 2007, it was Mr Fayyad who met US diplomats and then lobbied with political leaders of the European Union for a resumption of aid for the Palestinian Authority. On 17 March 2007, Fayyad was again appointed finance minister, this time within the Fatah-Hamas coalition government. However, Abbas dismissed Ismail Haniyeh on 14 June 2007 as prime minister after Hamas took over of the Gaza Strip and appointed Fayyad instead. This appointment has been challenged as illegal, because while the Palestinian Basic Law permits the president to dismiss a sitting prime minister, the appointment of a replacement requires the approval of the Legislative Council. The current Legislative Council, in which Hamas holds a majority of seats, has not approved the appointments of Fayyad or the balance of his new government.

On 7 March 2009, Salam Fayyad submitted his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas. This was not accepted by Abbas as he was reappointed to the post of Prime Minister again on 19 May 2009. He currently still is the Prime Minister in the Palestinian National Authority.

khaled_meshaal_01.jpgKhaled Meshal
Political leader Hamas
(Image, Wikipedia, by )

Meshal was born in the West Bank in 1956, then ruled by Jordan. In 1967, after the Six-Day War, Meshal's family moved to Kuwait when the area fell under Israeli occupation. In 1971, at the age of 15, Meshal joined the Muslim Brotherhood and a few years later, while studying physics at Kuwait University, he founded the student group List of the Islamic Right.

In 1987, Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Gaza founded the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, in response to a mass uprising against the Israeli occupation. Mr. Meshal became increasingly involved with Hamas over the next few years, coming to the fore after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. He moved to Jordan where he took over the operation of the Hamas bureau in the capital Amman, becoming the Party’s local chairman.

Meshal survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 1997. His life was literally saved by Jordan's King Hussein, who was outraged by the attack and demanded the Israeli Goverment hand over the antidote. In the late 1990s, King Hussein's son and successor, King Abdullah, closed down the Hamas office in Amman after which Meshal went to Qatar. In 2001, he moved to Syria, where Hamas' Political Bureau was based until January 2012. It was then announced that Hamas left Syria as a protest against the violence Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has used against the popular uprising in his country that started in March 2011, even though Assad has played as a host to exiled Palestinian leaders for years.

Meshal became head of Hamas following the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin by Israel in 2004. Meshal has spoken of the need to work “realistically” with Israel, expressing readiness to sign a long-term cease-fire agreement with the Jewish state. He has, however, also been steadfast in his refusal to officially recognize Israel. In May 2009, Meshal was reelected by Hamas members to lead the group's politburo. In January 2012 Hamas announced that Meshal wished to step down as the chief of the movement’s political bureau. The exact nature and meaning of his resignation remains unclear.

mustafa_barghouthi.jpgMustafa Barghouti
Leader Palestinian National Initiative (PNI)
(Image, Wikipedia, by Aude)

Mustafa Barghouti is the leader and co-founder of the PNI. He used to be a prominent figure in the Palestine People’s Party but left the party in 2002. Born in Jerusalem, Barghouti was trained as a doctor in the former Soviet Union and is known to many ordinary Palestinians for running a healthcare organisation (the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees) that he established back in 1979.

Dr Barghouti was Mr Abbas's main challenger as an independent candidate for the position of President in the 2005 elections, only after his jailed distant cousin Marwan Barghouti, withdrew his candidacy. He came second with a respectable 19.8% of the vote. Like Abbas, Dr Barghouti sought an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and also East Jerusalem, the release of Palestinian prisoners and campaigns for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

Dr Barghouti has been an advocate of the creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, the right of return for refugees and the establishment of a democratic political system. He favours an immediate resumption of peace talks with Israel and peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation He has criticized the PLO and Palestinian Authority for corruption. 

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Flag of Palestinian Territories Palestinian Territories

Last update: 28 January 2016
Author: -

Population: 4.225.710 (UN 2010 Est. - combination of Gaza and West Bank figures)
Prime Minister: Rami Hamdallah
President: Mahmoud Abbas
Governmental type: Semi-presidential; Parliamentary Democracy
Ruling Coalition: -
Last Elections: Parliamentary January 25, 2006
Next Election: -
Sister Parties: Fatah (full member), Palestinian National Initiative, PNI (consultative member)

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Sources Sources

BBC Country Profile
CIA World Fact Book Gaza Strip

CIA World Fact Book West Bank
http://csis.orgIrin News
Wikipedia: Palestinian National Authority
Wikipedia: Fatah
Wikipedia: Hamas
Wikipedia: The Palestinian Legal Council

BBC news


-Lawrence Jaffe, ‘Palestinian entity’, Political parties of the world, 7th edition (London, 2009)
-Robert Soeterik, Palestijnse gebieden (Amsterdam 2010)
-Kimmerling, B. & Migdal, J.S. (2003) The Palestinian People. A History. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
-Pappe, I. (2004) A History of modern Palestine. One land, two peoples. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

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