Palestinian Territories

Last update: 1 year ago

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 by a large majority of the Assembly.  

The occupied West Bank and Gaza have been politically split since the intra-Palestinian fighting that erupted after Hamas’s victory in the parliamentary elections of 2006. Since then, Hamas has controlled Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) remains in the West Bank. This has resulted in the emergence of two parallel systems of Palestinian governance, despite numerous intra-Palestinian reconciliation attempts. A unity government formed in 2014 was forced to resign in June 2015 after it failed to operate in Gaza. More recent reconciliation efforts have also centred around returning governance of Gaza to the PA.  PA president Mahmoud Abbas announced on 15 January 2021 that legislative elections for Palestine will be held in the summer of 2021, an announcement that was welcomed by Hamas. On the 9th of February 2021, Hamas, Fatah and other groups agreed on the "mechanisms" for the elections, such as an electoral court and open voting.  

 

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Map of Palestinian Territories

Short facts

Population:
4,685,306 million (World Bank 2019 est.)
Governmental Type:
Semi-presidential, parliamentary democracy
Ruling Coalition:
-
Last Elections:
25 January 2006 (parliamentary elections)
Next Elections:
22 May 2021 - 31 August 2021
Sister Parties:
Fatah
Image of Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas

President

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Image of Mohammed Shtayyeh (Source: https://www.google.com/search?q=Mohammad+Shtayyeh+flickr&rlz=1C1GCEU_nl&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjKyY2YlNfhAhXE6qQKHTBHCCQQ_AUIDigB&biw=1920&bih=937#imgrc=FXMkcVQ60La0jM:)

Mohammed Shtayyeh

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

Under the British Mandate, “Palestine” referred to the region which now includes the State of Israel and the Palestinian Territories - the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 1948, Israel declared independence according to the United Nations partition plan for Mandatory British Palestine. The envisaged Jewish state would comprise 56 percent of the mandate territory. Palestinians, supported by surrounding Arab countries, rejected the partition plan. The ensuing Arab-Israeli War (1948-1949) - known in Israel as the War of Independence and in Palestine as the Nakba (the catastrophe) - resulted in the occupation of the West Bank (Including East Jerusalem) by Transjordan and the Gaza Strip by Egypt. More than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs became refugees. It was the first in a series of wars fought between Israel and its Arab neighbours. 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 Agreements. 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). 

Under Israeli occupation Palestinian dissatisfaction grew over the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Palestinian (political) organizations like Fatah (founded in 1959), the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, founded in 1964) and Hamas (founded in 1987) were formed in this period. In 1987 the First Intifada (1987-1993) (literally translated as 'shaking off,' usually translated as 'uprising') broke out. The violence ended with the Oslo Accords in 1993, which 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). Despite the momentum of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at the time the effort became stalled.

During the Camp David summit in July 2000 Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Chairman of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat, 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 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the election campaign. The outbreak of the Second Intifada (2000-2005) was a fact and peace negotiations were ended. However, after the death of Arafat in November 2004 and the subsequent election of the moderate Mahmoud Abbas as the new President of the PA, both Israel and the PA on a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in 2005 declared their intentions of ending bloodshed and revitalizing the Roadmap for peace. However, the peace process reached a deadlock soon. While Israel withdrew from Gaza in September 2005, it continues to keep Gaza under blockade. Since 2005, Israel has only deepened its West Bank settlement project, and on the other hand, Palestinian political factions such as Hamas still refuse to recognise Israel’s right to exist. 

Victory Hamas parliamentary election

With the victory of Hamas in January 2006 in the Palestinian legislative elections, the tide turned once again.  Because of Hamas’ refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel, the Islamic party is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the European Union, the United States and other governments. A Hamas and Fatah unity government failed, among other reasons, because it is not acceptable to the international community. Early in June 2007, violence between Hamas and Fatah intensified, culminating in the Battle of Gaza, from 7 to 15 June. This led to the current situation in which the West Bank is ruled by the government under PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah), while Hamas controls Gaza. President Abbas decided to dissolve the unity government with Hamas 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) - in which Hamas has a majority with 74 seats. After the Fatah-Hamas rift, the PLC ceased to function, with the President issuing laws by emergency decree.

Gaza War

The takeover of Gaza by Hamas was met with an economic and political blockade by Israel. As a result a huge smuggling network was established that worked through tunnels under the 11 kilometer boundary between Egypt and Gaza, through the Sinai desert and Gaza‘s 40 kilometer coastline. Most important was the smuggling of arms that Hamas used to attack Israel. In June 2008 a six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed on. The truce was violated by both Hamas and the Israeli’s several times. On 27 December 2008 Israel started a surprise airstrike on Gaza, codenamed 'Operation Cast Lead' and on 3 January they started a ground offensive. After nearly a month Israel completed the withdrawal of their troops from the Gaza Strip on 21 January. Tensions between Hamas and Israel remained high after the war. There have been several incidents since 2009. Israel retailed against attacks from the Gaza Strip in 2012 and 2014.

According to the United Nations more than 3500 Palestinians were killed during these military operations, of which a large percentage civilians. 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. In February 2021, the International Criminal Court announced an investigation of war crimes committed by Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda named the Israel army and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

Israeli West Bank barrier

Since 2002, the 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 kilometer long barrier separates Israel and the Palestinian Territories mostly along the so-called 'Green Line', the territorial boundary the two parties agreed upon in 1949. Supporters of the barrier state that it is built 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. In 2004, the International Court of Justice said the building of the barrier in occupied Palestinian territory is illegal, and demanded the construction stop immediately. More than a decade later, the wall is still standing. Moreover, since 2012 Israel has stepped up its efforts to fortify its border. In 2018 the Defense Department announced it would also build an underground wall on the border with the Gaza Strip against tunnels. 

Women's rights 

According to Article 9 of the Palestinian Basic Law, which was amended in 2005, all Palestinians are equal before the law and there is no distinction between them on the basis of ethnicity, sex, colour, 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 strictly. Domestic abuse, rape and 'honour 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 such 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. Palestinian women have advocated for protective laws and cultural shifts in the treatment of victims for a number of years. UN reports describe the issue of violence against women as multifaceted, as both the Israeli military and internal domestic abuse are perpetrators of violence against Palestinian women. 

LGBTI rights in Palestine

Even though same-sex relationships are not criminalized in the West Bank, LGBTI individuals are still subject to ill treatment by the government. For example, in 2019, Palestinian Authority police said they would prevent activities by LGBTI-rights NGO alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society. This outraged human rights groups, but at the same time caused a wave of homophobic messages on social media inciting violence against members of the LGBTI community, including death threats. The Palestinian police quickly rescinded the statement. alQaws has documented eight cases of arbitrary arrests and ill treatment of LGBTI individuals by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Gaza, where the Islamic Hamas continues to govern, Section 152 of the Penal Code criminalizes consensual sexual activity between individuals of the same gender, which is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Recent developments

Following the Hamas–Fatah split in 2007,  numerous reconciliation attempts were undertaken. A 2012 deal paved the way for new parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Territories, but the accord fell apart during the 2012 municipal elections. New reconciliation initiatives were launched in the aftermath. In a 2017 Egypt-brokered agreement between the two parties, Hamas agreed to turn over control of  Gaza to the Fatah-led PA, but while small steps were taken, most deadlines were not met.  In February 2021, in Egypt’s capital, Palestinian factions including Fatah and Hamas reached an agreement on the “mechanisms” for new legislative and presidential elections, after a rapprochement between the two movements. 

Amidst the Palestinian reconciliation the conflict with Israel continues. Since the end of the Obama era, no new peace initiatives have been launched. The approach of the Trump Administration has heavily favoured Israel, and Palestinian-US relations have seriously detoriated as a result. Trump moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, with the PLO threatening in return to withdraw recognition of Israel. Beginning of 2020 the Trump administration presented the ‘Deal of the Century’, which would give Israel sovereignty west of the Jordan river, a capital in an undivided Jerusalem, and control over Jewish enclaves and settlements scattered through the Palestinian territories. The PA, all Palestinian factions and the Arab League rejected the deal, as it would mean a conditions-based path to statehood in a patchwork of territory carved up by Israeli roads and settlements. The US peace plan has pushed Hamas and Fatah ahead on reconciliation, several meetings were held in the beginning of 2020, but no concrete roadmap has been implemented. The new Biden administration is planning to repair US ties with the Palestinians, resuming hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance that was cancelled under Trump, and reopen the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission to Washington, which the Trump administration had shut down. The Biden government has also made it clear they want to re-establish the goal of a two-state solution as a priority in US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In January 2021, Abbas announced dates (May 22 and July 31, respectively) for the first parliamentary and presidential polls in 15 years. Palestinian factions including Fatah and Hamas have agreed on the “mechanisms” for the elections, in a deal reached in Egypt’s capital Cairo, including free campaigning and voting in each other’s territories. There is widespread scepticism among Palestinians about the elections, with many believing the elections are mainly an attempt by Abbas to show his commitment to democracy to new US President Joe Biden.

Timeline

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

2012

UN votes to recognize Palestine as 'non-member observer state'

2014

Operation "Protective Edge" (July-August)

2017

The United States recognizes Jerusalem as capital of Israel 

2019

The United States do not longer consider Israeli settlements illegal

2020

The United States presents 'Deal of the Century' which is immediately rejected by Palestinian leaders

2021

New parliamentary and presidential elections are announced by Abbas. Hamas, Fatah and other factions agree on the mechanisms for the elections, which are to be held in the summer.

Elections

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. Since 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, the whole country 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. Each list must also 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 per cent 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 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 Palestinian Territories were to take place.

In 2007 President Abbas unilaterally changed the electoral law to full proportional representation system (list system). 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.   In 2021, agreeing on the mechanisms for new elections, Hamas accepted the PLO’s status as the legitimate representative body of the Palestinian people, and a new proportional representation (national list) system for PLC elections, which is said to favour Fatah.

Gender representation

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. Since the last legislative elections, 17 out of 132 seats (13 per cent) in the Palestinian Legislative Council are held by women.

 

 

Parliamentary elections

On 25 January 2006, the first elections since 1996 for the Palestinian Legislative Council were held. The Islamic Hamas, that contested at the List of Change and Reform, won 74 seats; an absolute majority. 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 per cent. 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) were reported.

Alliances and Parties

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 (Palestine National Initiative and independents)

2 (2/0)

Third Way

2 (2/0)

Independents

4 (0/4)

Total

132 (66/66)

* Total seats (proportional/district seats)

 

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 mostly of Hamas members and includes one Christian and one woman. The government’s political programme stressed 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 considered negotiations with Israel (consequently referred to as ‘the occupation state’) if Israel completely withdraws its settlements from the Palestinian Territories. Until then, the government recognized any form of resistance as a legitimate right of the Palestinian people to end the occupation.

 

Presidential elections

The most recent Palestinian presidential elections took place on 9 January 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 per cent of the votes, with independent Mustafa Barghouti coming second, winning 19 per cent 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 due to discussions between his representatives and the Fatah leadership. 

Candidate

% of votes

Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah)

62.52 %

Mustafa Barghouti (Independent)

19.48 %

Taysir Khald (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine)

3.35 %

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 led 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 per cent according to the Palestinian Election Commission.

 

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Logo of Fatah (Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fatah_Flag.svg)

Fatah

Party Leader: Mahmoud Abbas

Number of seats: 45

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The Palestinian National Initiative (PNI)

Party Leader: Mustafa Barghouti

Number of seats: 2

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Other Parties

Logo of Hamas (Source: http://www.palestine-info.info/Ar/DataFiles/Contents/Files/Images/mainpage/hamas_logo100.gif)

Hamas

Party Leader: Yahya Sinwar (Gaza Strip), Sheik Hassan Youssef (Leader Hamas in the West Bank), Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas political chief and head of political bureau).

Number of seats: 74

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Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Party Leader: Ahmad Sa’adat

Number of seats: 3

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Biographies

Image of Mohammed Shtayyeh (Source: https://www.google.com/search?q=Mohammad+Shtayyeh+flickr&rlz=1C1GCEU_nl&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjKyY2YlNfhAhXE6qQKHTBHCCQQ_AUIDigB&biw=1920&bih=937#imgrc=FXMkcVQ60La0jM:)

Mohammed Shtayyeh

Prime Minister

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Image of Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas

President

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Image of Mustafa Barghouti

Mustafa Barghouti

Leader Palestinian National Initiative

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Image of Ismail Haniyeh

Ismail Haniyeh

Political leader Hamas

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Sources

Literature

  • 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.