FACTS – POLITICS
State of Palestine / Dawlat Filastin
Head of State
President Mahmud Abbas (elected in 2005; Abbas’s term expired in 2009 but as no new elections have been held he has remained in office)
Head of government
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (2019–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Hamas (74), Fatah 45, PLFP (3), Alternative List (2), Third Road (2), Independent Palestine (2) and Independent Candidates (4) (2006)
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (Munazzamat al-Tahrir al-Filastiniyya, abbreviated to PLO) is an umbrella organization with a central role in Palestinian politics since it was formed in the 1960s. PLO’s largest and most influential faction is the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Harakat al- Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini, abbreviated as Fatah). Other, significantly smaller but significant, member organizations in the PLO are the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), both of which have a Marxist background and have been in opposition to Fatah. The DFLP has been particularly committed to women’s rights.
The PLO was founded in 1964, when several movements aimed to liberate Palestine – all of historic Palestine – with armed struggle and guerrilla activity targeting Israel. The organization was formed on the initiative of Arab countries, but Palestinian movements that organized themselves in exile soon took control of it. The guerrilla groups’ transformation into political parties took place gradually. The PLO’s armed branch, through the Oslo process, came largely to constitute the Palestinian Authority security forces.
PLO is a secular movement – politically more than religious. The Palestinian National Council (PNC in English abbreviation) is the PLO’s highest decision-making body and is in effect a Palestinian parliament with over 700 members.
The PLO Executive Committee, with 18 members who will be members of the National Council, is the organization’s board of directors and makes decisions by a simple majority. The internationally best known politicians alongside Mahmud Abbas are Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erakat. Both were deeply involved in the peace process in the 1990s, Erakat as chief negotiator.
The Palestinian Central Council with 124 members holds a position in the PLO between the National Council and the Executive Committee.
Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, Hamas) was formed in the Gaza Strip in 1987 and quickly developed into the largest opposition group against Fatah. Politically, Hamas can be described as religiously nationalistic. Hamas has Islamized the society with Sunni Muslim ideals and pursues social activities in overcrowded Gaza, which in the beginning built up popular support for the movement. Hamas has not recognized Israel and rejected the political agreements on Palestinian autonomy. In 2005, Hamas chose to change its footing and stand for election – Hamas also won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. In new guidelines 2017, the anti-Jewish formulations that still remain in Hamas’ constitution were softened. The idea of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as the territory of a Palestinian state were accepted but without a pronounced recognition by the State of Israel. Hamas has an active armed branch, named after the preacher Izz al-Din al-Qassam (1882-1935) and several countries classify the entire movement as a terrorist group.
Hamas does not participate in the PLO cooperation, but three posts out of the 18 members of the PLO’s executive committee have been left vacant for Hamas and two other smaller organizations that boycotted the meeting.
Islamic Jihad, Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami fi Filastin, is a militant Sunni Muslim organization targeting its operations in Israel, especially from Gaza. The organization is terrorized by, among others, the EU. Islamic jihad stands outside the PLO.
In 2002, the Palestinian National Initiative (al-Mubadara al-Wataniyya al-Filastiniyya, PNI) was formed as a secular and almost social-democratic third way alternative for voters who perceive Fatah as top-down and corrupt and Hamas in the Gaza Strip as fundamentalist and extremist. PNI is led by Mustafa Barghouti, who ran for president in 2005. In the 2006 parliamentary elections, the party received two seats.
Palestine has no air force, no navy and no conventional army with, for example, armored forces. In peace talks with Israel – which has all kinds of high-tech weapons systems – there has consistently been an Israeli demand that the Palestinian side be demilitarized.
However, the Palestinian Authority manages security in Area A – the enclaves on the West Bank – and, on paper, in the Gaza Strip, but there Hamas has the actual control since 2007.
When the Palestinian Authority was formed in 1994, now-defunct President Yasir Arafat was criticized for setting up too many different security forces and allowing them to swell to cover too many employees. Among other things, it was a way for Arafat to gather various guerrilla movements and provide for the men who laid down their weapons with the peace agreements. Arafat used the forces fiercely against Palestinian dissent, especially those who opposed the peace agreements.
When the peace process derailed and the second Palestinian uprising against Israel, al-Aqsa intifada, erupted in 2000, the escalation of violence and the Palestinian forces’ participation in the uprising led to harsh Israeli action. A reorganization of the Palestinian Authority’s forces followed, under international pressure against Arafat. The number of forces was reduced. As a result of this, militant movements outside the recognized Palestinian administration were given the opportunity to take the initiative and grow.
Today, the Palestinian security services comprise four branches: national security, internal security, intelligence service and a presidential guard. The president is the commander in chief. The 1990s peace agreement also allows Palestinian police with tasks of a more ordinary nature, such as maintaining public order and guarding buildings.
The import of weapons should be controlled by Israel.