The Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA) is a semi-autonomous state institution nominally governing the bulk of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (which it calls "the Palestinian Territories"). It was established as a part of Oslo accords between the PLO and Israel. The Palestinian Authority has control over both security-related and civilian 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 understanding 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 official uniformed armed services which ranges from 40,000 to 80,000-man(1) employing armored cars and whose members carry automatic weapons. Officially termed a "police force", it is criticized as being something in between a militia and an army, which would be a violation of the Oslo Accords which limit the PA to a police force of 30,000 without any para-military or military groups or formations.
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, reducing the popularity of the PA.
From the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1993 until the death of Yasser Arafat in late 2004, only one election had taken place. All other elections have been deferred for various reasons.
A single election for president and the legislature took place in 1996. The next presidential and the legislature election were scheduled for 2001. However, following Arafat's death, elections for the President of the Authority were announced for January 9 2005. The PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas won a large majority in the elections. .
On May 10, 2004 the Palestinian Cabinet announced that municipal elections would take place for the first time. Currently, municipal leaders are appointed. Elections were announced for August 2004 in Jericho, followed by certain municipalities in the Gaza Strip. In July 2004 these elections were postponed. Issues with voter registration are said to have contributed to the delay. Municipal elections took place for council officials in Jericho and 25 other towns in the West Bank on December 23, 2004. On January 27, 2005 municipal elections took place in the Gaza Strip for officials in 10 local councils.
The Palestinian Authority has historically been associated with the PLO, with whom Israel negotiated in the Oslo accords; as such, it had 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), a militant branch of the PLO and Fatah established during 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 refused to negotiate deals with Arafat, whom they regarded as linked to terrorists, though Arafat was received and recognized by leaders around the world up until his death in France. Arafat was leader of the PLO, regarded by some Western analysts as a "terrorist" group despite its observer status at the United Nations.
Arafat's administration was criticized for its lack of democracy, the wide-spread corruption among officials, and the division of power among families and numerous governmental agencies with overlapping functions. Thus, Yasser Arafat controlled 8 distinct security organizations through various mechanisms, and his education ministry boasts 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; critics 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 had 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.
Arafat has been criticized for an alleged divide et impera scheme, which is claimed to have guaranteed that in the atmosphere of power-struggle forever present in the Authority, he was always able to control the antagonists by repressing them with the help of his comrades; an added value is that he was 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 rewarded for their membership with the power, goods and income flows (such as controlling the taxation of some kind of activities).
While granting the aforementioned advantages, this alleged scheme also meant that Arafat's overall control had diminished, parts of it being split among his subordinates. This in turn meant that he was less able to cope with non-PLO organizations, mainly the Islamic militant movements Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. While on the street, the PLO and these movements are often at odds, critics claim there's a higher-order relationship among them when it comes to external affairs, in which Arafat regulated the movements' activities (see violence against Israel), for the sake of what he called "Palestinian national interest", in return for protecting them. See PLO and Hamas for more discussion on this relationship. 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 so called "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 accused 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 (extra-judicially) in action because of their alleged 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 arrested and convicted Marwan Barghouti, a prominent leader of Fatah, for his role as leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Barghouti maintains his innocence, and rejects the impartiality of the Israeli courts.
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. This is because these repeated degradations of PA resources and infrastructure have led to complaints by the PA and some of its EU funders that Israel is deliberately hobbling the PA to restrict its powers of law enforcement in order to present an image of terrorism and lawlessness in the Palestinian Territories. Israel claimed that the current Palestinian Authority under Arafat is fradulent and impossible to trust, and hence no longer relevant to achieving a future peace agreement.
On July 7, 2004, the Quartet of Middle East mediators informed Ahmed Queria, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, that they are "sick and tired" of the Palestinians failure to carry out promised reforms: "If security reforms are not done, there will be no (more) international support and no funding from the international community" (Reuters)
On July 18, 2004, United States President George W. Bush stated that the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005 is unlikely due to instability and violence in the Palestinian Authority. (Le Figaro)
- In order for there to be a Palestinian state, it is essential for its leaders to be open to reform and be dedicated to their people.
- The problem of the Palestinians is a territorial one – they have no state and they have no leaders. Palestinians that want change need to demand that a security force be established. The real problem is that there is no leadership that is able to say 'help us establish a state and we will fight terror and answer the needs of the Palestinians'.
Following Arafat's death on November 11, 2004, Rawhi Fattuh, leader of the Palestinian Legislative Council became Acting President of the Palestinian Authority as provided for in Article 119 of Constitution of the State of Palestine.
- In accordance with the election’s law, the ballot for the election of the new President shall be held not more than sixty days after the beginning of the vacancy.
In the Palestinian presidential election, 2005 which took place on January 9, 2005 voters elected Mahmoud Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority.
On 16 March 2005, Israel officially handed over Jericho to Palestinian control as the first of five towns of the West Bank, with Tulkarm, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Bethlehem to follow.
Use of European Union assistance
In February 2004, it was reported that the European Union (EU) 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. A provisional assessment released in August 2004 said that "To date, there is no evidence that funds from the non-targeted EU Direct Budget Assistance to the Palestinian Authority have been used to finance illegal activities, including terrorism."
A separate EU "Working Group" has issued a report in April 2004, adopted by a 7-6 vote, which covers the period from the end of 2000 to the end of 2002, states that EU aid has not been siphoned off to Palestinian militants carrying out attacks on Israelis: "There is no conclusive evidence, to date, that the EU non-targeted direct budgetary support was used to finance illegal activities, including the financing of terrorism". The wording left a large loophole, and British European Parliament Member Charles Tannock, who was part of the probe, describes the report as "a partial whitewash." "The Working Group Majority Report has chosen to ignore signed payment orders by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to the tune of $39,000 to people linked to terrorist activities or their families on the basis that these are circumstantial evidence only and do not prove anything, as payment cannot actually have been shown to have taken place"
The EU has changed the way it funded the Palestinians and now targeted aid for specific purposes. From April 2003, money is only handed over if various conditions are met, such as the presentation of invoices for bills the Palestinians need to pay. The EU remains the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority.
In April 2004, it was claimed in an Israeli newspaper that General Haj Ismail Jabber, commander of the Palestinian Authority's National Security force, considered the largest of the Palestinian security forces, has been collecting the salaries for 37,000 members when the force has only 30,000. The General has been pocketing the difference of $2 million each month. Furthermore, the General has been receiving the salaries based upon the international currency exchange rate of 4.5/US dollar and paying the force members at the exchange rate of 3.7/US dollar, resulting in an additional $500,000 for the General each month. 
Payments to militants in prison
On July 22, 2004, Salam Fayyad Minister of Finance of the Palestinian Authority in an article in the Palestinian weekly, The Jerusalem Times, detailed the following payments to Palestinians imprisoned for terrorist offences by the Israeli authorities:
- 1. Prisoner allowances increased between June 2002 and June 2004 to $9.6m monthly, an increase of 246 percent compared with January 1995-June 2002.
- 2. Between June 2002 and June 2004, 77 million shekels were delivered to prisoners, compared to 121 million between January 1995 and June 2002, which is an increase of 16 million shekels yearly. The increase of annual spending between the two periods registers 450 percent, which is much higher than the percentage of increase of the number of prisoners.
- 3. Between 2002 and 2004, the PNA paid 22 million shekels to cover other expenses — lawyers’ fees, fines, and allocations for released prisoners. This includes lawyers’ fees paid directly by the PNA and fees paid through the Prisoners Club.
Allegations of lawlessness in Palestinian areas
Desecration of holy sites
Under the Oslo Accords, the PA accepted the obligations to safeguard the holy sites, Jewish and Christian, and ensure unrestricted access by worshipers. The following accusations have been made against the PA:
- The Abraham's Oak "Holy Trinity" Monastery located in Hebron belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church was seized on July 5, 1997 by Palestinian Authority policemen who physically removed the monks and nuns. Several of the monks and nuns required hospitalization.
- Hours after the Israeli evacuation from Shechem (Nablus) on October 7, 2000, Palestinians desecrated and burned down the Patriarch Joseph's Tomb. The Associated Press reported that within two days "the dome of the tomb was painted green and bulldozers were seen clearing the surrounding area". It was destroyed again on October 16, 2003. (See The IDF statement, Shechem.org, WND, Palestinefacts.org)
- Palestinian fugitives evading the IDF forced their way into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and damaged the building during their stay therein. 
- The Palestinian Authority has allowed the PLO to use The Church of Saint Nicholas in Beit Jala as a base for machine gun and mortar attacks on the Israeli community Gilo .
- A yeshiva built next to the site of a 1000-year-old synagogue near Jericho, entrusted to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords, has been burned and razed.
Violence against civilians
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group reports everyday disagreements and clashes between the various political factions, families and cities that a complete picture of Palestinian society is painted. These divisions have during the course of the al Aqsa Intifada also led to an increasingly violent ‘Intrafada’. In the 10 year period from 1993 to 2003, 16% of Palestinian civilian deaths were caused by Palestinian groups or individuals.
Erika Waak reports in The Humanist Of the total number of Palestinian civilians killed during this period by both Israeli and Palestinian security forces, 16 percent were the victims of Palestinian security forces.
Accusations of collaboration with Israel are used to target and kill individual Palestinians:
Those who are convicted have either been caught helping Israelis, spoken out against Arafat, or are involved in rival criminal gangs, and these individuals are hung after summary trials. Arafat creates an environment where the violence continues while silencing would-be critics, and although he could make the violence impossible, he doesn't stop it.
Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World 2001-2002, reports Civil liberties declined due to: shooting deaths of Palestinian civilians by Palestinian security personnel; the summary trial and executions of alleged collaborators by the Palestinian Authority (PA); extra-judicial killings of suspected collaborators my militias; and the apparent official encouragement of Palestinian youth to confront Israeli soldiers, thus placing them directly in harm's way.
Palestinian security forces have, as of March 2005, not made any arrests for the October 2003 killing of three Americans members of a diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip. Moussa Arafat, head of the Palestinian Military Intelligence and a cousin of then Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has stated regarding the United States pressure to arrest the killers that "They know that we are in a very critical position and that clashing with any Palestinian party under the presence of the occupation is an issue that will present many problems for us". Since the October 2003 attack, United States diplomats have been banned from entering the Gaza Strip. 
It is claimed that some of the smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt and the Gaza Strip are controlled by one of the Palestinian Authority security services under Moussa Arafat's command. He is accused of receiving a portion of the profits derived from the smuggling tunnels. 
Violence against officials
On October 15, 2003, three members of a United States diplomatic convoy were killed and additional members of the convoy wounded three kilometers south of the Erez Crossing into the Gaza Strip by a terrorist bomb. The perpetrators remain at large.
In February 2004 Ghassan Shaqawa (the mayor of Nablus) filed his resignation from office in protest of the Palestinian Authority's lack of action against the armed militias rampaging the city and the multiple attempts by Palestinian terrorists to assassinate him. Gaza's police chief, General Saib al-Ajez, later would say: "This internal conflict between police and the militants cannot happen. It is forbidden. We are a single nation and many people know each other and it is not easy to kill someone who is bearing a weapon to defend his nation." 
Through the first three months of 2004, a number of attacks on journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been blamed on the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, most clearly the attack on the Arab television station Al-Arabiya's West Bank offices by masked men self-identifying as members of the Brigades. Palestinian journalists in Gaza called a general strike on February 9 to protest this rising violence against journalists.
Karen Abu Zayd, deputy commissioner general for the UN Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip stated on February 29, 2004: "What has begun to be more visible is the beginning of the breakdown of law and order, all the groups have their own militias, and they are very organized. It's factions trying to exercise their powers." 
Ghazi al-Jabali, the Gaza Strip Chief of Police, since 1994 has been the target of repeated attacks by Palestinians. In March 2004, his offices were targeted by gunfire. In April 2004, a bomb was detonated destroying the front of his house. In July 17, 2004, he was kidnapped at the at gunpoint following an ambush of his convoy and wounding of two bodyguards. He was released several hours later. (Reuters) Less than six hours later, Colonel Khaled Abu Aloula, director of military coordination in the southern part of Gaza was abducted.
On July 17 eve, Fatah movement members kidnapped 5 French citizens (3 men and 2 women) and held hostage in Red Crescent Society building in Khan Yunis:
- Palestinian security officials said that the kidnapping was carried out by the Abu al-Rish Brigades, accused of being linked to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction. 
On July 18, Arafat replaced Ghazi al-Jabali, with his nephew Moussa Arafat, sparking violent riots in Rafah and Khan Yunis in which members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades burned PA offices and opened fire on Palestinian policemen. During the riots at least one Palestinian was killed and dozen more seriously wounded.
On July 20, 2004 David Satterfield, the second-in-charge at the United States Department of State Near East desk stated in hearing before the Senate that the Palestinian Authority has failed to arrest the Palestinian terrorists who murdered three members of an American diplomatic convoy traveling in the Gaza Strip on October 15, 2003. Satterfield states:
- There has been no satisfactory resolution of this case. We can only conclude that there has been a political decision taken by the chairman (Yasser Arafat) to block further progress in this investigation.
On July 21, Nabil Amar , former Minister of Information and a cabinet member and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was shot by masked gunmen, after an interview to a TV channel in which he criticized Yasser Arafat and called for reforms in the PA. 
Regarding the descent into chaos Cabinet minister Qadoura Fares stated on July 21, 2004:
- Every one of us is responsible. Arafat is the most responsible for the failure. President Arafat failed and the Palestinian government failed, the Palestinian political factions failed. 
On July 22, 2004, The United Nations elevated its threat warning level for the Gaza Strip to "Phase Four" (one less than the maximum "Phase Five") and plans to evacuate non-essential foreign staff from the Gaza Strip. 
The firing of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel is strongly opposed by those living closest to the firing location due to frequent Israeli military responses to Qassam rocket launches. On July 23, 2004, an Arab boy was shot and killed by Palestinian terrorists of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades after he and his family physically opposed their attempt to set up a Qassam rocket launcher outside the family's house. Five other individuals were wounded in the incident.  
On July 25, 2004, 20 members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades seized the governor's office in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis. Among their demands are that Yasser Arafat's cousin, Moussa Arafat be dismissed from his post as chief of general security in Gaza. In a separate attack, unidentified persons stormed a police station and burned the structure causing extensive damage.
On July 31, Palestinian kidnappers in Nablus seized 3 foreign nationals, an American, British and Irish citizen. They were later released. Also, a PA security forces HQ building was burnt down in Jenin by the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. A leader of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said they torched the building because new mayor Qadorrah Moussa, appointed by Arafat, had refused to pay salaries to Al Aqsa members or to cooperate with the group. 
On August 8, 2004 the Justice Minister Nahed Arreyes resigned stating that he has been stripped of much of his authority over the legal system. The year before, Yasser Arafat created a rival agency to the Justice Ministry and was accused of continuing to control the judiciary and in particular the state prosecutors. (AP)
On August 10, 2004, a report by an investigation committee Palestinian Legislative Council for the reasons for the anarchy and chaos in the PA was published by Haaretz daily newspaper. The report puts the main blame on Yasser Arafat and the PA's security forces, which "have failed to make a clear political decision to end it".
The report states,
- "The main reason for the failure of the Palestinian security forces and their lack of action in restoring law and order" ...
- "is the total lack of a clear political decision and no definition of their roles, either for the long term or the short."
The report also calls to stop shooting Qassam rockets and mortar shells on Israeli settlements because of it hurts "Palestinian interests".
Hakham Balawi sais:
- "... It is prohibited to launch rockets and to fire weapons from houses, and that is a supreme Palestinian interest that should not be violated because the result is barbaric retaliation by the occupying army and the citizenry cannot accept such shooting. Those who do it are a certain group that does not represent the people and nation, doing it without thinking about the general interest and public opinion in the world and in Israel. There is no vision or purpose to the missiles; the Palestinian interest is more important" 
Despite the criticism against Yasser Arafat, the troubles continued. On August 24, the Lieutenant Commander of the Palestinian General Intelligence in the Gaza Strip, Tareq Abu-Rajab, was shot by group of armed men. He was seriously injured. 
On August 31, the Jenin Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, threaten to kill Minister Nabil Shaath for participating in a conference in Italy attended by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, declaring "He will be sentenced to death if he enters. The decision cannot be rescinded, we call upon his bodyguards to abandon his convoy in order to save their lives." 
On September 8, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, threatens to resign, again. Three weeks have elapsed since he retracted is resignation, originally tendered six weeks ago. 
On October 12, Moussa Arafat, cousin of Yasser Arafat and a top security official in the Gaza Strip, survived a car bomb assassination attempt. Recently the Popular Resistance Committees threatened Moussa Arafat with retaliation for an alleged attempt to assassinate its leader, Mohammed Nashabat. 
On October 14, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei stated that the Palestinian Authority is unable to stop the spreading anarchy. While routinely blaming Israel for the PA's problems, he pointed out that the many PA security forces are hobbled by corruption and factional feuding. Due to the lack of governmentals reforms demanded by international peace mediators, Palestinian legislators demanded Qurei present a report on the matter by October 20, at which point they will decide upon holding a no-confidence vote. 
On October 19, a group of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades members, led by Zakariya Zubeidi, seized the Palestinan Finance ministry and Palestinian parliament. 
Legal action against Palestinian Authority
On July 5, 2004, a federal court in the United States issued a default judgement against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO regarding the Ungar's claim that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO provide safe haven to Hamas. The default judgement was issued when those organizations refused to comply with discovery requests and refused to make Yasser Arafat, and other PLO leaders, available for questioning. Previously the court found Hamas guilty in a civil lawsuit regarding the 1996 murders of Yaron and Efrat Ungar near Beit Shemesh, Israel. Hamas has been ordered to pay the families of the Ungar's $116 million.
Recently, the Israeli court ordered the PA to pay $110 million to the family of Gilad Zar murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
David Hirst, "The New Oppressor of the Palestinians," Guardian (London), July 6, 1996, reprinted in World Press Review, October 1996, p. 11. Hirst suggests that there are 40,000-50,000 security officers. For Israeli press reports about there being 40,000 officers, see Steve Rodan, "Gov't: PA Has 16,000 More Policemen than Permitted by Oslo," Jerusalem Post (international edition), May 2, 1998, p. 3. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli defense sources said in September 1996 that the number of armed men in the PA had risen to 80,000. See Steve Rodan, "Palestinians Have 80,000 Armed Fighters," Jerusalem Post, September 27, 1996, p. 5.