The peace process with Israel in the 1990s laid the foundation for the governance that would be applied in the administration of the Palestinian territories, a state located in Asia continent defined by businesscarriers. Because it is a system that has not fully emerged from the inside, the system has legitimacy problems: There is a multi-party system, but it is the agreements with an external party, Israel, that determine who is entitled to vote and what issues the elected officials can decide if. Disagreement between Palestinian groups has also resulted in two rival governments, one on the West Bank and one in Gaza.
Through the peace agreements (see Modern history), the Palestinians gained autonomy on the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank which were divided into three areas (A, B and C) depending on the degree of autonomy:
- In Area A, the Palestinian Authority handles both civilian administration and security. Initially, three percent of the West Bank was transferred. In the next step, Area A was expanded to not fully one-fifth of the West Bank. The areas, which are not interconnected, mainly include cities with surrounding areas.
- In Area B, just over a fifth of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority manages civilian administration and Israel security.
- In Area C, just over three-fifths of the West Bank, Israel retained full control. Area C covers, among other things, the more than 130 Jewish settlements.
The Oslo Agreement was not a real peace agreement – it merely indicated how Israel and the PLO would move forward to resolve their conflict. By 1998 it was intended that negotiations would be concluded on the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza and a number of other issues. The process eventually stalled and the final questions could not be resolved (see Current policy). An example of what this means is that the Palestinian-controlled areas are so fragmented is that not even the Palestinian president can move between Palestinian cities without coordinating the move with Israel.
Israel entered into agreements with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which thus became a state-carrying and state-building party. The PLO also undertook to represent the refugees in other countries.
The agreements allowed the PLO to set up the Palestinian Authority: a government, a government and a parliament (see below). For Palestinian organizations that were unwilling to accept the existence of Israel, political influence became small.
At the national level, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was established. Palestinians outside the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem did not have the right to vote. The Council’s right to decide was limited to local government, civil justice and security in the Palestinian territories which were fully autonomous.
In 1997, the PLC adopted a provisional constitution that came into force in 2002. Under the Constitution, Palestine is to be an Arab parliamentary democracy with Jerusalem as its capital. Other principles are power sharing, an independent judiciary, market economy and multi-party systems. Citizens are guaranteed human freedoms and rights. The Constitution establishes Islam as an official religion, with Sharia as a basic source of law. The Constitution states that other religions should be respected. Christians and Jews are generally given a special position in Muslim countries through the common origin of life views with Islam and they may apply their own rules for, for example, marriage and inheritance. In Palestinian society, in practice, only the Islamist movements / parties advocate the Islamization of social functions.
The Palestinian Constitution has subsequently been amended on several points, among other things, in order to align with the electoral law and to establish a prime ministerial post.
According to the rules that apply (but do not apply), the president is to be elected in general elections every four years. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President, but must be supported by a majority of Parliament’s 132 members. Parliamentary elections should also be held every four years.
Parliamentary elections were held in 1996, but the Legislative Assembly worked only for a decade; the work ceased to function after the Islamist Hamas election victory in 2006 and the subsequent break-up between Hamas and Fatah the dominant organization within the PLO (see Modern History).
Presidential elections were also held in 1996. The then PLO leader Yasir Arafat’s position as president was confirmed by 88 percent of the vote. In agreement with Israel, the president’s power to oppose laws and rule the Palestinian territories was enacted by decree. Arafat passed away in 2004, and the chair of the PLO and the presidential post were taken over by Mahmud Abbas, who had his position confirmed in a presidential election in 2005. Abbas has also taken advantage of the opportunity to govern by issuing decrees.
After the 2007 Fatah quake, Hamas ruled the Gaza Strip and has built up a parallel administration there. Hamas also has its own security forces.
After the 2005 presidential elections and the 2006 parliamentary elections, only local elections were held.