What is the Palestinian Authority and how did it originate?
The 1993 Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP) was the first in a series of steps known as the “Oslo Peace Process”. The DOP set forth a two-phased timetable. The first phase, or the “interim period,” was to last five years, during which time Israel would incrementally withdraw from Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza Strip, while transferring administrative power to an elected Palestinian Authority (PA).
A transfer of powers and responsibilities for the Gaza Strip and Jericho took place pursuant to the Israel-PLO May 4, 1994 Cairo Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area. As an immediate result of this agreement, Yasser Arafat was able to return from the PLO exile in Tunisia to take control. The event was chillingly described by eyewitness Michael Kelly in his article titled "Promises but Never Peace":
- Arafat's entry into Gaza was an object lesson: a purposely uncaring display of brute power. He arrived from the Sinai in a long caravan of Chevrolet Blazers and Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, 70 or 80 cars packed to the rooflines with men with guns. The caravan roared up the thronged roads and down the mobbed streets, with the overfed, leather-jacketed, sunglassed thugs of Arafat's bodyguard detail all the time screaming and shooting off their Kalashnikovs to make their beloved people scurry out of their beloved leader's way.
The transfer from Israel to the Palestinian Authority took place in additional areas of the West Bank pursuant to the Israel-PLO September 28, 1995 Interim Agreement, the Israel-PLO January 15, 1997 Protocol Concerning Redeployment in Hebron, the Israel-PLO October 23, 1998 Wye River Memorandum, and the September 4, 1999 Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement.
After the interim period, the second phase was expected to be the "permanent status" or "final status" negotiations, to resolve "remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest." A final status agreement would mark the official peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including the possible establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.
The Palestinian Authority was given the responsibility for combating terrorism and coordinating security with Israel. Following the implementation of the Oslo agreements, the PA gained control over all of the Gaza Strip excluding Israeli settlements (over 85 percent of the area) and 39.7 percent of the territory of Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. The land areas were chosen so that ninety-nine percent of the Palestinian population resides under the Palestinian Authority's jurisdiction.
On January 20, 1996 Palestinian Arabs elected an 88-member legislative council and a president of the Palestinian Authority. The date of the elections was more than 18 months later than planned, a delay used by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yaser Arafat to consolidate his grip on the Palestinian populace and silence opposition. Any independent news sources were intimidated into silence and opposing political organizations quietly disappeared. Arafat manipulated the election with rules to forbid anyone from running against him without his express approval, as reported by the UN election observer team. Dr. Haider Abdul Shefi, who had led the PLO delegation at the Madrid negotiations in 1991, offered his candidacy, only to be rejected by Arafat. When Dr. Shefi said that he was going to run anyway, a bomb explosion in Dr. Shefi's home convinced him otherwise.
When the votes were counted, Arafat became the Palestinian Authority's first president, winning 88.1 percent of the vote; his main opponent, Samiha Yusuf Khalil, garnered 9.3 percent. The legislative contests, held in 16 districts of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, saw 50 of the 88 seats go to members of the Arafat's Fatah political movement and most of the rest go to parties who were reliably loyal to Arafat. International monitors noted a number of irregularities, but praised the high turnout and the efficient manner in which the elections were conducted. However, investigations have since documented the methods Arafat used to impose dictatorial rule and ensure his landslide victory.
Final status agreements between Israel and the PA have been delayed because the PA's commitment to Israel's security, embodied in a series of signed documents, has been only an illusion created to gain concessions. The years of the "Oslo Peace Process" have been filled with escalating violence and terrorism against Israel to the point where the time is known in Israel as the "Oslo War". The PA continues to wage the al-Aqsa intifada war of terrorism against Israel and the Oslo process seems to be dead.