Palestine - Political Leaders
The groundbreaking events at the Oslo Peace Conference between the Israelis and Palestinians began in September 1993. A declaration of principles outlined in a letter from Chairman Yasser Arafat committed the PLO movement to accept the right of Israel to exist as a state. In addition, Arafat also agreed to U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 that called for an exchange of land for peace, and renounced the use of terrorism and other acts of violence. In response, Israel recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people and agreed to negotiate with it.
The Palestinian cabinet assumed responsibility for health, education and culture, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism. The 88-seat Palestinian Authority (also called the Palestinian Legislative Council, or PLC), elected on January 20, 1996, and sworn in on March 7, 1996, and the 26-person cabinet named by President Yasser Arafat on May 9, 1996, assumed responsibility over other functions of government except for security and foreign relations, which Israel controlled through the five-year interim and into the final negotiating period.
For over a decade the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been divided into approximately 10 separate territorial units that have each maintained semi-independent micro-political / economic environments, while the central Palestinian governance resides in Ramallah.
Arafat named a new 34-person cabinet on August 5, 1998, to avoid a vote of confidence in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and on June 13, 2002, reduced the cabinet to 21 members as part of his reform program. The cabinet resigned on September 19, 2002. Arafat named Mahmoud Abbas to be Prime Minister on March 6, 2003. Abbas and his 24-person cabinet won a vote of confidence on April 29, 2003, and were sworn in the next day. Abbas and Arafat disagreed over control and reform of the police, and Abbas resigned on September 6. Arafat appointed PLC Speaker Ahmad Qurai as the new prime minister on September 10, 2003, but Qurai and Arafat had the same disagreement as Arafat and Abbas - who should control the police.
Yasser Arafat died on November 11, 2004, and no Palestinian leader has attained the level of prestige and support the former Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) once enjoyed. Arafat avoided the act of grooming a successor throughout his career, and in the wake of his demise there was nobody left to fill the void. Many surmised that the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections that took place in the post-Arafat era provided the Palestinians with an excellent opportunity to improve their day-to-day lives, renew public confidence in the government, bolster the peace process, and perhaps find their next great leader. In addition, his death provided an opportunity for Palestinians to reengage in diplomacy with a new leader who did not possess the onus that Arafat did in the eyes of the Israeli public and the Americans.
Internal challenges to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority began after the passing of Arafat, and many believed it would take a significant period of time - at least 2-3 years - before a new leadership gained power with credibility and legitimacy. There was no guarantee as to what kind of leadership would ultimately emerge. The vacuum that was created by the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority was filled by new local power holders, based on local clans or power barons, and created an overall environment of fragmentation.
Traditionally, leaders that provided the general population with an effective array of public services and voiced resistance to occupation have gained a sense of legitimacy within the realm of Palestinian politics. For a considerable period of time this referred to affiliations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, considered the "sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." After the first democratic elections in 1996, however, a new cadre of Palestinian organizations gained recognition as political powers. This included groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who had gained notoriety for their public service records and their attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets.
Mahmoud Abbas defeated six other candidates in the election held on January 9, 2005, to replace Arafat. On February 23, 2005, the Palestinian Legislative Council approved a new 24-person cabinet. Seventeen members of the new cabinet members were selected for their expertise rather than their loyalty to Arafat or Fatah, as had been the case in the past.
Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Israel repeatedly proclaimed its desire to negotiate with "responsible" Palestinians and sign a mutually beneficial agreement. In order to achieve this Sharon declared that his country was willing to make "painful concessions." Many analysts claimed that the Israeli government has continued to wait for the emergence of a Palestinian leadership willing to fight terror. President Bush stated in June 2002 that the Palestinians need "leaders [who] engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infra-structure."
Israel has conducted a war against terrorist acts for years and has sought to change the Palestinian leadership during that time. Policies and actions such as these took into account four distinct groups. The first was the international community, particularly the United States (and Europe, which was seen as less significant). Israel was earmarked to create a situation in which Arafat and his followers lost their legitimacy, which was created after Oslo, on an international level.
The second group included Arab leaders - most importantly those in Egypt, and the "Arab street," especially in Jordan. Although many within these circles were allied with Arafat they understood that he had to be replaced. The third group was the Israeli public, the majority of which had seen Arafat as a leader who deserved trust after Oslo. Although the terror campaigns and Al-Aqsa Intifada changed public opinion dramatically, there were still many people who were not in favor of an alternative to Arafat. The fourth group was the Palestinian people who accepted Arafat not only as a revolutionary leader and head of the Palestinian Authority, but also as a symbol.
A new power took charge within Palestinian politics at the beginning of 2003 when Hamas began to dominate the political agenda as a result of more and more Palestinians continuing to struggle in Gaza and the West Bank. The organization's solidarity and popularity increased when Israeli attacks targeted and killed Palestinian leaders within these territories, including Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. In the meantime, Fatah attempted to adapt to life after Arafat but struggled with its internal organization, policies, and accusations of corruption.
In the January 2006 parliamentary elections Hamas won a decisive victory and proceeded to form a government under the leadership of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The Quartet (the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia) demanded Hamas recognize Israel and renounce the use of violence in order to be accepted as a legitimate government. When Hamas refused the Quartet and Israel implemented a series of economic sanctions designed to pressure the Palestinian government to come to terms.
After nearly a year of service the government was forced to dissolve in favor of creating a unity government with its rival, Fatah, in February 2007. Prime Minister Haniyeh retained his position until fighting broke out between the two factions in May 2007. In June Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sacked the government and appointed an emergency cabinet after he accused Hamas of an attempted coup. Israel and the international community pledged their support for Abbas and announced their intentions to lift the economic sanctions that had been in place for over a year. Haniyeh declared that he would ignore Abbas's decree and stated that the government, under his authority, would continue to operate.
The appointment of a new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority by President Mahmoud Abbas received support from his Fatah movement, but criticism from the rival Hamas movement. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced 02 June 2013 that the head of the West Bank's Al-Najah University, Rami Hamdallah, had been designated to form a new government. He took over from outgoing Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who resigned in April 2013 but had stayed on as caretaker. Hamdallah, who has no prior government experience, told Palestinian radio he would move quickly to form a new government. He said this government would be a continuation of the previous government and the majority of ministers would keep their portfolios.
On June 23, 2013 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accepted the resignation of his newly appointed prime minister. Abbas' spokesman said the president has asked Rami Hamdallah's to stay on in a caretaker role until a replacement prime minister can be found. Hamdallah abruptly resigned over a conflict with his deputies. The prime minister served just two weeks on the job.
The Palestinian Legislative Council had not met since Hamas won controversial elections in 2007 and took power in Gaza the following year. Elections were to be held in 2009, but they have been postponed repeatedly. Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal to end their bitter four-year division in April 2011, but talks on the formation of a Palestinian unity government have been stalled.
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