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Palestine - Politics

Since 2006, the Palestinian side has been fractured by conflict between the two major factions: Fatah, the largest party, and Hamas. As a result, the territory controlled by the Palestinian National Authority (the Palestinian interim government) is split between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza strip. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States although it won the Palestinian elections of 2006; therefore, it has not been allowed to participate in official negotiations.

Fatah maintained dominance on the Palestinian political arena until the First Intifada (1987 — 1991). In 1987 Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni militant organization emerged as yet another rival of Israel. While the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 signed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel denounced armed resistance, Hamas refused to recognise the pacts' provisions. The Fatah-Hamas spat culminated in the 2007 Battle of Gaza, when the militants managed to take control of the Gaza Strip. As a result, the Palestinian territories were de facto divided between the two entities, although Fatah and Hamas signed the Mecca Agreement in February 2007 and agreed to form a national unity government.

In the January 25, 2006 Palestinian elections, Hamas won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council or Parliament. Of the 132-seat Parliament, Hamas won 76 seats, thereby ending the Fatah party's control of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah managed to win only 43 seats with the remaining 13 seats divided among smaller parties. Voter turnout was high, at 77.7 percent.

After months of intermittent talks, on February 8, 2007, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement to form a national unity government aimed at ending both the spasm of violence and the international aid embargo that followed the formation of the initial Hamas-led government. The accord was signed by PA President and Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas and Hamas political leader Khalid Mish'al in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, after two days of talks under the auspices of Saudi King Abdullah.

Under the agreement, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas remained prime minister. In the new government, Hamas controled nine ministries and Fatah six, with independents and smaller parties heading the remainder. Among the independents are Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, a reformer and ally of President Mahmud Abbas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas led Fatah controls West Bank and while Ismail Haniyeh led Hamas ruled over Gaza. Palestinians had long hoped for a healing of the political rift between the PLO and militant Hamas, which won a Palestinian election in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Western-backed Abbas in 2007. But reconciliation dreams have been dashed repeatedly in the past. Since 2011, Hamas and Fatah have failed to implement an Egyptian-brokered unity deal because of disputes over power-sharing and the handling of the conflict with Israel. Hamas has battled Israel, which it refuses to recognize, while Abbas's Fatah party has remained in control of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank and pursued years of fruitless talks with Israel.

Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas, committed unlawful killings in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip during 2011. Palestinian terrorist groups' killings remained a serious problem, particularly in the Gaza Strip, as did killings by Hamas-controlled security forces. Egregious human rights violations across the occupied territories include arbitrary arrest and associated torture and abuse, often with impunity and particularly against security or political prisoners. In addition to the lack of political freedom for residents of the Gaza Strip, human rights violations under Hamas reportedly included security forces killing, torturing, arbitrarily detaining, and harassing opponents.

Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions in the Gaza Strip also launched rockets and mortars against civilian targets in Israel, killing and injuring civilians. The Israeli government killed Palestinian civilians as well as militants, mostly in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank. Israeli security forces killed 105 Palestinians in Gaza and 10 in the West Bank during the year 2011. According to statistics maintained by the Israeli government and by the United Nations Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), 27 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem died in clashes with Israeli security forces during the year 2009. According to Israeli government figures, Palestinian deaths resulting from Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 totaled 1,166, including 295 noncombatant deaths. Human rights organizations estimated the number of dead at 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 1,000 civilians, and the wounded at more than 5,000.

Ramadan, which is the holiest month on the Muslim calendar, fell between 9 July - 8 August 2013. Observance of the festival includes the commandment to fast from sunrise to sunset, Friday prayers and celebrations with one's extended family. In order to ease conditions for those Palestinian residents observing the month of Ramadan, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories [COGAT] and the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria implemented a series of measures and gestures, with the emphasis on alleviating the waiting time at crossings and facilitating access by the population to the holy sites.

The easing of restrictions during the festival enabled for the first time residents aged over 60 to enter Israel without a permit throughout the Ramadan period, and for women (of all ages) and men (over the age of 40) to enter without a permit on Fridays. Similarly, the entry of 20,000 worshipers was permitted during weekdays (men and women over the age of 35). In addition to these alleviations of restrictions, the hours during which crossings are open were extended, numerous permits were given for family visits in Israel and internal crossings were opened to facilitate the movement of thousands of vehicles. During the month of Ramadan, approximately one million Palestinians entered Israel.

A unity government formed under a deal with rival group Hamas was sworn in 02 June 2014 by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "The government is a temporary one and its duty is to prepare for elections soon, in addition to its duty to help the people," Abbas said. Abbas said the new ministers are technocrats and independents who don't belong to either Fatah or Hamas and that the new government would abide by commitments made by previous Palestinian administrations and by agreements ratified by the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement 25 September 2014 for the Palestinian unity government to take control of the Gaza Strip under the stewardship of President Mahmoud Abbas. The understanding came after two days of talks in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. The deal between the two leading Palestinian parties was confirmed by senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk and Fatah's head of delegation, Azam al-Ahmad. The unity government will take over civil administration in Gaza from Hamas, which had controlled the enclave since 2007. The Palestinian national unity government had previously never been fully implemented following a dispute between Fatah and Hamas over the Palestinian Authority's non-payment of salaries to Gaza's public sector workers.

PA Military Intelligence reportedly exceeded its legal authority to investigate other security services’ officers and during 2014 detained civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorist activities. Hamas continued to charge that the PA detained individuals during the year solely on the basis of their Hamas affiliation, but the PA presented evidence it charged many of these individuals with criminal offenses under civil or military codes.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas reportedly detained a large but unverifiable number of persons during 2014, largely without recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. HRW reported Hamas internal security arrested individuals without presenting warrants, delayed their transfer to the prosecutor’s office (using incommunicado detention), did not inform families of detainees’ whereabouts promptly, and denied detainees’ access to a lawyer. There also were instances in which authorities retroactively issued arrest warrants and used military warrants to arrest civilians. In some cases authorities presented detainees to the military judiciary for civil cases.

In the Gaza Strip, individuals publicly criticizing authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and individuals associated with political factions accused of criticizing Hamas in public fora, such as on the internet, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza.

In July 2014 the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Civil Administration revived a policy of “punitive demolitions,” demolishing the home of a suspect in the April killing of an off-duty Israeli police officer in Hebron. With the exception of one such demolition in East Jerusalem in 2009, Israeli authorities had halted punitive demolitions since 2005 following recommendations of a military commission that found the practice did not act as a deterrent. In August 2014 authorities demolished the homes of two individuals suspected (although not captured, tried, or convicted) of the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers. Authorities sealed with concrete the home of a third suspect in this crime. According to NGOs, these demolitions displaced 23 individuals not charged with any criminal activity. Authorities carried out another punitive home demolition on the home of the family of an individual suspected of killing an Israeli police officer.

The rival Palestinian factions, Fatah led by Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas led by Ismail Haniyeh, agreed 23 April 2014 to form a national unity Government within five weeks. The two sides also decided to hold elections six month after a vote of confidence by the Palestinian parliament. This was announced at a joint press conference in Gaza where both the sides held two day long meetings. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said that the era of division was over and both the sides looked forward to achieve the common Palestinian goal.

Ahead of the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Mahmoud Abbas over the unity efforts. He told that in doing so, Abbas will have to choose between peace with Israel or Hamas. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, Abbas's signature on a unity accord with Hamas would be like signing the termination of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Fatah-Hamas meeting in Gaza was significant since it came at a time when US brokered West Asia peace talks were on the verge of collapse. US set a deadline of 29 April 2014 for Israeli and the Palestinian sides to agree on a framework to restart the negotiations which doesn’t seem in sight. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office that Abbas "chose Hamas and not peace. Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace."

The deal could give Abbas a measure of sovereignty in Gaza and help Hamas, hemmed in by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, become less isolated. But previous unity agreements signed with great fanfare had amounted to nothing, and the future of this deal may depend on whether the sides agree to extend US-brokered peace talks.

The Palestinian government announced its decision 05 October 2016 to postpone local and municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza for up to four months. The elections were initially to choose municipal councils in some 416 cities and towns in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The postponement came a day after the Palestinian high court ruled that the elections, initially scheduled for October 8, should be held only in the West Bank and not in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Fatah and Hamas were unable to overcome divisions to organise their first competitive polls in a decade. The Palestinians have not held an election in which both Hamas and Fatah took part since 2006. They have also not held a vote in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the same time since then. Hamas boycotted the most recent Palestinian municipal elections in 2012. Fatah's fear was that votes might be going to its arch rival, Hamas, even though there is popular discontent with Hamas' performance in Gaza.

The rift between Hamas and the PA began when Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. However, in January 2017 under a Russia-brokered deal, Fatah and Hamas formed a national unity government. The non-official Russian-mediated talks in Moscow began with the goal of restoring "the unity of the Palestinian people." Representatives from Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions were present at the meetings.

The two movements Fatah and Hamas, announced on 18 January 2017 a deal to form a new national unity government, which will aim to end ten years of division. The agreement was reached following three days of talks in the Russian capital Moscow between the two organizations. Abbas will have to consider the position of the regional Arab powers who might cast a veto on the whole thing because of their animosity toward Hamas.

The two organisations will form a new National Council, which will include Palestinians in exile and hold elections. "Today the conditions for [such an initiative] are better than ever," Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, said. The deal also includes the Islamic Jihad group, which had not been involved in negotiations for a long time.

The agreement in Russia signalled the Palestinians "looking away" from the United States, which has been involved in the peace process for decades. Historically, peace discussions have been dominated by the US. They are looking for a different approach, and Russia certainly offered a different approach.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank voted for mayors and local councils in municipal elections on 13 May 2013, their first democratic exercise in years. The election highlighted the deep rift between President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party and Islamist rival Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip. The West Bank and Gaza have not voted together since 2006, when Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Fatah and unaffiliated candidates close to Abbas were expected to win most seats in Saturday's election, as they did in 2012 polls boycotted by Hamas. Hamas did not present any candidate lists of its own, saying the vote would only add to divisions. Voting was also supposed to take place in the Gaza Strip, but was canceled when Hamas and several other Palestinian political factions chose to boycott it.

Some polls showed that Hamas would win any hypothetical parliamentary elections held now in both Gaza and the West Bank. But there are no concrete plans for presidential elections any time soon.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is run out of Ramallah by Fatah, which is one of Palestinian factions and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is run by Hamas, another Palestinian faction, and many other Palestinian factions are outside of this arrangement.

On 29 January 2019, the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah and the national unity government, which was formed in 2014 to reconcile the rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza, resigned. "The president will begin consultation to form a political government made up by factions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that will prepare for the holding of [a] new parliamentary election", Abbas stated. zthere would be little if any changes in the government's political course with regard to the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation process. The unity government was not allowed to really operate in the sense of having reconciliation, because the reconciliation agreement was not implemented by either Fatah or Hamas. Hamas feels pressure inside Gaza because of the bad economic situation in the region and "they are not willing to make any concessions to Fatah by giving up some of the absolute political control over Gaza.

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