Fact Sheet: The Palestinian Authority

July 02, 2021 IMEU

What is the Palestinian Authority (PA)?

  • The Palestinian Authority (also known as the Palestinian National Authority) is a governmental body established during the 1990s as part the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
  • The PA was supposed to be a temporary government on the way to the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied Palestinian territories (West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza) by 1999 as part of a two-state solution and permanent regional peace agreement, but that never happened because Israel refused to end its military rule over Palestinians and continued to expand Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law.
  • The PA has no sovereignty or real power, operating in parts of the occupied West Bank and Gaza under the overall control of the Israeli military. This means the Israeli army can, and frequently does, invade areas supposedly under PA control injuring, killing, and imprisoning Palestinians at will, as part of an effort to stamp out resistance to its occupation and theft of land for settlements. It also means Israel controls virtually all aspects of life for Palestinians in the occupied territories, including where and when they can travel, where they can live and build, imposing a web of restrictions and obstacles that make a normal life impossible. 
  • The PA has an elected presidency and unicameral legislative council. However, Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded the PA’s first president, Yasser Arafat, after his death in 2004, has ruled by presidential decree since his initial electoral mandate expired in 2009 and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not been convened in years.


What does the PA control?

  • The PA nominally controls just 17% of the occupied West Bank (known as “Area A” under the Oslo Accords), where most Palestinians in the West Bank live. Gaza is also classified Area A, however the PA has been effectively shut out of the tiny coastal strip for more than a decade following the split between the Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas. (See here for map of Areas A, B, and C.)
  • In Area A, the PA is responsible for administering the functions of local government, like education, health care, trash collection, and policing. (Note: Under international law, as the occupying power Israel still bears ultimate responsibility for ensuring the health and well-being of Palestinians in the occupied territories, including vaccinating them from Covid-19.) The PA also operates in a further 23% of the West Bank administering civil affairs and PA police working directly with the Israeli army, as opposed to PA police operating under the overall control of the Israeli army like in Area A. This is known as “Area B.”
  • Paramilitary PA police, funded and trained by the US, also work closely with the Israeli army to suppress resistance to Israel’s occupation and the PA itself, including violently suppressing peaceful protest and political dissent. As the PA has outlived its original purpose of a transitional body on the way to statehood and grown more repressive, it has been increasingly seen by Palestinians as a subcontractor for Israel’s occupying army, protecting Israel’s settlers and soldiers as they continue to steal Palestinian land and homes and deny Palestinians their freedom. PA police cannot even arrest Israelis who have committed crimes against Palestinians in Area A. Israeli settlers frequently terrorize and attack Palestinians and their property, often under the protection of Israeli soldiers, and PA police do nothing. The PA spends more of its budget on policing than education, health, and agriculture combined. 


What does Israel control?

  • Israel controls all of the borders of the occupied territories, including the airspace and the coast of Gaza, and the entry and exit of people and goods. Israel places numerous restrictions on the movement of people and commercial goods into and out of the occupied territories and within them, making it impossible for people to live an ordinary life and constricting the Palestinian economy.  
  • Within the occupied territories, Israel’s army directly and completely controls approximately 60% of the West Bank, known as “Area C” under the Oslo Accords. This encompasses most of Israel’s illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley. (See here for map showing Area C.) In the 23% of the West Bank known as Area B, the Israeli army is also in direct control.
  • Israel controls the natural resources of the occupied territories, including precious fresh water supplies, using them in violation of international law and allocating a far greater amount to Jewish settlers living illegally in the West Bank than Palestinians living all around them, many of whom don’t have access to the minimum required for daily subsistence.
  • Israel collects taxes from Palestinians, including on imports and exports, which it is supposed to transfer to the PA. However, Israel has frequently withheld payment in order to pressure PA leaders or as a punishment.
  • Israel also controls the digital spectrum, denying Palestinian cell phone users and businesses 4G and 5G service. 


What is the difference between the PA and the PLO?

  • The PA is only supposed to represent Palestinians in the occupied territories. The PLO is supposed to represent Palestinians everywhere, a majority of whom live in exile outside of Palestine/Israel, prevented from returning by Israel because they aren’t Jewish. The PLO is also legally responsible for conducting negotiations with Israel.
  • Since it was established, the PA has been dominated by the Fatah party, first led by Yasser Arafat and then current PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Since the 1960s, Fatah has also dominated the PLO, which is supposed to be an umbrella organization representing all Palestinians.