The Palestinian Authority (or "PA" - which the Palestinians have renamed the "Palestinian National Authority" or "PNA") was created through the Oslo Accords of 1993 - a series of agreements concluded between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.
The PA was created as an interim governing body while Palestinians and Israelis were negotiating a final resolution of their conflict - which should have occurred by 1999 under the accords. Still, the PA is treated as if it enjoyed a continuing legal mandate. In 2013, Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree changing the PA’s name to the State of Palestine, after the United Nations General Assembly voted in 2012 to recognize Palestine as an observer state. Despite this change, it is still commonly referred to as the PA.
The PA was to take partial administrative and security responsibility over areas within the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Israeli troops withdrew from those areas. The two regions were subdivided into "A", "B", and "C" areas. In "A" areas, the PA has full civil administrative responsibility (i.e. running municipal governments, courts, schools, and other services), and was also responsible for security.
In "B" areas, the PA has civil administrative responsibility, but shared security responsibility with the Israeli military.
In "C" areas, Israeli military government exercises both civil administrative and security functions.
The "A" and "B" areas contain the majority of the built-up areas and therefore most of the Palestinian population of the West Bank. However, the "A" areas, where the PA exercises sole security responsibility, has never exceeded more than 18% of the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, "A" areas constituted about 70% of the region, prior to Israel's withdrawal in 2005.
The PA lacks authority over Israeli settlers and settlements, borders, airspace, water, and a variety of other spheres. Israel reserves power to review and veto any PA legislation.
Since the Oslo accords, the Israeli military has never controlled less than 59% of the West Bank, and, until the Gaza withdrawal in 2005, 30% of the Gaza Strip.
The PA is led by a ra'ees (Arabic word meaning either "head" or "president") and the first ra'ees was Yasser Arafat, who received 88% of the vote in 1996. After Arafat's death in November 2004, Mahmoud Abbas was elected in January 2005, receiving 62% of the vote. Palestinians outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have not been allowed to vote in any PA elections.
Palestinians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip also elected members of an 88-member Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996. The PLC is the main legislative body of the PA, and has been central in the campaign for democratic reforms of the PA. The most recent PLC elections occurred January 25, 2006 for an enlarged 132-member council.
Following the elections, factional violence between Fatah and Hamas in 2007 left Hamas in control of governance in the Gaza Strip, with a Fatah-led PA functioning only in the West Bank. In April 2014, the two parties signed a reconciliation agreement and in June 2014 a new technocratic government was formed, reuniting the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the PA.
Although created by the PLO, the PA appears to be eclipsing the PLO in political importance. Mahmoud Abbas is received abroad as either "President of the Palestinian Authority" or “President of the State of Palestine,” not Chairperson of the PLO Executive Committee.
The PA has now held two presidential elections, two municipal elections, and two parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, the PLO's main policy setting body, the Palestinian National Council, has not convened since 1996.
Many Palestinians are wary of this trend because the PA, unlike the PLO, only represents Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but not the Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel. Some fear that Israel will offer the Palestinians limited sovereignty in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which might alleviate the acute suffering of the Palestinians in those regions, and therefore appeal to the PA's electoral constituency.
It will not, however, address the concerns of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose voices are represented by the PLO.