Palestine (Arabic: فلسطين, romanized: Filasṭīn), officially recognized as the State of Palestine[i] (Arabic: دولة فلسطين, romanized: Dawlat Filasṭīn) by the United Nations and other entities, is a de jure sovereign state in Western Asia officially governed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and claiming the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as the designated capital; in practice, however, only partial administrative control is held over the 167 “islands” in the West Bank, and Gaza is ruled by a rival government (Hamas).[iii] The entirety of territory claimed by the State of Palestine has been occupied since 1948, first by Egypt (Gaza Strip) and Jordan (West Bank) and then by Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967. Palestine has a population of 5,051,953 as of February 2020, ranked 121st in the world.
After World War II, in 1947, the UN adopted a Partition Plan for Mandatory Palestine recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states and an internationalized Jerusalem. This partition plan was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs. The day after the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, neighboring Arab armies invaded the former British mandate and fought the Israeli forces. Later, the All-Palestine Government was established by the Arab League on 22 September 1948 to govern the Egyptian-controlled enclave in Gaza. It was soon recognized by all Arab League members except Transjordan. Though jurisdiction of the Government was declared to cover the whole of the former Mandatory Palestine, its effective jurisdiction was limited to the Gaza Strip. Israel later captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria in June 1967 during the Six-Day War.
On 15 November 1988 in Algiers, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Palestine. A year after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Palestinian National Authority was formed to govern (in varying degrees) areas A and B in the West Bank, comprising 165 “islands”, and the Gaza Strip. After Hamas became the PNA parliament‘s leading party in the most recent elections (2006), a conflict broke out between it and the Fatah party, leading to Gaza being taken over by Hamas in 2007 (two years after the Israeli disengagement).
The State of Palestine has been recognized by 138 of the 193 UN members and since 2012 has had a status of a non-member observer state in the United Nations. Palestine is a member of the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the G77, the International Olympic Committee, and other international bodies.
In 1947, the UN adopted a partition plan for a two-state solution in the remaining territory of the mandate. The plan was accepted by the Jewish leadership but rejected by the Arab leaders, and Britain refused to implement the plan. On the eve of final British withdrawal, the Jewish Agency for Israel declared the establishment of the State of Israel according to the proposed UN plan. The Arab Higher Committee did not declare a state of its own and instead, together with Transjordan, Egypt, and the other members of the Arab League of the time, commenced military action resulting in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. During the war, Israel gained additional territories that were designated to be part of the Arab state under the UN plan. Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Transjordan occupied and then annexed the West Bank. Egypt initially supported the creation of an All-Palestine Government but disbanded it in 1959. Transjordan never recognized it and instead decided to incorporate the West Bank with its own territory to form Jordan. The annexation was ratified in 1950 but was rejected by the international community. The Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel fought against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, ended with Israel occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, besides other territories.
In 1964, when the West Bank was controlled by Jordan, the Palestine Liberation Organization was established there with the goal to confront Israel. The Palestinian National Charter of the PLO defines the boundaries of Palestine as the whole remaining territory of the mandate, including Israel. Following the Six-Day War, the PLO moved to Jordan, but later relocated to Lebanon after Black September in 1971.
The October 1974 Arab League summit designated the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and reaffirmed “their right to establish an independent state of urgency.” In November 1974, the PLO was recognized as competent on all matters concerning the question of Palestine by the UN General Assembly granting them observer status as a “non-state entity” at the UN. After the 1988 Declaration of Independence, the UN General Assembly officially acknowledged the proclamation and decided to use the designation “Palestine” instead of “Palestine Liberation Organization” in the UN. In spite of this decision, the PLO did not participate at the UN in its capacity of the State of Palestine’s government.
In 1979, through the Camp David Accords, Egypt signaled an end to any claim of its own over the Gaza Strip. In July 1988, Jordan ceded its claims to the West Bank—with the exception of guardianship over Haram al-Sharif—to the PLO. In November 1988, the PLO legislature, while in exile, declared the establishment of the “State of Palestine”. In the month following, it was quickly recognised by many states, including Egypt and Jordan. In the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, the State of Palestine is described as being established on the “Palestinian territory”, without explicitly specifying further. Because of this, some of the countries that recognised the State of Palestine in their statements of recognition refer to the “1967 borders”, thus recognizing as its territory only the occupied Palestinian territory, and not Israel. The UN membership application submitted by the State of Palestine also specified that it is based on the “1967 borders”. During the negotiations of the Oslo Accords, the PLO recognised Israel’s right to exist, and Israel recognised the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people. Between 1993 and 1998, the PLO made commitments to change the provisions of its Palestinian National Charter that are inconsistent with the aim for a two-state solution and peaceful coexistence with Israel.
After Israel took control of the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza Strip from Egypt, it began to establish Israeli settlements there. These were organised into Judea and Samaria district (West Bank) and Hof Aza Regional Council (Gaza Strip) in the Southern District. Administration of the Arab population of these territories was performed by the Israeli Civil Administration of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and by local municipal councils present since before the Israeli takeover. In 1980, Israel decided to freeze elections for these councils and to establish instead Village Leagues, whose officials were under Israeli influence. Later this model became ineffective for both Israel and the Palestinians, and the Village Leagues began to break up, with the last being the Hebron League, dissolved in February 1988.
In 1993, in the Oslo Accords, Israel acknowledged the PLO negotiating team as “representing the Palestinian people”, in return for the PLO recognizing Israel’s right to exist in peace, acceptance of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and its rejection of “violence and terrorism”. As a result, in 1994 the PLO established the Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA) territorial administration, that exercises some governmental functions[iii] in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 2007, the Hamas takeover of Gaza Strip politically and territorially divided the Palestinians, with Abbas‘s Fatah left largely ruling the West Bank and recognized internationally as the official Palestinian Authority, while Hamas secured its control over the Gaza Strip. In April 2011, the Palestinian parties signed an agreement of reconciliation, but its implementation had stalled until a unity government was formed on 2 June 2014.
Demonstration against road block, Kafr Qaddum, March 2012
As envisioned in the Oslo Accords, Israel allowed the PLO to establish interim administrative institutions in the Palestinian territories, which came in the form of the PNA. It was given civilian control in Area B and civilian and security control in Area A, and remained without involvement in Area C. In 2005, following the implementation of Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan, the PNA gained full control of the Gaza Strip with the exception of its borders, airspace, and territorial waters.[iii] Following the inter-Palestinian conflict in 2006, Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip (it already had majority in the PLC), and Fatah took control of the West Bank. From 2007, the Gaza Strip was governed by Hamas, and the West Bank by Fatah.