Introduction

Mapping Palestinian Politics provides an interactive overview of the main Palestinian political institutions and players in Palestine, Israel, and the diaspora. Its goal is to provide an easy-to-use, scene-setting resource for researchers, journalists, and policymakers ahead of significant transformations to the Palestinian political order centred around the anticipated departure of President Mahmoud Abbas in the near term.

Since succeeding Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader in 2004, Abbas has consolidated his grip on power within the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and Fatah. Over the years, Abbas has steadily purged or constrained his political rivals, monopolised the various Palestinian decision-making processes, and pursued increasingly authoritarian measures to stifle dissent and shrink the space for Palestinian democracy and popular participation. This political fragmentation and fragility has been compounded by continued infighting between Fatah and Hamas and the ensuing political and geographic separation between the West Bank and Gaza.

Unsurprisingly, Palestinian public confidence in traditional Palestinian governance structures continues to decline, confronting Palestinian institutions, Abbas’s presidency, and the PA with an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy. Moreover, both Fatah and Hamas – both considered the most dominant Palestinian political parties – have seen a similar decline in popular support. This shift is particularly noticeable among Palestinian youth, who have become increasingly alienated from Palestinian politics and elites.

The ever-present backdrop to Palestinian political fragmentation, of course, remains Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory and enactment of policies designed to weaken and divide the Palestinian liberation movement. The result is that, while the Palestinian liberation movement remains united around a unifying vision of ending the occupation, it is currently in disarray over how to achieve this following the failure of the Oslo peace process launched in 1993. This is occurring as different elements vie with each other to succeed Abbas as president of the PA, chairman of the PLO, and head of the ruling Fatah party.

Crucially, there are no institutional mechanisms currently able to manage the upcoming PA leadership transition given that Israeli policies and intra-Palestinian splits for now preclude legislative and presidential elections. Meanwhile, Abbas’s marginalisation of the PLO’s Executive Committee (EC) and Fatah’s Central Committee (CC), and concentration of power within his person, further challenges the ability of the PLO and Fatah to ensure a smooth leadership transition. This democratic atrophication of the nascent Palestinian state – combined with growing popular frustration, shrinking diplomatic horizons for achieving an end to Israel’s occupation, and humanitarian pressures in Gaza – is feeding an increasingly volatile situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

This ‘map’ charts Palestinian political actors in order to help understand where Palestinians may turn for organisation and leadership in the post-Abbas period. It is based on research, including publicly available resources and literature, as well as discussions with experts and academics. It aims to give a big-picture view but should not be considered comprehensive or exhaustive. The resource will be periodically updated and expanded to reflect internal developments.