The Palestinians: Background and U.S. Relations

The Palestinians: Background and U.S.
March 18, 2021
Jim Zanotti
The Palestinians are an Arab people whose origins are in present-day Israel, the West Bank, and
Specialist in Middle
the Gaza Strip. Congress pays close attention—through legislation and oversight—to the ongoing
Eastern Affairs
conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.

The current structure of Palestinian governing entities dates to 1994. In that year, Israel agreed

with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to permit a Palestinian Authority (PA) to
exercise limited rule over Gaza and specified areas of the West Bank, subject to overarching Israeli military administration
that dates back to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
After the PA’s establishment, U.S. policy toward the Palestinians focused on encouraging a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict, countering Palestinian terrorist groups, and aiding Palestinian goals on governance and economic
development. Since then, Congress has appropriated more than $5 billion in bilateral aid to the Palestinians, who rely heavily
on external donor assistance.
Conducting relations with the Palestinians has presented challenges for several Administrations and Congresses. The United
States has historically sought to bolster PLO Chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas vis-à-vis Hamas (a U.S.-
designated terrorist organization supported in part by Iran). Since 2007, Hamas has had de facto control within Gaza, making
the security, political, and humanitarian situation there particularly fraught. The Abbas-led PA still exercises limited self-rule
over specified areas of the West Bank. Given Abbas’s advanced age (he was born in 1935) and questionable health, observers
speculate about who will succeed him and implications for the current situation of divided rule in the West Bank and Gaza.
PA legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for May and July 2021, respectively, but the divided rule situation
could lead to their postponement as has happened with past efforts to hold elections since 2007.
Lack of progress toward peace with Israel has led the PLO to advocate the Palestinian cause more assertively in international
fora. A 2012 U.N. General Assembly resolution changed the non-member observer status of “Palestine” at the United
Nations from an entity to a “state.” Palestinians also have applied international legal pressure on Israel. The Palestinians
acceded to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in April 2015, and the ICC opened an investigation in
March 2021 that could conceivably bring charges against Israeli, Palestinian, or other individuals for alleged war crimes
committed in the West Bank and Gaza.
Under the Trump Administration, U.S. policy shifted in a direction that more explicitly favored Israel over the Palestinians.
Actions of note included suspending U.S. funding for the Palestinians, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and opening
an embassy there, and adopting measures to treat Israeli settlements in the West Bank more like areas in Israel proper. In late
2020, the Administration brokered agreements to help Israel move toward more formal relations with the United Arab
Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. PLO/PA leaders voiced opposition to the agreements insofar as they signaled a
change to Arab states’ previous stance that Israel should address Palestinian negotiating demands as a precondition to
improved ties.
Biden Administration officials have stated their intention to improve U.S.-Palestinian ties, and probably plan to resume
humanitarian, security, and economic development aid for Palestinians. The Administration and Congress face a number of
issues with implications for bilateral ties, including: (1) how to resume aid; (2) the feasibility of reopening certain diplomatic
offices in Washington, DC, and Jerusalem; (3) how to respond to Palestinian initiatives in international fora (including the
ICC); and (4) whether to revisit some Trump-era actions that gave more favorable treatment under U.S. policy to Israeli
settlements in the West Bank. The trajectory of some of these issues may depend on a significant PLO/PA change to welfare
payments to or on behalf of individuals allegedly involved in acts of terrorism, and whether elections (if held) lead to a
greater Hamas role in the PA.
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Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Palestinian Overview and National Aspirations .............................................................................. 1
Key U.S. Policy Considerations and Issues ..................................................................................... 5
Biden Administration Statements and Reported Proposal ........................................................ 6
Resuming U.S. Aid .................................................................................................................... 8
Types of Aid ........................................................................................................................ 9
Taylor Force Act (TFA) and PLO/PA Payments “for Acts of Terrorism” ......................... 12
Diplomatic Offices .................................................................................................................. 13
PLO Office in Washington, DC ........................................................................................ 13
U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem ................................................................................ 14
International Organizations ..................................................................................................... 15
In General ......................................................................................................................... 15
International Criminal Court (ICC) Actions ..................................................................... 15

Background ................................................................................................................. 15
Investigation of Possible Crimes in West Bank and Gaza .......................................... 16
Possible U.S. Responses ............................................................................................. 18
Israeli Settlements in the West Bank ....................................................................................... 19
PA Elections and Leadership Succession ................................................................................ 20
Israeli Normalization with Arab States ................................................................................... 24
Gaza’s Challenges ................................................................................................................... 25
Role of Congress ........................................................................................................................... 26

Figure 1. Map of West Bank ............................................................................................................ 3
Figure 2. Map of Gaza Strip ............................................................................................................ 4
Figure 3. U.S. Bilateral Aid to the Palestinians, FY2012-FY2021.................................................. 9
Figure 4. Selected Planned Settlement Construction Areas in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem .................................................................................................................................... 20

Figure D-1. International Donor Funding to the Palestinian Authority ......................................... 39

Table 1. Basic Facts for the West Bank and Gaza Strip .................................................................. 1
Table 2. Historical U.S. Government Contributions to UNRWA ................................................... 11

Appendix A. Key Palestinian Factions and Groups ...................................................................... 27
Appendix B. Historical Background ............................................................................................. 32
Appendix C. Palestinian Governance ............................................................................................ 35
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Appendix D. Palestinian Economy ................................................................................................ 38
Appendix E. Palestinian Initiatives in International Fora .............................................................. 40

Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 41

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Since the United States established ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during
the 1990s, Congress has played a significant role in shaping U.S. policymaking toward the
Palestinians. As successive Administrations have sought to facilitate a negotiated solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, counter Palestinian terrorist groups, and increase or decrease
assistance to Palestinians, congressional action has often influenced executive branch decisions.
After the signing of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles in 1993, Congress has appropriated
more than $5 billion in bilateral aid to the Palestinians, while placing a number of restrictions and
other conditions on certain types of aid. For more information, see CRS Report RS22967, U.S.
Foreign Aid to the Palestinians
, by Jim Zanotti.
Palestinian Overview and National Aspirations
The Palestinians are Arabs who live in the geographical area comprising present-day Israel, the
West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, or who have historical and cultural ties to that area. An estimated
5.2 million Palestinians (98% Sunni Muslim, 1% Christian) live in the West Bank, Gaza Strip,
and East Jerusalem (see Table 1).1 Of these, about 2.2 million are registered as refugees in their
own right or as descendants of the original refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In addition,
approximately 635,000 Jewish Israeli citizens live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.2 Of the
more than 6 million diaspora Palestinians living outside of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, most
are in Arab states—with more than 3 million registered as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and
Syria.3 For more information on Palestinian refugees, see Appendix A.
Table 1. Basic Facts for the West Bank and Gaza Strip
West Bank
Gaza Strip
3.1 million
2.1 million
5.2 million
Median age
21.9 (2019 est.)
18.0 (2020 est.)
Literacy rate (2018 est.)
Population growth rate
Real GDP growth rate
-11.5% (2020 est.)

3.5% (2021 proj.)
GDP per capita at PPP
$5,316 (2020 est.)

$5,742 (2021 proj.)
Unemployment rate
15.0% (2020 est.)
43.0% (2020 est.)
25.9% (2020 est.)

24.9% (2021 proj.)
Export partners
Israel 84.2%,
(2017 est.)
Arab states 16.6%

1 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) projections for 2021. PCBS estimated as of 2017 that an additional
1.47 million Palestinians were Arab citizens of Israel. Religious affiliation information comes from the State
Department International Religious Freedom Report for 2019, West Bank and Gaza.
2 Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, West Bank. Figures for West Bank as of 2018, and East Jerusalem as of
3 See the portal of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) at
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West Bank
Gaza Strip
Import partners
Israel 58.1%,
(2017 est.)
European Union
12.4%, Arab States
Sources: Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, World Bank,
Economist Intelligence Unit, International Monetary Fund World Outlook Database, U.N. Relief and Works
Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Notes: Figures are 2021 estimates or projections unless otherwise noted. Population figures exclude Israeli
Since the early 20th century, the dominant Palestinian national goal has been to establish an
independent state in historic Palestine (the area covered by the British Mandate until the British
withdrawal in 1948). Over time, Palestinians have debated among themselves, with Israelis, and
with others over the nature and extent of such a state and how to achieve it. For more historical
background, see Appendix B and CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations,
by Jim Zanotti.
Today, Fatah and Hamas (a U.S.-designated terrorist organization) are the largest Palestinian
political movements (see Appendix A for profiles of both groups).4 The positions that their
leaders express reflect two basic cleavages in Palestinian society:
1. Between those (several in Fatah, including its leader Mahmoud Abbas) who seek
to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza by nonviolent means—
negotiations, international diplomacy, civil disobedience—and those (Hamas)
who insist on maintaining violence against Israel as an option;5 and
2. Between those (Fatah) who favor a secular model of governance and those
(Hamas) who call for a society governed more by Islamic norms.
The differences between these two factions are reflected in Palestinian governance (see
Appendix C). Since Hamas forcibly seized control of Gaza in 2007, it has exercised de facto rule
there, while Fatah’s leader Mahmoud Abbas—elected as president of the Palestinian Authority
(PA) in 2005—has headed the PA government based in the West Bank.
Having different Palestinian leaders in the two territories has complicated the question of who
speaks for the Palestinians both domestically and internationally. In the West Bank, the PA
exercises limited self-rule in specified urban areas (Areas A and B, as identified in a 1995 Israel-
PLO agreement) where Israel maintains overarching control.6 Both territories face socioeconomic
challenges based on Israeli military measures such as property confiscation and demolition,
Israeli movement and access restrictions, political uncertainty, longtime Palestinian dependence

4 Hamas has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), a Specially Designated Terrorist (SDT), and a
Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the U.S. government.
5 See Appendix A for a discussion of different schools of thought within Fatah about maintaining violence against
Israel as an option.
6 The PLO is the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people. Various Israel-PLO agreements
during the Oslo process in the 1990s created the PA as the organ of governance for limited Palestinian self-rule in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip. Officially, the PLO represents the Palestinian national movement in international bodies,
including the United Nations, often using the moniker “Palestine” or “State of Palestine.” Because Mahmoud Abbas is
both PLO chairman and PA president, U.S. officials and other international actors sometimes conflate his roles. For
more information on the two entities, see Appendix A, Appendix C, and the European Council on Foreign Relations’
online resource Mapping Palestinian Politics at
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on foreign aid, and domestic corruption and inefficiency—with Gaza’s economic challenges and
overall isolation more acute (see “Gaza’s Challenges,Appendix C, and Appendix D).
Additionally, the State Department and some NGOs have raised concerns about some possible PA
and Hamas violations of the rule of law and civil liberties.7 See Figure 1 and Figure 2 for maps
of both territories.
Figure 1. Map of West Bank

Source: U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory, 2018, adapted
by CRS.
Notes: All boundaries and depictions are approximate.

7 State Department, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Israel, West Bank, and Gaza; Amnesty
International, Palestine (State of) 2019.
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Figure 2. Map of Gaza Strip

Source: U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory, 2020.
Notes: All boundaries and depictions are approximate.
International diplomacy aimed at resolving Israeli-Palestinian disputes and advancing Palestinian
national goals has stalled, with no direct Israel-PLO negotiations since 2014. Palestinians
routinely assert that U.S. policy reflects a pro-Israel bias and a lack of sensitivity to PLO
Chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s domestic political rivalry with Hamas.8 Since a
wave of unrest (commonly known as the Arab Spring) that started in 2011 presented Arab leaders
with a range of domestic and other regional concerns, Arab states that had traditionally
championed the Palestinian cause have focused on it less. Many have built or strengthened
informal ties with Israel based on common concerns regarding Iran and other perceived regional
threats. In 2020, four countries—the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and
Morocco—agreed to take steps toward formal diplomatic relations with Israel.
Citing the lack of progress in negotiations with Israel, Abbas and other PLO/PA leaders have
sought support for Palestinian national aspirations and grievances in the United Nations and other
international fora. Some Palestinian and international intellectuals advocate the idea of a
binational or one-state idea as an alternative to a negotiated two-state solution with Israel. In a

8 “FULL TEXT: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ 2018 UN General Assembly Speech,”,
September 27, 2018.
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December 2020 poll, 40% of Palestinians supported a two-state solution, but 62% expressed
belief that Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank has made this outcome impractical. In
the same poll, 29% supported abandoning the two-state solution in favor of a “one-state
The “Palestinian question” is important not only to Palestinians, Israelis, and their Arab state
neighbors, but also to the United States and many other countries and actors around the world for
a variety of religious, cultural, and political reasons. For at least 75 years, the issue has been one
of the most provocative in the international arena.
Key U.S. Policy Considerations and Issues
Major U.S. policy priorities with the Palestinians over successive Administrations have included
facilitating or seeking a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace process, helping the West Bank-based PA
counter Hamas and other terrorist groups, and using aid to encourage Palestinian governance
reform and economic development.
During President Trump’s time in office, his Administration took a number of actions that favored
Israeli positions vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and also suspended aid to the Palestinians, as set forth
Selected Trump Administration Actions Impacting Israeli-Palestinian Issues
December 2017
President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) to cut off high-level
diplomatic relations with the United States.
May 2018
The U.S. embassy opens in Jerusalem.
August 2018
The Administration ends U.S. contributions to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency
for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
September 2018
The Administration reprograms FY2017 economic aid for the West Bank and
Gaza to other locations, and announces the closure of the PLO office in
Washington, DC.
January 2019
As a result of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-253), the
Administration ends all bilateral U.S. aid to the Palestinians.
March 2019
The U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem—previously an independent diplomatic
mission to the Palestinians—is subsumed under the authority of the U.S. embassy
to Israel. President Trump recognizes Israeli sovereignty claims in the Golan
November 2019
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo says that the Administration disagrees with a
1978 State Department legal opinion stating that Israeli settlements in the West
Bank are inconsistent with international law.
January 2020
President Trump releases Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal that largely favors
Israeli positions and contemplates possible U.S. recognition of Israeli annexation of
some West Bank areas.
August 2020
Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announce the first of four cases in
which the Trump Administration facilitates some normalization of Israel’s relations
with Arab states (Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco follow later in the year). Israel

9 Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), Public Opinion Poll No. 78, December 15, 2020 (poll
conducted December 8-11, 2020). Most scenarios envisioning a binational Israeli-Palestinian state would apparently
fundamentally change or abrogate the Zionist nature of Israel’s institutional and societal makeup. Such developments
would by almost all accounts be unacceptable to a large majority of Israelis.
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suspends consideration of West Bank annexation in connection with the UAE
October 2020
The United States and Israel sign agreements removing restrictions on three
binational foundations from funding projects in areas administered by Israel after
the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (namely, the West Bank and the Golan Heights). The
foundations are the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation
(BIRD), the Binational Science Foundation (BSF), and the Binational Agricultural
Research and Development Foundation (BARD).
November 2020
Secretary Pompeo announces a change in U.S. product labeling regulations,
requiring products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be identified as
coming from Israel.
In the second half of 2020, the Trump Administration’s diplomatic focus pivoted from its January
2020 Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal to helping Israel reach agreements on normalization with
the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. These agreements, known as the Abraham Accords,
signal some change to Arab states’ previous insistence—in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative10—that
Israel address Palestinian negotiating demands as a precondition for improved ties.11 Although
Israel agreed to suspend plans to annex part of the West Bank as part of the UAE deal,12 PLO/PA
officials denounced the deal as an abandonment of the Palestinian national cause, claiming that
the UAE had acquiesced to a West Bank status quo that some observers label “de facto
Biden Administration Statements and Reported Proposal
Amid the longtime difficulties involved with Israeli-Palestinian relations, the Biden
Administration has voiced interest in improving U.S. ties with the Palestinians, including by
revisiting some Trump-era actions. In January 2021, Ambassador Richard Mills, then-Acting U.S.
Representative to the United Nations, announced in a U.N. Security Council meeting that the
Biden Administration would seek to reengage with Palestinian leaders and people, resume
economic development and humanitarian aid, and preserve the viability of a negotiated two-state
solution. Ambassador Mills also stated:
In this vein, the United States will urge Israel’s government and the Palestinian Authority
to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation
of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing
compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We hope it will be possible
to start working to slowly build confidence on both sides to create an environment in which
we might once again be able to help advance a solution.14

10 The Arab Peace Initiative offers a comprehensive Arab peace with Israel if Israel were to withdraw fully from the
territories it occupied in 1967, agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, and
provide for the “[a]chievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem in accordance with UN General
Assembly Resolution 194.” The initiative was proposed by Saudi Arabia and adopted by the 22-member League of
Arab States in 2002, and later accepted by the then-56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the 57-
member Organization of Islamic Cooperation) at its 2005 Mecca summit. The text of the initiative is available at
11 Annelle Sheline, “Trump’s Win Is a Loss for the Middle East,” Politico Magazine, August 14, 2020.
12 Jacob Magid, “US assured UAE it won’t back Israel annexation before 2024 at earliest, ToI told,” Times of Israel,
September 13, 2020. For information on the annexation issue, see CRS Report R46433, Israel’s Possible Annexation of
West Bank Areas: Frequently Asked Questions
, by Jim Zanotti.
13 Walid Mahmoud and Muhammad Shehada, “Palestinians unanimously reject UAE-Israel deal,” Al Jazeera, August
14, 2020.
14 U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Richard Mills, Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on
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While Administration officials have stated their desires to build on the Abraham Accords, the
State Department spokesperson has said that continued efforts at Arab-Israeli normalization
should “contribute to tangible progress towards the goal of advancing a negotiated peace between
Israelis and Palestinians.”15 In his January speech before the U.N. Security Council, Ambassador
Mills said:
[Israeli and Palestinian leaders] are far apart on final-status issues, Israeli and Palestinian
politics are fraught, and trust between the two sides is at a nadir. However, these realities
do not relieve Member States of the responsibility of trying to preserve the viability of a
two-state solution. Nor should they distract from the imperative of improving conditions
on the ground, particularly the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.16
In a March 10, 2021, hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State
Antony Blinken stated that the United States has an obligation to seek to advance the prospects
for a two-state solution, saying that it “is ultimately the only way that Israel will truly be secure as
a Jewish and democratic state and the Palestinians will have the state to which they are entitled.”
One news outlet reportedly obtained an internal State Department proposal entitled “The US
Palestinian Reset and the Path Forward” in March 2021.17 According to the source, the
proposal—which is reportedly still subject to interagency review—recommends various steps for
the Administration in line with the above statements, including:
 Going back to the pre-Trump U.S. position on a negotiated two-state solution,
based on “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps.”18
 Reversing “certain steps by the prior administration that bring into question our
commitment or pose real barriers to a two-state solution,” such as the product
labeling changes mentioned above under then-Secretary Pompeo in November
 Resuming diplomatic contacts with PLO/PA leaders.
 $15 million in Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)-related humanitarian
assistance for the Palestinians as early as March 2021.
 Restarting U.S. economic, security, and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in
late March or early April, including via contributions to the U.N. Relief and
Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Regarding the U.S. position on Jerusalem, a spokesperson for President Biden confirmed in
February that “our embassy will remain in Jerusalem, which we recognize as Israel’s capital. The
ultimate status of Jerusalem is a final status issue which will need to be resolved by the parties in
the context of direct negotiations.”19

the Situation in the Middle East (via VTC), January 26, 2021.
15 Ned Price, State Department Spokesperson, Department Press Briefing – February 2, 2021.
16 U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Richard Mills.
17 Joyce Karam, “‘The National’ obtains US official document for Palestinian ‘reset,’” The National (UAE), March 17,
18 This was the formula articulated by then-Secretary of State John Kerry in December 2016. Secretary of State John
Kerry, Remarks on Middle East Peace, Washington, DC, December 28, 2016. The “1967 lines” refer to the 1949-1967
Israel-Jordan armistice line for the West Bank (commonly known as the Green Line) and the 1950-1967 Israel-Egypt
armistice line for the Gaza Strip.
19 Niels Lesniewski, “White House confirms Biden will keep embassy in Jerusalem,” Roll Call, February 9, 2021.
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COVID-19 Vaccinations for Palestinians
Israel has been vaccinating its population against Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) at one of the fastest rates
in the world. Vaccinations for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have proceeded at a significantly slower
pace, partly due to Israel having more wealth and international bargaining power than the PA.
In early 2021, this disparity has led PA officials and some observers—including the World Bank—to call for
greater efforts by Israel to share vaccines with Palestinians, and to assist the PA in procuring additional vaccines
more expeditiously.20 The PA anticipates purchasing or receiving additional vaccines from other countries and
international programs to cover a majority of West Bank and Gaza residents, but questions surround how and
when this might happen.21
Debate is ongoing regarding Israel’s legal responsibility for the emergency health care needs of West Bank and
Gaza residents, given Israel’s control over many aspects of Palestinian life.22 Israel has transferred some vaccines to
the PA, and has started efforts to vaccinate Palestinians working in Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank.23
However, reports that Israel has sent or plans to send vaccines to other countries while Palestinians are in need
of them has increased the criticism Israel faces from human rights organizations.24 The State Department
spokesperson has said that increased Palestinian access to COVID-19 vaccines is important for Israel’s health and
security as well.25
The following are key issues that the Biden Administration and Congress are addressing or likely
to address.
Resuming U.S. Aid
As mentioned above, the Biden Administration apparently may resume economic development,
security, and humanitarian aid programs for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (see also
“Gaza’s Challenges” below) as early as March or April 2021. As noted earlier, in 2019 the Trump
Administration suspended all U.S. aid to the Palestinians,26 after a number of measures by the
Administration and Congress in 2018 to halt or limit various types of aid.27 Some of these

20 World Bank, Economic Monitoring Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, February 23, 2021, pp. 26-27.
21 Ibid., pp. 22-23.
22 Eyal Benvenisti, “Israel is Legally Obligated to Ensure the Population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Are
Vaccinated,” Just Security, January 7, 2021; Alan Baker, “Israel, the Palestinians, and the COVID-19 Vaccines: The
New Blood-Libel,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, January 14, 2021. Israeli claims that the PA is primarily
responsible for health care in the West Bank and Gaza appear to be based on Article 17 of Annex III to the 1995 Israel-
Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While Article 17 transfers general responsibility
for health care to the PA, it also calls for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in combating epidemics and mutual assistance
in cases of emergency. Claims that Israel bears primary responsibility for emergency health care appear to stem from
Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides that an occupying power has a duty to take measures to
combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics. While a number of U.N. Security Council Resolutions
(spanning from Resolution 242 of 1967 to Resolution 2334 of 2016) describe Israel as the occupying power in the West
Bank and Gaza, Israel disputes this characterization. Regarding the West Bank, see footnote 79. Regarding Gaza, Israel
claims that it ceded responsibility when it withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza’s urban areas in 2005, while some
observers argue that its responsibility continues because Israel maintains effective control over most of the territory’s
access points.
23 “Israel begins vaccinating Palestinian workers after delays,” Associated Press, March 8, 2021.
24 Patrick Kingsley, et al., “Israel Secretly Agrees to Fund Vaccines for Syria as Part of Prisoner Swap,” New York
, February 20, 2021; Patrick Kingsley, “Israel Vaccines Go to Far-Off Allies Before Palestinians,” New York
, February 24, 2021.
25 Ned Price, State Department Spokesperson, Department Press Briefing – February 23, 2021.
26 CRS Report R46274, The Palestinians and Amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act: U.S. Aid and Personal
, by Jim Zanotti and Jennifer K. Elsea.
27 CRS Report RS22967, U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians, by Jim Zanotti.
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measures reflected Trump Administration policies that unsuccessfully sought to compel
Palestinian leaders to resume dialogue with U.S. officials and accept U.S. and Israeli negotiating
demands. Other measures, such as the Taylor Force Act (TFA, enacted in March 2018 as Div. S,
Title X of P.L. 115-141, and discussed further below), attracted bipartisan support.
In his January speech, Ambassador Mills asserted, “U.S. assistance benefits millions of ordinary
Palestinians and helps to preserve a stable environment that benefits both Palestinians and
Israelis.”28 Past Administrations have used similar rationales to justify U.S. aid to the Palestinians.
After the peace process began between Israel and the PLO in the 1990s, U.S. bilateral aid to the
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip supported U.S. efforts to incline the newly
established PA toward better governance and economic development, and away from violence
against Israel. Accordingly, Congress routinely attaches a number of conditions to aid to the
Palestinians in annual appropriations language.29
Types of Aid
Aid appropriated by Congress for the Palestinians for FY2020 and FY2021 is available for
obligation from the following accounts (see Figure 3):
Economic Support Fund (ESF) aid would be the main channel for economic
development and humanitarian assistance through NGO implementing partners in the
West Bank and Gaza.
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) aid funding would
go toward non-lethal assistance programs that the United States started for the PA’s
security forces and justice sector in the West Bank in 2008.
Figure 3. U.S. Bilateral Aid to the Palestinians, FY2012-FY2021

Sources: U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), adapted by CRS.
Notes: All amounts are approximate. Amounts for FY2020 and FY2021 have been appropriated but not
obligated. NADR = Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related Programs, INCLE = International
Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, ESF = Economic Support Fund, OCO = Overseas Contingency

28 U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Richard Mills.
29 See, for example, sections 7037-7040, and 7041(k) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260).
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Additionally, the Administration could resume humanitarian assistance contributions to UNRWA
for more than 5 million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria
(see Table 2). Such contributions have come in the past from the Migration and Refugee
Assistance account. Since the suspension of U.S. contributions in 2018, UNRWA has relied on
contributions from other international donors, and adjusted its provision of education, health care,
and other social services to help reduce expenses—sometimes delaying payment of salaries to its
employees.30 Total donor pledges to UNRWA for calendar year 2020 were $940 million,
compared with $1.121 billion for calendar year 2017 (the last year to date featuring regular U.S.
contributions).31 UNRWA is seeking $1.5 billion in pledges for calendar year 2021.32 When asked
about a possible resumption of U.S. contributions to UNRWA in a March 1, 2021, press briefing,
the State Department spokesperson said “we intend to provide assistance that will benefit all
Palestinians, including refugees. We are in the process of determining how to move forward on
resuming all forms of that assistance consistent with U.S. law.” As mentioned above, the reported
State Department proposal anticipates providing U.S. contributions to UNRWA.33
For background information on the above-mentioned types of U.S. aid to the Palestinians, see
CRS Report RS22967, U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians, by Jim Zanotti.

30 With the exception of 158 international staff posts funded by the United Nations General Assembly through the UN
regular budget, UNRWA operations are supported through voluntary contributions. UNRWA, Annual Operational
Report 2019
, p. 21.
31 See, for example, UNRWA’s Funding Trends portal at
partners/funding-trends; UNRWA, Annual Operational Report 2019.
32 UNRWA press statement, UNRWA Appeals for US$1.5 Billion to Support Palestine Refugees in 2021, February 11,
2021. The appeal is intended to cover $806 million for core services, $231 million for emergency humanitarian
assistance, $318 million to address the effects of the Syria conflict on Palestinian refugees, and $170 million for
priority facilities construction and core services improvement projects.
33 Karam, “‘The National’ obtains US official document for Palestinian ‘reset.’”
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Table 2. Historical U.S. Government Contributions to UNRWA
(in $ millions, non-inflation adjusted)
Fiscal Year(s)
Fiscal Year(s)

Source: U.S. State Department.
Note: All amounts are approximate.
Potential New U.S. Funds for Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation
As part of the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act enacted in December 2020, the Nita M. Lowey Middle
East Partnership for Peace Act of 2020 (Div. K, Title VIII of P.L. 116-260) authorized the establishment of the
following two funds, as well as $50 million (Congress can specify how to allocate any future appropriations among
the two authorized funds) for each of the next five years (FY2022-FY2026):
People-to-People Partnership for Peace Fund is authorized to be established by the Administrator of the
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as early as December 2021. If established, the fund would
support dialogue and reconciliation programs, as well as other projects designed “to help build the foundation for
peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians and for a sustainable two-state solution and an initiative to
promote Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation.”
Joint Investment for Peace Initiative is authorized to be established by the Chief Executive of the U.S.
International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) as early as June 2021. If established, the initiative would
“provide investments in, and support to, entities that carry out projects that contribute to the development of the
Palestinian private sector economy in the West Bank and Gaza,” and would “prioritize support to projects that
increase economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.” A former PLO adviser has raised concerns that
the authorizing legislation does not explicitly preclude Israeli settlers in the West Bank from receiving funding
from the initiative.34

34 Zaha Hassan, “How a Proposed New Fund to Bolster the Palestinian Economy Stands to Benefit Israeli Settlers,”
Responsible Statecraft, September 2, 2020.
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Taylor Force Act (TFA) and PLO/PA Payments “for Acts of Terrorism”
The Biden Administration has said that any resumption of aid to the Palestinians would comply
with the TFA. The TFA discourages certain PLO/PA payments “for acts of terrorism” by
prohibiting most Economic Support Fund aid (ESF) that “directly benefits” the PA. During the
legislative process for the TFA, some Members of Congress argued that these PLO/PA
payments—made to Palestinians (and/or their families) who are imprisoned for or accused of
terrorism by Israel—provide incentives for Palestinians to commit terrorist acts. For more
information on violence and terrorism by Palestinians, see Appendix A.
Palestinian Payments for “Martyrs” and Prisoners
The Palestinian practice of compensating families who lost a member (combatant or civilian) in connection with
Israeli-Palestinian violence reportedly dates back to the 1960s.35 Palestinian payments on behalf of prisoners or
decedents in their current form apparently “became standardized during the second intifada [uprising] of 2000 to
2005.”36 Various PA laws and decrees since 2004 have established parameters for payments.37 U.S. lawmakers and
executive branch officials have condemned the practice to the extent it might incentivize violence, focusing
particular criticism on an apparent tiered structure that provides higher levels of compensation for prisoners who
receive longer sentences.38
As mentioned above, the TFA prohibits most ESF directly benefitting the PA, with specific
exceptions for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, and a certain amount for wastewater projects
and vaccination programs. Thus, any new U.S. aid for economic development and humanitarian
purposes presumably either would come under those exceptions, or would be deemed by the
Administration not to directly benefit the PA. The Administration can only lift the TFA’s
restrictions if it certifies that the PLO/PA has ended or significantly changed the payments in
question in such a way that they do not incentivize acts of terrorism, and also certifies that the
PLO/PA is taking additional steps to oppose violence against Israelis and Americans. It appears
unlikely that bilateral aid would return to pre-Trump Administration levels absent such
The prospect of significantly changing these payments may encounter strong domestic opposition
among Palestinians. Media reports in late 2020 suggested that the PA might be considering
changes—if it can make them domestically palatable—in hopes of removing obstacles to U.S.
aid.40 PA officials may also be focused on recouping the full amount of taxes that Israel collects
on the PA’s behalf. After Congress and the Trump Administration enacted the TFA, Israel enacted

35 Neri Zilber, “An Israel ‘Conspiracy Theory’ That Proved True—but Also More Complicated,”, April
27, 2018.
36 Eli Lake, “The Palestinian incentive program for killing Jews,” Bloomberg, July 11, 2016.
37 Yossi Kuperwasser, “Incentivizing Terrorism: Palestinian Authority Allocations to Terrorists and their Families,”
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, at
38 See, for example, Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on Taylor Force Act, July 12, 2017,; Joel
Gehrke, “House passes bill that could cut off Palestinian Authority funding due to aid of terrorists’ families,”
Washington Examiner, December 5, 2017. For an analysis arguing that these PLO/PA payments are not the primary
drivers of violence against Israel, see Shibley Telhami, “Why the discourse about Palestinian payments to prisoners’
families is distorted and misleading,” Brookings Institution, December 7, 2020.
39 David Makovsky, Building Bridges for Peace: U.S. Policy Toward Arab States, Palestinians, and Israel, Washington
Institute for Near East Policy, January 2021.
40 Adam Rasgon and David M. Halbfinger, “Seeking Restart with Biden, Palestinians Eye End to Prisoner Payments,”
New York Times, November 19, 2020.
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a law in 2018 by which it withholds the transfer of these taxes by the amount of PLO/PA
payments Israel estimates to be for acts of terrorism.41 A past adviser to Palestinian negotiating
teams has said to CRS that major changes to the PLO/PA payments are implausible—given a
heightened focus on catering to domestic sentiment—in the context of possible elections in 2021
(see “PA Elections and Leadership Succession” below).42
Diplomatic Offices
As part of the Biden Administration’s efforts to reengage with the Palestinians, it intends to “take
steps to re-open diplomatic missions that were closed by the last U.S. administration.”43 This
statement apparently refers to the PLO representative office in Washington, DC, that the Trump
Administration caused to close in 2018, and the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem—which had
operated for decades as an independent diplomatic mission engaging the Palestinians—that the
Trump Administration merged into the U.S. embassy to Israel in 2019.
PLO Office in Washington, DC
In September 2018, the State Department announced that the office maintained by the PLO in
Washington, DC, would cease operating. Though not diplomatically accredited, the office had
functioned since the 1990s as a focal point for U.S.-Palestinian relations.
PLO Office in Washington, DC: Timeline of Key Events
PLO opens office in Washington, DC, to disseminate information about itself and the Palestinian cause.
Congress passes the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987 (Title X of P.L. 100-204), which (under Section 1003)
prohibits the PLO from maintaining an office in the United States. President Reagan signs P.L. 100-204 in
December but adds a signing statement saying that “the right to decide the kind of foreign relations, if
any, the United States will maintain is encompassed by the President's authority under the Constitution,
including the express grant of authority in Article II, Section 3, to receive ambassadors.”44 The State
Department instructs the PLO to close its office.
As the Oslo peace process gets underway, the PLO opens a representative office in Washington, DC.
Despite the prohibition of a PLO office in P.L. 100-204, Congress provides waiver authority to the
executive branch.
The PLO office briefly closes after a lapse in waiver authority, and reopens after Congress reinstitutes
the waiver and the executive branch exercises it.
The State Department announces in November that it cannot renew the waiver (required every six
months in annual appropriations legislation) because of statements made by Palestinian leaders about
the International Criminal Court (ICC),45 but allows the PLO office to remain open so long as its
activities are limited “to those related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis
and Palestinians.”46 A State Department spokesperson justifies the actions by saying that they “are
consistent with the president's authorities to conduct the foreign relations of the United States.”47

41 Ruth Levush, Law Library of Congress, “Israel: Law on Freezing Revenues Designated for Palestinian Authority,”
Updated December 30, 2020.
42 CRS email interview with Ghaith al-Omari,
43 U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Richard Mills.
44 President Ronald Reagan, Statement on Signing the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and
1989, December 22, 1987, available at
45 State Department Press Briefing, November 21, 2017.
46 Josh Lederman, “US backtracks on decision to close Palestinian office in DC,” Associated Press, November 24,
47 State Department spokesperson Edgar Vasquez, quoted in “US backtracks on decision to close Palestinian office in
DC,” Associated Press, November 24, 2017.
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The State Department announces the closure of the PLO office in September.
It is unclear whether the Administration can legally authorize the PLO to reopen its Washington
office. Under the annual appropriations language found in Section 7041(k) of the Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260), the general prohibition in Section 1003 of P.L. 100-204
on a PLO office can only be waived by the President if he can certify that the Palestinians have
not “actively supported an ICC investigation against Israeli nationals for alleged crimes against
Palestinians.” This is the same waiver requirement that the State Department determined in
November 2017 could not be met because of Palestinian statements regarding ICC proceedings
relating to Israelis. However, in September 2018, the Justice Department issued a memorandum
opinion for the State Department’s legal adviser stating that Congress cannot dictate State
Department actions regarding the status of the PLO office—via P.L. 100-204 or other
legislation—because the President has exclusive constitutional authority “to receive foreign
diplomatic agents in the United States and to determine the conditions under which they may
A separate question is whether the PLO would be willing to reopen its Washington office. Under
the Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act of 2019 (PSJVTA, Section 903
of P.L. 116-94), which became law in December 2019, the PLO’s establishment of an office in the
United States could subject it to liability in U.S. courts for terrorism-related lawsuits. The extent
to which Congress can provide by statute that a foreign entity is deemed to consent to personal
jurisdiction by establishing or maintaining facilities in the United States appears to be untested in
the U.S. legal system.49 However, the PSJVTA provision has reportedly given Palestinian officials
and advisers pause about reopening the PLO office, and has led them to engage with the
Administration and Congress about a possible amendment to the PSJVTA to facilitate the office’s
U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem
Since the 2019 merger of the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem into the U.S. embassy to Israel,
U.S. diplomats in Jerusalem have conducted relations with the Palestinians via the embassy’s
Palestinian Affairs Unit. Reversing the merger would presumably reestablish the consulate
general as an independent diplomatic mission that would work in parallel with, rather than as a
part of, the embassy. Practically, however, reestablishing the consulate general would probably
require Israel’s approval given the need for cooperation from Israeli authorities to issue visas to
and help protect U.S. diplomats.51 Given Israel’s insistence that the entire Jerusalem municipality
is its capital, the U.S. opening of an embassy there in 2018, and political considerations
associated with Israel’s upcoming March 23 election and government formation process, Israeli
approval for a separate U.S. diplomatic mission in Jerusalem focusing on the Palestinians could
be politically fraught. The reported State Department proposal mentioned above indicates that the
Administration is reviewing options on this issue.52

48 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Statutory Restrictions on the PLO’s Washington Office,
September 11, 2018, available at
49 For background information on PSJVTA and this issue, see CRS Report R46274, The Palestinians and Amendments
to the Anti-Terrorism Act: U.S. Aid and Personal Jurisdiction
, by Jim Zanotti and Jennifer K. Elsea.
50 “Biden pledge to reopen PLO mission in Washington faces legal hurdles,” Reuters, January 29, 2021.
51 Shira Efron and Ibrahim Eid Dalalsha, “Reopening the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem: Subject to Israeli Discretion?”
Israel Policy Forum, January 14, 2021.
52 Karam, “‘The National’ obtains US official document for Palestinian ‘reset.’”
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International Organizations
In General
The PLO has pursued a number of initiatives—either directly or with the help of supportive
countries—in international organizations to advance its claims to statehood and other positions it
takes vis-à-vis Israel. The United States and Israel generally oppose these initiatives and criticize
international organizations for negative treatment of Israel.
In February 2021, Secretary of State Blinken announced that the United States would reengage
with the U.N. Human Rights Council—from which the Trump Administration withdrew in June
2018—as an observer. Secretary Blinken said:
We recognize that the Human Rights Council is a flawed body, in need of reform to its
agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel. However,
our withdrawal in June 2018 did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead
created a vacuum of U.S. leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used
to their advantage.53
For more on Palestinian initiatives in international fora, see Appendix E.
International Criminal Court (ICC) Actions54
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is in the early stages of an investigation into possible
crimes committed by Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and
the Gaza Strip since June 13, 2014. The ICC can exercise jurisdiction over alleged genocide, war
crimes, and crimes against humanity (“ICC crimes”) that occur on the territory of or are
perpetrated by nationals of an entity deemed to be a State
 after the Rome Statute enters into force for a State Party;
 during a period of time in which a nonparty State accepts jurisdiction; or
 pursuant to a U.N. Security Council resolution referring the situation in a State to
the ICC.
The following actions by Palestinian leaders have influenced the overall context in which the
ICC’s actions have taken place:
 In January 2015, Palestinian leaders deposited an instrument of accession for the
“State of Palestine” to become party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, after
declaring acceptance in December 2014 of ICC jurisdiction over crimes allegedly
“committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since
June 13, 2014.”
 Later in January 2015, the U.N. Secretary-General, acting as depositary, stated
that the Rome Statute would enter into force for the “State of Palestine” on April
1, 2015.55

53 Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Decision To Reengage with the UN Human Rights Council, February 8,
54 Matthew C. Weed, Specialist in Foreign Policy Legislation, assisted in preparing this subsection.
55 U.N. Secretary-General Rome Statute Depositary Notification for the State of Palestine, January 6, 2015,
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 Later that same month, the ICC Prosecutor opened a preliminary examination
into the “situation in Palestine” to determine “whether there is a reasonable basis
to proceed with an investigation” against Israelis, Palestinians, or others, having
found that the Palestinians had the proper capacity to accept ICC jurisdiction in
light of the November 2012 adoption of U.N. General Assembly Resolution
67/19.56 As mentioned in Appendix E, Resolution 67/19 had changed the
permanent U.N. observer status of the PLO (aka “State of Palestine”) from an
“entity” to a “non-member state.”
 Palestinian leaders provided information to the ICC on alleged Israeli crimes
regarding both the summer 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict and settlement activity in
the West Bank. In May 2018, Palestinian leaders made a formal referral of the
“situation in Palestine” to the Prosecutor.57
As referenced above, the State Department cited Palestinian actions relating to the ICC in
connection with the 2018 closure of the PLO office in Washington, DC. Various U.S. and Israeli
officials have denounced Palestinian efforts that could subject Israelis to ICC investigation or
prosecution.58 Neither the United States nor Israel is a State Party to the Rome Statute.
Palestinian accession and acceptance of jurisdiction grant the ICC Prosecutor authority to
investigate all alleged ICC crimes committed after June 13, 2014, by any individual—Israeli,
Palestinian, or otherwise—on “occupied Palestinian territory.” However, Palestinian actions do
not ensure any formal ICC prosecution of alleged ICC crimes. A party to the Rome Statute can
refer a situation to the Court and is required to cooperate with the Prosecutor on investigations,
but it is the role of the Prosecutor to determine whether to bring charges against and prosecute an
individual. In addition, a case is inadmissible before the ICC if it concerns conduct that is the
subject of “genuine” legal proceedings (as described in Article 17 of the Statute) brought by a
state with jurisdiction, including a state (such as Israel) that is not party to the Statute.
The ICC Prosecutor is required to notify all states with jurisdiction over a potential case, and such
states are afforded the opportunity to challenge ICC jurisdiction over a case on inadmissibility
Investigation of Possible Crimes in West Bank and Gaza
On March 3, 2021, current ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she was opening an
investigation of possible ICC crimes in the West Bank and Gaza.59 She had previously sought a
ruling from a pre-trial chamber to confirm her determination that the ICC has jurisdiction over the
situation generally, and to determine the extent of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction specifically.60
In a 2-1 decision, the chamber ruled in February 2021 that the ICC has jurisdiction in the West
Bank and Gaza (including East Jerusalem), based on the Palestinians’ status as a State Party to the

56 ICC Press Release, “The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, opens a preliminary
examination of the situation in Palestine,” January 16, 2015.
57 ICC Statement, “Statement by ICC Prosecutor, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, on the referral submitted by Palestine,” May
22, 2018.
58 See, for example, “Bolton warns ICC not to go after Israel, confirms closure of PLO’s DC office,” Times of Israel,
September 10, 2018.
59 ICC, Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, respecting an investigation of the Situation in Palestine, March
3, 2021.
60 ICC, Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, on the conclusion of the preliminary examination of the
Situation in Palestine, and seeking a ruling on the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction, December 20, 2019.
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Rome Statute.61 Israel had argued that the ICC should not have jurisdiction in those territories
because Palestinians do not have sovereign control there.62
Broader Impact of ICC Pre-Trial Chamber Ruling?
The ICC pre-trial chamber’s February 2021 decision stated that because the ICC exercises jurisdiction over
natural persons rather than states, its decision “is strictly limited to the question of jurisdiction set forth in the
Prosecutor’s Request and does not entail any determination on the border disputes between Palestine and Israel.”
Yet, Palestinians and other international actors could use the decision to support for Palestinian statehood and
territorial claims.63
In response to the opening of an ICC investigation, Secretary of State Blinken said on March 3:
The United States firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed by this decision. The ICC has
no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the
Court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its
jurisdiction over Israeli personnel. The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and
therefore, are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or
delegate jurisdiction to the ICC.…
Moreover, the United States believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the
people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for
dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut
efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.
We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by
opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.64
On March 11, 54 Senators sent a letter to Secretary Blinken commending his statements, and
urging him to work with like-minded international partners to “steer the ICC away from further
actions that could damage the Court’s credibility by giving the appearance of political bias.”65
While Palestinian leaders (from both the PLO/PA and Hamas) welcomed the news of an ICC
investigation,66 leading Israeli political figures roundly denounced it, with Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu calling the decision to investigate biased and anti-Semitic.67

61 ICC, Decision on the ‘Prosecution request pursuant to article 19(3) for a ruling on the Court’s territorial jurisdiction
in Palestine,’ February 5, 2021. In a partly dissenting opinion (available at https://www.icc-, Judge Péter Kovács argued that the ICC’s jurisdiction in the West Bank
should be limited to the competences transferred to the PA in the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip, leading to an interpretation that might require Israel’s consent to ICC investigations of
Israeli nationals.
62 Israeli Attorney General, The International Criminal Court’s Lack of Jurisdiction over the So-Called “Situation in
December 20, 2019. Germany, Brazil, Australia, Uganda, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary had
filed amicus curiae briefs with the pre-trial chamber offering arguments in line with Israel’s objections to territorial,
while the League of Arab States and Organization of Islamic Cooperation had filed briefs in support of territorial
63 Tovah Lazaroff, “Eight things to know about the ICC war crimes suits against Israel,”, February 7, 2021.
64 Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, The United States Opposes the ICC Investigation into the Palestinian Situation,
March 3, 2021.
65 Text of letter available at
66 “ICC prosecutor opens war crimes probe in Palestinian territories,” Al Jazeera, March 3, 2021.
67 “Netanyahu: ICC war crimes probe is ‘pure antisemitism,’”, March 4, 2021.
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It is unclear how far the investigation might proceed before Prosecutor Bensouda’s term ends in
June, and how her successor, Karim Khan (currently serving as a U.N. Assistant Secretary-
General),68 might choose to handle it.69 The investigation could focus on a number of possible
war crimes from Israeli and Palestinian actions, including:
 actions by Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian militant groups during their 2014 conflict
in Gaza;
 lethal force used by Israeli soldiers in 2018-2019 against some Palestinian protestors in
Gaza seeking to breach or approach the administrative boundary with Israel;
 other Israeli actions in and around the West Bank and Gaza, including settlement activity;
 possible PA (West Bank) and Hamas (Gaza) human rights abuses.
An investigation could take months or years before the Prosecutor makes decisions on bringing
specific charges against individuals. As mentioned above, if an ICC investigation produces any
case against Israelis or Palestinians concerning conduct that is the subject of “genuine” legal
proceedings by a state having jurisdiction, it would be inadmissible. In Bensouda’s March 3
announcement of the investigation, she said:
As a first step, the Office [of the Prosecutor] is required to notify all States Parties and
those States which would normally exercise jurisdiction over the crimes concerned about
its investigation. This permits any such State to request the Office to defer to the State's
relevant investigation of its own nationals or others within its jurisdiction in relation to
Rome Statute crimes referred to in the notification (subject to possible Pre-Trial Chamber
One Israeli journalist, citing a legal expert, has written that “Israeli probes or potential probes into
criminal activity by its soldiers in Gaza could sway Bensouda not to move forward on war crimes
allegations with regard to Gaza.”71 In the same article, the journalist has written, “Israel has not
simultaneously held criminal investigations into settlement activity – which it considers to be
legal – and thus Bensouda is likely to move the matter of settlements forward to the phase of
individual criminal charges.”72
Possible U.S. Responses
It is unclear what diplomatic or other measures the Biden Administration might take to counter an
ICC investigation focused on the West Bank and Gaza, including sanctions authorized by the
Trump Administration. Under Executive Order 13928 from June 2020, President Trump
authorized sanctions against foreign persons or entities involved in or supporting ICC
investigations or actions targeting U.S. personnel or personnel of U.S. allies without the consent
of the home government of those personnel.73 In September 2020, the Trump Administration

68 Since 2017, Assistant Secretary-General Khan has served as the Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team
established pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 2379 (2017) to promote accountability efforts for genocide,
crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq.
69 “ICC opens ‘war crimes’ investigation in West Bank and Gaza,” BBC News, March 3, 2021.
70 ICC, Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, respecting an investigation of the Situation in Palestine, March
3, 2021.
71 Lazaroff, “Eight things to know.”
72 Ibid.
73 Executive Order 13928, Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the International Criminal Court, June
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imposed sanctions under E.O. 13928 against Prosecutor Bensouda and another top ICC official in
connection with an investigation regarding Afghanistan that could subject U.S. personnel to
prosecution.74 The Biden Administration has pledged to review these sanctions.75
Israeli Settlements in the West Bank
Israeli settlements in the West Bank have presented longstanding policy challenges for U.S.
officials and lawmakers.76 As mentioned above, the Trump Administration took a number of
actions apparently aimed at providing greater legitimacy to Israeli settlements in the West Bank,
including on product labeling and on funding for three U.S.-Israel binational foundations. Biden
Administration officials have not announced whether they intend to reverse or otherwise address
these Trump Administration actions, but have specified that the United States would urge Israel to
avoid settlement activity or annexation of territory.77 The reported State Department proposal
mentioned above anticipates reversing the Trump Administration product labeling decision.78
Near the end of the Obama Administration in December 2016, the U.N. Security Council adopted
Resolution 2334, with the United States abstaining and all other Security Council members in
favor. Resolution 2334 reaffirmed that Israeli settlements in the West Bank (including East
Jerusalem) violate international law, and called upon states to “distinguish, in their relevant
dealings,” between the territory of Israel and of the West Bank.79
Israeli officials have continued construction-related announcements regarding settlements in the
West Bank and East Jerusalem. In January 2021, the planning authority that operates under Israeli
military jurisdiction approved plans for hundreds of additional homes in settlements whose
expansion deep within the West Bank could increase the difficulty of negotiating borders between

11, 2020. Prior to E.O. 13928, 67 Senators and 262 Representatives sent letters to then-Secretary of State Michael
Pompeo asserting that ICC jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza would be improper, and urging him to support Israel
in challenging it. The text of the Senators’ letter is available at
by-the-international-criminal-court, and the text of the Representatives’ letter is available at
74 Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the
International Criminal Court Designations, September 2, 2020. For background information, see CRS Insight IN11428,
International Criminal Court: U.S. Sanctions in Response to Investigation of War Crimes in Afghanistan, by Matthew
C. Weed and Dianne E. Rennack.
75 “Biden administration to review sanctions on International Criminal Court officials,” Reuters, January 26, 2021.
76 CRS Report R46433, Israel’s Possible Annexation of West Bank Areas: Frequently Asked Questions, by Jim Zanotti;
CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.
77 U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Richard Mills.
78 Karam, “‘The National’ obtains US official document for Palestinian ‘reset.’”
79 The most-cited international law pertaining to Israeli settlements is the Fourth Geneva Convention, Part III, Section
III, Article 49 Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, August 12, 1949, which states in its last
sentence, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it
occupies.” Israel insists that the West Bank does not fall under the international law definition of “occupied territory,”
but is rather “disputed territory” because the previous occupying power (Jordan) did not have an internationally
recognized claim to it (only a few countries recognized Jordan’s 1950 annexation of the West Bank), and given the
demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I and the end of the British Mandate in 1948, Israel claims that
no international actor has superior legal claim to it. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israeli Settlements and
International Law, November 30, 2015. Jordan renounced its claims to the West Bank in 1988 in favor of the PLO.
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Israel and a future Palestinian state.80 Some observers say that construction in certain areas could
present major obstacles to the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. Selected Planned Settlement Construction Areas in the West Bank and
East Jerusalem

Source: Peace Now.
PA Elections and Leadership Succession
Uncertainty surrounds the future of Palestinian democracy and leadership, with questions about
whether future elections are possible and who might eventually succeed Mahmoud Abbas (see
textbox below for his biography) as leader of the national movement. Since divided rule took hold
in 2007—with the Abbas-led PA in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza—periodic PA presidential
or legislative elections for the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem have been on hold, and the
Palestinian Legislative Council has ceased to function. Municipal elections for some West Bank
cities and towns occurred in 2012 and 2017.

80 Peace Now, “780 Settlement Housing Units Approved Ahead of US Presidential Transition,” January 17, 2021. See
also David Makovsky, Building Bridges for Peace: U.S. Policy Toward Arab States, Palestinians, and Israel,
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2021, pp. 9-10.
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Mahmoud Abbas: Biography
Abbas (also known by his Arabic kunya as “Abu Mazen” or “the father of
Mazen”—Abbas’s oldest son) is generally regarded as the leader of the Palestinian
national movement, given his status as the current PLO chairman, PA president,
and head of Fatah—having succeeded Yasser Arafat upon his death in 2004. Abbas
was elected as PA president in 2005 popular elections, and when his four-year
term expired in 2009, the PLO Central Council voted to extend his term
indefinitely until new elections could take place.
Abbas was born in 1935 in Safed in what is now northern Israel. Abbas and his
family left for Syria as refugees in 1948 when Israel was founded. He earned a B.A.
in law from Damascus University and a Ph.D. in history from Moscow’s Oriental
Abbas was an early member of Fatah, joining in Qatar. In the 1970s and 1980s, Abbas became a top deputy to
Arafat when he headed Fatah and the PLO.82 Abbas played an important role in negotiating the various Israeli-PLO
agreements of the 1990s, and returned to the West Bank and Gaza in 1995.
In March 2003, Abbas was named as the first PA prime minister, but was not given full authority because Arafat
(then the PA president) insisted on retaining ultimate decisionmaking authority and control over security services.
Abbas resigned as prime minister in September 2003, apparently as a result of frustration with Arafat, the United
States, and Israel.83
Since Abbas assumed the leadership of the Palestinian national movement after Arafat’s death in 2004, he has been
a part of the contentious negotiations and disputes that have largely characterized Palestinian relations with the
United States and Israel, while also cooperating closely with both countries on security matters. While Abbas
praises “martyrs” for the Palestinian cause, he also has made repeated public calls for nonviolent approaches to
resolving Palestinian disputes with Israel.
Abbas appears motivated by a complex combination of factors that include safeguarding his personal authority and
legacy, preventing destabilization and violence, and protecting his family members.84 Some observers have argued
that Abbas’s rule became more authoritarian and corrupt after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007 limited his
authority there, and left the PA without a functioning legislature or realistic prospects for future elections.85
In January 2021, the PA announced plans for legislative elections on May 22 and presidential
elections on July 31.86 Whether elections take place may depend on various factors,87 including:
 Fatah and Hamas agreement on electoral lists, processes, adjudication, and security; and

81 Some Jewish groups allege that Abbas’s doctoral thesis and a book based on the thesis (entitled The Other Side: The
Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism
) downplayed the number of Holocaust victims and accused Jews of
collaborating with the Nazis. Abbas has maintained that his work merely cited differences between other historians on
Holocaust victim numbers, and has stated that “The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish
nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind.” “Profile: Mahmoud Abbas,” BBC News,
November 29, 2012.
82 One of the Black September assassins involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack that killed 11 Israeli
athletes has claimed that Abbas was responsible for financing the attack, even though Abbas “didn’t know what the
money was being spent for.” Alexander Wolff, “The Mastermind,” Sports Illustrated, August 26, 2002.
83 James Bennet, “The Mideast Turmoil: The Leadership; Abbas Steps Down, Dealing Big Blow to U.S. Peace Plan,”
New York Times, September 7, 2003.
84 See, for example, Daoud Kuttab, “Abbas bids adieu,” Al-Monitor, August 1, 2018.
85 Ibid.; Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2020, “West Bank.”
86 As part of these plans, Palestinian leaders also anticipate that a selection process for members of the Palestinian
National Council (the PLO’s legislature) would take place by the end of August 2021, with some inclusion of Hamas in
the process. European Council on Foreign Relations, “Mapping Palestinian Politics.”
87 “Uncertainty as Palestine’s Abbas announces elections,” Al Jazeera, January 17, 2021.
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 Israeli cooperation, especially on the question of permitting Palestinians in East
Jerusalem to vote.
During the 14-year West Bank-Gaza split, Fatah and Hamas have reached a number of Egypt-
brokered agreements aimed at ending the split and allowing elections to take place, but have
generally not implemented these agreements. While Egyptian officials continue mediating Fatah-
Hamas discussions, some observers remain skeptical about the likelihood of elections.88 Some
others raise the possibility of an arrangement where the two factions agree on a joint list of
candidates for legislative elections, and Hamas refrains from running a presidential candidate.89
The potential for various figures from Fatah to form separate electoral lists, if it does not spur
reconciliation or reform within the faction, could undermine Fatah’s prospects vis-à-vis Hamas.90
The historical memory of Hamas’s surprise victory in the last PA elections to be held—the
legislative elections of 2006—is likely to influence the various parties’ calculations. After Hamas
assumed control over PA ministries with its legislative majority, the United States and other
Western actors significantly restructured assistance for the PA to prevent its use by those
ministries. Changes made to U.S. law and annual appropriations legislation (see textbox below)
remain possible constraints on aid to PA governments with Hamas participation or influence. The
ensuing 2006-2007 struggle between Fatah and Hamas for control of the PA—fueled in part by
external actors—contributed to the 2007 West Bank-Gaza split that created the divided rule of
Fatah-Hamas “Unity Government” Scenario and U.S. Aid
Per regular annual appropriations provisions, U.S. aid is generally not permitted for a power-sharing PA
government that includes Hamas as a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which
Hamas exercises “undue influence.” This general restriction is only lifted if the President certifies that the PA
government, including all ministers, has “publicly accepted and is complying with” the following two principles
embodied in Section 620K of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended by the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism
Act of 2006 (PATA, P.L. 109-446): (1) recognition of “the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist” and (2) acceptance
of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.91 If the PA government is “Hamas-controlled,” PATA applies additional
conditions, limitations, and restrictions on aid.
It is unclear what implications the scheduled elections—whether or not they happen—will have
for Palestinian governance and international relationships. Many observers assert that Abbas
announced elections largely to show his commitment to democracy and Palestinian unity in a way
that can build credibility and goodwill with the Biden Administration and other key international
actors.92 Passages from the reported State Department proposal mentioned above suggest that the
Administration is proceeding cautiously regarding PA elections, in light of the 2006 elections’
aftermath.93 Open questions include whether elections can take place in a free and fair manner,

88 Ghaith al-Omari, “Will the Palestinian Election Decree Produce Actual Elections?” Washington Institute for Near
East Policy, PolicyWatch 3424, January 27, 2021.
89 Dalia Hatuqa, “The New Palestinian Elections Are All Talk and No Action,”, February 2, 2021.
90 Aziza Nofal, “Fatah sacks senior member, highlighting split ahead of elections,” Al-Monitor, March 11, 2021.
91 P.L. 116-260, §7040(f).
92 Isabel Kershner and Adam Rasgon, “Abbas Announces Palestinian Elections After Years of Paralysis,” New York
, January 15, 2021.
93 Karam, “‘The National’ obtains US official document for Palestinian ‘reset.’”
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include international observers, and garner acceptance from both Fatah and Hamas in the event of
adverse outcomes for either.94
Speculation surrounds who may run for PA president. Abbas’s advanced age and reports of health
problems have fed public conjecture for several years about who might lead the PA, PLO, and
Fatah upon the end of his tenure—whether via elections or otherwise. In past years, Abbas has
said that he would not run again, and some Fatah Central Committee members have expressed
that the committee is ultimately responsible for nominating a candidate.95 However, some key
Fatah leaders have proclaimed that Abbas will be the candidate.96
Marwan Barghouti—a major Fatah leader who has supported negotiating with Israel at times,
and armed resistance against Israel at other times—is more popular than Abbas in public opinion
polls.97 He has announced his plans to run for PA president in the July election. It is unclear
whether Abbas and/or Barghouti will stand as candidates, and whether Israel would consider
releasing Barghouti from prison; an Israeli court convicted him of murder in 2004 in connection
with terrorist attacks during the second Palestinian intifada. Some Palestinian leaders are
reportedly considering creating the position of vice president to allow Abbas to run again and
have Barghouti or someone else in position to succeed him.98
Other Palestinian leaders who could be involved in succeeding Abbas include:
Mohammed Dahlan was a top security figure in Gaza under Arafat who is based
in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). His apparent involvement with Israel-UAE
normalization has fueled some speculation about regional and international
support for him in future PLO/PA leadership.99 While Dahlan has some political
support in the West Bank and Gaza, he remains a pariah within Fatah leadership.
The faction expelled him in 2011 after he and Abbas had a falling out, and in
2014 the PA convicted him in absentia of libel, slander, and contempt of
Palestinian institutions.
Majid Faraj (arguably Abbas’s most trusted security figure) and Salam Fayyad
(a previous PA prime minister) are prominent internationally, but have little
domestic popular support.
Mohammed Shtayyeh (PA prime minister since 2019) is an internationally
visible Fatah insider.
Nasser al Qudwa (a former PLO diplomat and Arafat’s nephew) is another
internationally visible figure who was expelled from Fatah in March 2021 for his
efforts to form a separate list of candidates for the planned legislative elections.
Mahmoud al Aloul and Jibril Rajoub have political heft within Fatah, but
relatively less international experience.

94 “Uncertainty as Palestine’s Abbas announces elections,” Al Jazeera.
95 Aaron Boxerman, “PA premier: Abbas to run as Fatah candidate in Palestinian presidential election,” Times of Israel,
January 21, 2021.
96 Daoud Kuttab, “Does Abbas intend to run for president after all?” Arab News, February 18, 2021.
97 PCPSR, Public Opinion Poll No. 78.
98 Daoud Kuttab, “Marwan Barghouti insists on running for president in Palestinian elections,” Al-Monitor, February
17, 2021.
99 See, for example, Neri Zilber, “The Talented Mr. Dahlan,” Newlines Magazine, November 11, 2020.
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Israeli Normalization with Arab States
Israel’s ongoing normalization of relations with Arab states could have political and economic
implications for the Palestinians.
Questions surround the impact that Arab states with open relations with Israel might have on
Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Will these states influence Israeli positions regarding the
Palestinians, due to their closer access to Israeli leaders and Israeli interests in maintaining and
improving ties with these countries? Or will these states—having decided to normalize relations
with Israel before a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—possess less leverage with
Israel, or possibly even support efforts to have Palestinians compromise their traditional
To the extent that Arab states increase trade and investment with Israel in connection with
normalization, how it affects Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza could depend on various
factors. If increased commercial ties are strictly bilateral, they may not provide much benefit to
the Palestinians. However, efforts by Arab state leaders to improve Palestinians’ economic well-
being could increase their populations’ acceptance of political normalization with Israel. Such
efforts could include expanded Arab state commercial ties with or aid to the Palestinians, or
regional economic projects that involve or benefit the Palestinians in addition to increasing Israel-
Arab state commercial ties.
Examples of regional projects could include:
 Boosting support for Israeli natural gas exports to Arab neighbors, including the
 Developing Gaza’s potential offshore natural gas deposits.101
 Boosting support for regional cooperation on water sharing and environmental
issues, such as a proposed Red Sea-Dead Sea project involving Israel, Jordan,
and the PA.102
 Regional infrastructure projects such as the Tracks for Regional Peace project
mentioned in the Israel-UAE treaty signed in September 2020.103
Additionally, it is possible that Arab states could encourage Israel to ease movement and access
restrictions affecting Palestinian economic activity. For example, there are conflicting claims
about whether the UAE might have influenced Israel in its December 2020 decision to allow
some Palestinians to reclaim the use of their farms in the Jordan Valley region of the West

100 Zvi Bar’el, “After Countless Failures, Could Natural Gas Power a Breakthrough in Israel-Palestine Relations?”, December 22, 2020.
101 Ibid.
102 For information on the proposed Red Sea-Dead Sea project, see David Schenker and Ghaith al-Omari, “Getting the
Israel-Jordan Relationship Back on Track,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 12, 2021; Osama Al
Sharif, “Project to save Dead Sea going nowhere,” Al-Monitor, December 30, 2020.
103 In August 2019, the Israeli foreign ministry released a proposal for Tracks for Regional Peace, which would build a
rail line from Israel to Saudi Arabia and the UAE via the West Bank and Jordan. A major part of its appeal would be
allowing the participant countries to bypass the two major chokepoints of the Strait of Hormuz (Persian Gulf) and Bab
al-Mandab (Red Sea). See Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tracks for regional peace - regional land bridge and hub
initiative, August 5, 2019.
104 “PA denies claims UAE returned Jordan Valley farms to Palestinians,” Middle East Monitor, January 5, 2021.
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Gaza’s Challenges
The Gaza Strip (see Figure 2) presents complicated challenges for U.S. policy. Hamas, Israel, the
PA, and several outside actors affect Gaza’s difficult security, political, and humanitarian
situations. Since Hamas seized de facto control within Gaza in 2007 (for more information on
Hamas and Gaza, see Appendix B and Appendix C), these situations have fueled periodic
violence between Israel and Hamas (along with other Palestinian militants based in Gaza) that
could recur in the future.
Three large-scale conflicts took place in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014. In each of these conflicts,
Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel, while Israel conducted airstrikes targeting militants
in Gaza (for more information on threats to Israel from Palestinian violence, see the textbox in
Appendix B). Israel also launched some ground operations, particularly in the 2008-2009 and
2014 conflicts. In the aftermath of each conflict, significant international attention focused on the
still largely elusive tasks of
 improving humanitarian conditions and economic opportunities for Palestinians
in Gaza; and
 preventing Hamas and other militants from reconstituting arsenals and military
No significant breakthrough has occurred to reconcile civilian infrastructure needs with security
considerations. Such a breakthrough could include one or more of the following: (1) a political
reunification of Gaza with the West Bank, (2) reducing restrictions on access and commerce, (3) a
long-term Hamas-Israel cease-fire. Political reunification appears to depend on Hamas’s
willingness to cede control of security in Gaza to the PA. In the past, PA President Abbas has
insisted that he will not accept a situation where PA control is undermined by Hamas’s militia.105
The precarious security situation in Gaza is linked to humanitarian conditions, and because Gaza
does not have a self-sufficient economy (see Appendix C and Appendix D), external assistance
largely drives humanitarian welfare. Gazans face chronic economic difficulties and shortages of
electricity and safe drinking water.106 Large transfers of aid to the PA have historically been
critical inputs for the economy in the West Bank and Gaza, but according to the World Bank aid
received by the PA in 2020 was 20 percent lower than in 2019 and the lowest in decades.107
The possibility that humanitarian crisis could destabilize Gaza has prompted some efforts aimed
at improving living conditions and reducing spillover threats. In fall 2018, Israel started allowing
shipments of Qatari fuel and cash into Gaza to partially alleviate the electricity and funding
shortages.108 In early 2021, Qatar announced that it would increase its annual contribution to
Gaza by around 50% to $360 million, and also pledged $60 million to ease Gaza’s energy crisis
by helping build a natural gas pipeline to Gaza from Israel.109

105 “Abbas: If PA not handed control of Gaza, Hamas must take full responsibility,” Times of Israel, August 18, 2018.
106 For information on the situation, see U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian
territory (OCHA-oPt), Gaza Strip: Critical Humanitarian Indicators, at
107 World Bank, Economic Monitoring Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, February 23, 2021, p. 14. Also see
Figure D-1.
108 Oren Liebermann, et al., “Suitcases of $15M in cash from Qatar bring relief for Gaza,” CNN, November 11, 2018.
109 Aaron Boxerman, “Qatar raises annual aid to Gaza to $360 million,” Times of Israel, January 31, 2021; “Qatar says
to fund $60 million pipeline from Israel to Gaza,” Reuters, February 25, 2021.
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Role of Congress
As Congress exercises oversight over U.S. policy regarding Israeli-Palestinian developments, and
considers legislative options—including on annual appropriations for the Palestinians, Members
may consider a number of issues, including the following:
 various aspects of U.S.-Palestinian relations, including foreign aid and the
possible reopening of diplomatic offices;
 the status of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy and how it relates to Israel’s
normalization of relations with some Arab states;
 Palestinian international initiatives and the ICC’s investigation into possible
Israeli and Palestinian war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza;
 human rights, humanitarian, and economic development concerns, especially in
 countering terrorism from Hamas and other groups;
 the surrounding region’s effects on the West Bank and Gaza, and vice versa; and
 Palestinian domestic leadership and civil society.
Some key factors could influence issues for Congress in 2021. These factors include whether the
PLO/PA significantly changes welfare payments to or on behalf of individuals allegedly involved
in acts of terrorism, the extent to which Israeli legal institutions and proceedings might preclude
the ICC from prosecuting cases against Israeli personnel, and how developments unfold on PA
elections and leadership succession. Consideration of these factors takes place within the context
of Biden Administration efforts to improve ties with the Palestinians, existing legislation such as
the TFA, and more visible Israel-Arab state relations. Also, given existing legislation and
longtime U.S. concerns about a direct Hamas involvement in PA leadership, a greater Hamas role
in the PA or PLO could affect U.S. aid for and actions toward the Palestinians.111

110 A March 12, 2021, letter from 12 Representatives urged Secretary Blinken to take more assertive stances in support
of Palestinian human rights. Text of letter available at
111 CRS Report RS22967, U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians, by Jim Zanotti.
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Appendix A. Key Palestinian Factions and Groups
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
The PLO is recognized by the United Nations (including Israel since 1993) as the sole legitimate
representative of the Palestinian people, wherever they may reside. It is an umbrella organization
that includes 10 Palestinian factions (but not Hamas or other Islamist groups). The PLO was
founded in 1964, and, since 1969, has been dominated by the secular nationalist Fatah movement.
Organizationally, the PLO consists of an Executive Committee, the Palestinian National Council
(or PNC, its legislature), and a Central Council.112
After waging guerrilla warfare against Israel under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, the PNC
declared Palestinian independence and statehood in 1988. This came at a point roughly coinciding
with the PLO’s decision to publicly accept the “land-for-peace” principle of U.N. Security
Council Resolution 242 and to contemplate recognizing Israel’s right to exist. The declaration had
little practical effect, however, because the PLO was in exile in Tunisia and did not define the
territorial scope of its state.113 The PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist in 1993 upon the
signing of the Declaration of Principles between the two parties.
While the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains a measure of self-rule over various areas of the
West Bank, as well as a legal claim to self-rule over Gaza despite Hamas’s security presence,114
the PLO remains the representative of the Palestinian people to Israel and other international
actors. Under the name “State of Palestine,” the PLO maintains a permanent observer mission to
the United Nations in New York and in Geneva as a “non-member state,” and has missions and
embassies in other countries—some with full diplomatic status. The PLO also is a full member of
both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Fatah, the secular nationalist movement formerly led by Yasser Arafat, has been the largest and
most prominent faction in the PLO for decades. Since the establishment of the PA and limited
self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza in 1994, Fatah has dominated the PA, except during the
period of partial Hamas rule in 2006-2007. Yet, popular disillusionment has come from the failure
to establish a Palestinian state, internecine violence, corruption, and poor governance. Arafat’s

112 The PNC consists of more than 700 members, a majority of whom are from the diaspora. The Central Council is
chaired by the PNC president and has 124 members—consisting of the entire Executive Committee, plus (among
others) representatives from Fatah and other PLO factions, the Palestinian Legislative Council, and prominent interest
groups and professions. The Central Council functions as a link between the Executive Committee and the PNC. Either
the PNC or the Central Council reportedly can elect the 18 members of the Executive Committee, which functions as a
cabinet—with each member assuming discrete responsibilities—and the Executive Committee elects its own
chairperson. The European Council on Foreign Relations’ online resource Mapping Palestinian Politics at is a source for much of the PLO organizational
information in this paragraph.
113 The declaration included the phrase: “The State of Palestine is the state of Palestinians wherever they may be.” The
text is available at
114 The PA’s legal claim to self-rule over Gaza is subject to the original Oslo-era agreements of the 1990s, the
agreements between Israel and the PA regarding movement and access that were formalized in November 2005 shortly
after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and the June 2014 formation of a PA government with formal sway over both the
self-rule areas in the West Bank and Gaza.
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2004 death removed a major unifying symbol, further eroding Fatah’s support under Mahmoud
Fatah’s 1960s charter continues to include clauses calling for the destruction of the Zionist state
and its economic, political, military, and cultural supports.115 Abbas routinely expresses support
for “legitimate peaceful resistance” to Israeli occupation under international law, complemented
by negotiations. However, some of the other Fatah Central Committee members are either less
outspoken in their advocacy of nonviolent resistance than Abbas, or reportedly explicitly insist on
the need to preserve the option of armed struggle.116
Other PLO Factions and Leaders
Factions other than Fatah within the PLO include secular groups such as the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine (PFLP, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization), the Democratic Front for
the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestinian People’s Party. All of these factions have minor
political support relative to Fatah and Hamas.
A number of Palestinian politicians and other leaders without traditional factional affiliation have
successfully gained followings domestically and in the international community under the PLO’s
umbrella, even some who are not formally affiliated with the PLO. These figures—such as Salam
Fayyad, Hanan Ashrawi (a female Christian), and Mustafa Barghouti—often have competing
agendas. Several of them support a negotiated two-state solution, generally oppose violence, and
appeal to the Palestinian intellectual elite and to prominent Western governments and
Non-PLO Factions
Hamas (an Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”) is a U.S.-designated terrorist
organization and Fatah’s main rival for leadership of the Palestinian national movement.
Countering Hamas is a focal point for Israel and the United States.
Hamas grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious and political organization founded in
Egypt in 1928 with affiliates and sympathizers throughout the Arab world. Hamas’s emergence as
a major political and military group can be traced to the first Palestinian intifada (or uprising),
which began in the Gaza Strip in 1987 in resistance to what Hamas terms the Israeli occupation of
Palestinian-populated lands. The group presented an alternative to Yasser Arafat and his secular
Fatah movement by using violence against Israeli civilian and military targets just as Arafat began
negotiating with Israel. Hamas took a leading role in attacks against Israelis—including suicide

115 This is the case even though Fatah is the predominant member faction of the PLO, and the PLO formally recognized
Israel’s right to exist pursuant to the “Letters of Mutual Recognition” of September 9, 1993 (although controversy
remains over whether the PLO charter has been amended to accommodate this recognition).
116 The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (AAMB) is a militant offshoot of Fatah that emerged in the West Bank early in the
second intifada and later began operating in Gaza as well. It was added to the State Department’s list of Foreign
Terrorist Organizations in March 2002. In line with the Abbas-led PA’s effort to centralize control, the Brigades
lowered its profile in the West Bank after 2007. However, some observers have noted that militant elements remain
within Fatah, including some members of the AAMB, and are generally known as the Tanzim. See, for example,
Michael Milshtein, “Fateh`s ‘Tanzim’ Formations: a potential challenge that is liable to intensify in the face of
scenarios of deterioration in the Palestinian arena,” IDC Herzliya Institute for Policy and Strategy, June 2020.
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bombings targeting civilians—during the second intifada (between 2000 and 2005—see
Appendix B for more information on the two intifadas and Palestinian violence and terrorism).
Shortly after Arafat’s death in 2004, the group decided to directly involve itself in politics. In
2006, a year after the election of Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas as PA president, and just a few months
after Israel’s military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Hamas defeated Fatah in Palestinian
Legislative Council elections. Subsequently, Israel, the United States, and others in the
international community have sought to neutralize or marginalize Hamas. As discussed in
Appendix C, Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 and has exercised de facto rule there since
According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism for 2019, Hamas “comprises
several thousand Gaza-based operatives.”
Ideology, Organization, and Leadership
Hamas’s ideology combines Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism. Hamas’s
founding charter committed the group to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an
Islamic state in all of historic Palestine.117 A 2017 document updated Hamas’s founding
principles. It clarified that Hamas’s conflict is with the “Zionist project” rather than the Jews, and
expressed willingness to accept a Palestinian state within the 1949/50-1967 armistice lines if it
results from “national consensus.”118
Since Hamas’s inception during the first intifada in 1987, it has maintained its primary base of
support and particularly strong influence in the Gaza Strip. It also has a significant presence in the
West Bank and in various Arab countries.
The leadership structure of Hamas is opaque, and much of the open source reporting available on
it cannot be independently verified. It is unclear who controls strategy, policy, and financial
decisions. In previous years, some external leaders reportedly sought to move toward a less
militant stance in exchange for Hamas obtaining a significant role in the PLO, which represents
Palestinians internationally.
Overall policy guidance comes from a Shura (or consultative) Council, with reported
representation from the West Bank, Gaza, and other places. Qatar-based Ismail Haniyeh is the
overall leader of Hamas’s political bureau (politburo). Yahya Sinwar, previously a top
commander from Hamas’s military wing, is the movement’s leader for Gaza.119 The militia,
known as the Izz al Din al Qassam Brigades,120 is led by Muhammad Deif,121 and may seek to
drive political decisions via its control over security. Haniyeh, Sinwar, and Deif have all been
named by the Treasury Department as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

117 For the English translation of the 1988 Hamas charter, see
118 “Hamas in 2017: The document in full,” Middle East Eye, May 1, 2017. This document, unlike the 1988 charter,
does not identify Hamas with the Muslim Brotherhood.
119 “Gaza’s ruthless pragmatist,” Economist, May 26, 2018.
120 Izz al Din al Qassam was a Muslim Brotherhood member, preacher, and leader of an anti-Zionist and anticolonialist
resistance movement in historic Palestine during the British Mandate period. He was killed by British forces on
November 19, 1935.
121 For a profile of Deif, see Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell, “Has Hamas military chief, Mohammed Deif,
escaped death again?” Reuters, August 20, 2014.
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External Support
Hamas reportedly receives support from a number of sources, including some states. Along with
some other non-PLO factions, Hamas has historically received much of its political and material
support (including funding, weapons, and training) from Iran. Hamas became distant from Iran
when it broke with Syria’s government in the early years of the country’s civil war. However, the
Hamas-Iran relationship reportedly revived—including financially—around 2017.122
In 2014, a Treasury Department official stated publicly that Qatar “has for many years openly
financed Hamas.”123 Qatari officials have denied that their government supported Hamas
financially and have argued that their policy is to support the Palestinian people.
In addition to external assistance from states, Hamas has other sources of support. According to
the State Department’s profile of Hamas in its Country Reports on Terrorism for 2019, the group
“raises funds in Gulf countries” and “receives donations from some Palestinian and other
expatriates as well as from its own charity organizations.”
Some reports claim that Hamas officials use Turkey as a base of operations.124 Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan periodically hosts top Hamas officials and expresses support for the
group’s political aims.
On January 11, 2021, Representative Brian Mast introduced the Palestinian International
Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2021 (H.R. 261). The bill, which is virtually identical to a
bill introduced during the 116th Congress (H.R. 1850), would require the President to report to
Congress on foreign sources of support for Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad, and impose
sanctions on these sources as specified, subject to a waiver for national security reasons.
Other Rejectionist Groups
Several other small Palestinian groups continue to reject the PLO’s decision to recognize Israel’s
right to exist and to conduct negotiations. They remain active in the West Bank and Gaza and
retain some ability to carry out terrorist attacks and other forms of violence to undermine efforts
at cooperation and conciliation. In Gaza, some observers speculate that Hamas permits or even
supports the operations of some of these groups, including those with a presence in Egypt’s Sinai
Peninsula, without avowing ties to them. Such groups provide Hamas opportunities to tacitly
acquiesce to attacks against Israel while avoiding direct responsibility.
Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ)
The largest of these other groups is Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a U.S.-designated terrorist
organization that, like Hamas, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and receives support
from Iran. PIJ emerged in the 1980s in the Gaza Strip as a rival to Hamas.
Since 2000, PIJ has conducted several attacks against Israeli targets (including suicide bombings),
killing scores of Israelis.125 PIJ militants in Gaza sometimes take the lead in firing rockets into

122 See, for example, Shlomi Eldar, “Hamas turns to Iran,” Al-Monitor, July 6, 2017.
123 Remarks of Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen before the Center for a New
American Security on “Confronting New Threats in Terrorist Financing,” March 4, 2014.
124 “Israel dismantles money transfer channel between Hamas operatives in Turkey and West Bank,” i24News,
February 15, 2021; “Revealed: How a bank in Turkey funded Hamas terror operations,” Arab News, October 20, 2020.
125 Suicide bombing figures culled from Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at
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Israel—perhaps to pressure Hamas into matching its hardline tactics or to demonstrate its
credentials as a resistance movement to domestic audiences and external supporters.
PIJ’s ideology combines Palestinian nationalism, Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, and Shiite
revolutionary thought (inspired by the Iranian revolution). PIJ seeks liberation of all of historic
Palestine through armed revolt and the establishment of an Islamic state, but unlike Hamas has
not established a social services network, formed a political movement, or participated in
elections. Perhaps largely for these reasons, PIJ has not approached the same level of support
among Palestinians as Hamas. Some PIJ leaders reside in Syria, Lebanon, or other Arab states.
According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism for 2019, “PIJ has close to
1,000 members.”
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)
Another—though smaller—Iran-sponsored militant group designated as an FTO is the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). PFLP-GC is a splinter group
from the PFLP. According to the State Department’s 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism, PFLP-
GC’s operates in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza and has several hundred members.
Salafist Militant Groups
A number of small Palestinian Salafist-Jihadist militant groups evincing affinities toward groups
such as Al Qaeda or the Islamic State have arisen in the Gaza Strip. Some Salafist groups
reportedly include former Hamas militia commanders who became disaffected by actions from
Hamas that they deemed to be overly moderate. Salafist groups do not currently appear to
threaten Hamas’s rule in Gaza.
Palestinian Refugees
Of the some 700,000 Palestinians displaced before and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, about
one-third ended up in the West Bank, one-third in the Gaza Strip, and one-third in neighboring
Arab countries. According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the
Near East (UNRWA), there are more than 5 million registered refugees (comprising original
refugees and their descendants) in UNRWA’s areas of operation—the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan,
Syria, and Lebanon. Jordan offered Palestinian refugees citizenship, partly owing to its previous
unilateral annexation of the West Bank (which ended in 1988), but the other refugees in the
region are generally stateless and therefore limited in their ability to travel. Many of the refugees
remain reliant on UNRWA for food, health care, and education.
For political and economic reasons, Arab host governments generally have not actively supported
the assimilation of Palestinian refugees into their societies. Even if able to assimilate, many
Palestinian refugees hold out hope of returning to the homes they or their ancestors left behind or
possibly to a future Palestinian state. Many assert a sense of dispossession and betrayal over
never having been allowed to return to their homes, land, and property. Some Palestinian factions
have organized followings among refugee populations, and militias have proliferated at various
times in some refugee areas. The refugees seek to influence both their host governments and the
PLO/PA to pursue a solution to their claims as part of any final status deal with Israel.
For additional information on Palestinian refugees and UNRWA, see CRS Report RS22967, U.S.
Foreign Aid to the Palestinians
, by Jim Zanotti.
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Appendix B. Historical Background
Palestinian political identity emerged during the British Mandate period (1923-1948), began to
crystallize with the 1947 United Nations partition plan (General Assembly Resolution 181), and
grew stronger following Israel’s conquest and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in
1967. Although in 1947 the United Nations intended to create two states in Palestine—one Jewish
and one Arab—only the Jewish state came into being. Varying explanations for the failure to
found an Arab state alongside a Jewish state in mandatory Palestine place blame on the British,
the Zionists, neighboring Arab states, the Palestinians themselves, or some combination of these
As the state of Israel won its independence in 1947-1948, roughly 700,000 Palestinians were
driven or fled from their homes, an occurrence Palestinians call the nakba (“catastrophe”). Many
ended up in neighboring states (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan) or in Arab Gulf states such as
Kuwait. Palestinians remaining in Israel became Israeli citizens. Those who were in the West
Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza were subject to Jordanian and Egyptian
administration, respectively. With their population in disarray, and no clear hierarchical structure
or polity to govern their affairs, Palestinians’ interests were largely represented by Arab states that
had conflicting interests.
1967 was a watershed year for the Palestinians. In the June Six-Day War, Israel decisively
defeated the Arab states who had styled themselves as the Palestinians’ protectors, seizing East
Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip (as well as the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and the
Golan Heights from Syria). Thus, Israel gained control over the entire area that constituted
Palestine under the British Mandate. Israel’s territorial gains provided buffer zones between
Israel’s main Jewish population centers and its traditional Arab state antagonists. These buffer
zones remain an important part of the Israeli strategic calculus to this day.
After the 1967 war, Israel only effectively annexed East Jerusalem (as well as the Golan Heights),
leaving the West Bank and Gaza under military occupation. However, both territories became
increasingly economically linked with Israel. Furthermore, Israel presided over the settlement of
thousands of Jewish civilians in both territories (although many more in the West Bank than
Gaza)—officially initiating some of these projects and assuming security responsibility for all of
them. Settlement of the West Bank increased markedly once the Likud Party, with its vision of a
“Greater Israel” extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, took power in 1977.
Having Israelis settle in the West Bank presented some economic and cultural opportunities for
Palestinians, but also new challenges to their identity and cohesion, civil rights, and territorial
contiguity. These challenges persist and have since intensified.
The Arab states’ defeat in 1967, and Israeli rule and settlement of the West Bank and Gaza,
allowed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to emerge as the representative of
Palestinian national aspirations. Founded in 1964 as an umbrella organization of Palestinian
factions and militias in exile under the aegis of the League of Arab States (Arab League), the PLO
asserted its own identity after the Six-Day War by staging guerrilla raids against Israel from
Jordanian territory. The late Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement gained leadership of the PLO
in 1969, and the PLO subsequently achieved international prominence on behalf of the
Palestinian national cause—representing both the refugees and those under Israeli rule in the West
Bank and Gaza. Often this prominence came infamously from acts of terrorism and militancy.

126 See, for example, Edward Said, The Question of Palestine, New York: Times Books, 1979; Barry Rubin, Israel: An
, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
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Although Jordan forced the PLO to relocate to Lebanon in the early 1970s, and Israel forced it to
move from Lebanon to Tunisia in 1982, the organization and its influence survived. In 1987,
Palestinians inside the West Bank and Gaza rose up in opposition to Israeli occupation (the first
intifada, or uprising), leading to increased international attention and sympathy for the
Palestinians’ situation. In December 1988, as the intifada continued, Arafat initiated dialogue with
the United States by renouncing violence, promising to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and
accepting the “land-for-peace” principle embodied in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.127
Arafat’s turn to diplomacy with the United States and Israel may have been partly motivated by
concerns that if the PLO’s leadership could not be repatriated from exile, its legitimacy with
Palestinians might be overtaken by local leaders of the intifada in the West Bank and Gaza (which
included Hamas). These concerns intensified when Arafat lost much of his Arab state support
following his political backing for Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
After direct secret diplomacy with Israel brokered by Norway, the PLO recognized Israel’s right
to exist in 1993, and through the “Oslo agreements” gained limited self-rule for Palestinians in
Gaza and parts of the West Bank—via the creation of the PA. The agreements were gradually and
partially implemented during the 1990s, but the expectation that they would lead to a final-status
peace agreement has not been realized.
Palestinian Violence and Terrorism Since the Oslo Agreements
Various Palestinian groups have engaged in a variety of methods of violence since the Israel-PLO agreements of
the 1990s, killing hundreds of Israelis—both military and civilian.128 Palestinians who insist that they are engaging in
asymmetric warfare with a stronger enemy point to the thousands of deaths inflicted on Palestinians by Israelis
since 1993,129 some through acts of terrorism aimed at civilians.130
Palestinian militants in Gaza periodically fire rockets and mortars into Israel indiscriminately. The possibility that a
rocket threat could emerge from the West Bank is one factor that Israelis have cited in explaining their reluctance
to consider a full withdrawal from there.131 Although Palestinian militants maintain rocket and mortar arsenals,
Israel’s Iron Dome defense system reportedly has decreased the threat to Israel from these projectiles.132
Additionally, tunnels that Palestinian militants in Gaza used somewhat effectively in a 2014 conflict have been
neutralized to some extent by systematic Israeli efforts, with some financial and technological assistance from the
United States.133

127 UNSCR 242, adopted in 1967 shortly after the Six-Day War, calls for a “just and lasting peace in the Middle East”
based on (1) “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the [1967 Six-Day War]” and (2)
“Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial
integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and
recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
128 Statistics available from B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories)
website at
129 Ibid.
130 The most prominent attack by an Israeli civilian against Palestinians since 1993 was the killing of at least 29
Palestinians (and possibly between 10 to 23 more) and the wounding of about 150 more by Israeli settler Baruch
Goldstein (a Brooklyn-born former military doctor) at the Ibrahimi Mosque (Mosque of Abraham) in the Cave of the
Patriarchs in Hebron on February 25, 1994 (the Jewish holy day of Purim) while the victims were at prayer. See George
J. Church, “When Fury Rules,” Time, March 7, 1994. This incident has been cited by many analysts as a provocation
for the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign that followed.
131 See, for example, Hirsh Goodman, “The Dangers of a Unilateral Israeli Withdrawal from the West Bank and
Eastern Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2017.
132 Neri Zilber, “Israel and Hamas: Negotiating With Rockets and Bombs,” Daily Beast, May 31, 2018. For more on
Iron Dome, see CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, by Jeremy M. Sharp.
133 CRS Report RL33222, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, by Jeremy M. Sharp.
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Since 2018, some Palestinians—with reported encouragement from Hamas—have tried to breach fences dividing
Gaza from Israel, or have used incendiary kites or balloons to set fires to arable land in southern Israel.134 The
purpose of these tactics may be to provoke Israeli responses that evoke international sympathy for Palestinians
and criticism of Israel—a dynamic that bolstered Palestinian national aspirations in the late 1980s during the first
Isolated attacks still occur within Israel and the West Bank. Some are perpetrated by Palestinians who are
unaffiliated with terrorist groups and who use small arms or vehicles as weapons. Antipathy between Jewish
settlers and Palestinian residents in the West Bank leads to occasional attacks on both sides. Some militants have
staged attacks at or near Gaza border crossings and attempted to capture Israeli soldiers there.
Many factors have contributed to the failure to complete the Oslo process. A second Palestinian
intifada from 2000 to 2005 was marked by intense terrorist violence inside Israel. In response,
Israel took actions that it asserted were necessary to safeguard its citizens’ security, rendering
unusable much of the PA infrastructure built over the preceding decade. During the second
intifada, U.S.- and internationally supported efforts to restart peace negotiations under various
auspices failed to gain traction.
After Arafat’s death in 2004 and his succession by Mahmoud Abbas, Israel unilaterally withdrew
its settlers and military forces from Gaza in 2005. Despite forswearing responsibility for Gaza,
Israel has continued to control most of Gaza’s borders, airspace, maritime access, and even
various buffer zones within the territory. The limited self-rule regime of the PA was undermined
further by Hamas’s legislative election victory in 2006, and its takeover of Gaza in 2007. Having
different Palestinian leaders controlling the West Bank and Gaza since then has complicated the
question of who speaks for the Palestinians both domestically and internationally (see Appendix

134 Mark Landler, “As Violence Flares, Kushner Threatens to Abandon Plan to Rebuild Gaza,” New York Times, July
23, 2018.
135 See, for example, Hussein Ibish, “The Nonviolent Violence of Hamas,”, April 6, 2018.
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Appendix C. Palestinian Governance
Achieving effective and transparent governance over the West Bank and Gaza and preventing
Israeli-Palestinian violence has proven elusive for Palestinian leaders since their limited self-rule
experiment began in 1994. The split established in 2007 between the Abbas-led PA in the West
Bank and Hamas in Gaza exacerbated these difficulties.
Palestinian Authority (PA)
The Palestinian National Authority (or Palestinian Authority, hereafter PA) was granted limited
rule under Israeli occupational authority in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank in the mid-
1990s, pursuant to the Oslo agreements.136 One of the PLO’s options is to restructure or dissolve
the PA (either in concert with Israel or unilaterally) pursuant to the claim that the PA is a
constitutional creature of PLO agreements with Israel.137
Although not a state, the PA is organized like one—complete with executive, legislative, and
judicial organs of governance, as well as security forces. Ramallah is its de facto seat, but is not
considered to be the PA capital because of Palestinian political consensus that Jerusalem (or at
least the part east of the 1949-1967 Israel-Jordan armistice line, or “Green Line”) should be the
capital of a Palestinian state.
The executive branch has both a president and a prime minister-led cabinet, and the Palestinian
Legislative Council (PLC) is the PA’s legislature (sidelined since Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in
2007). The judicial branch has separate high courts to decide substantive disputes and to settle
controversies regarding Palestinian basic law. There are also a High Judicial Council and separate
security courts. The electoral base of the PA is composed of Palestinians from the West Bank,
Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
Leadership succession within the PA after Mahmoud Abbas leaves office could present Hamas
with opportunities to increase its influence, especially if the process does not definitively
concentrate power around one or more non-Hamas figures. Though Hamas members have not run
in past presidential elections, one or more could potentially run in future elections.
Under Article 37 of the Palestinian Basic Law,138 it appears that if Abbas were to leave office, the
speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (currently Aziz Dweik, a member of Hamas) would
take over duties as president for a period not to exceed 60 days, by which time elections for a
more permanent successor are supposed to take place.
Succession to the PA presidency could be determined by elections or under the Palestinian Basic
Law. Abbas’s term of office was supposed to be four years, with a new round of elections initially
planned for 2009 that would have allowed Abbas to run for a second and final term. However, the
split between the Abbas-led PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza has indefinitely postponed
PA elections, with the last presidential election having taken place in 2005 and the last legislative
election in 2006. In December 2009, the PLO’s Central Council voted to extend the terms of both

136 The relevant Israel-PLO agreements that created the PA and established its parameters were the Agreement on the
Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area, dated May 4, 1994; and the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip, dated September 28, 1995.
137 The PA was originally intended to be a temporary, transitional mechanism for the five-year period prescribed for
final-status negotiations, not an indefinite administrative authority.
138 The Palestinian Basic Law is the set of laws that govern the PA. The Palestinian Legislative Council originally
passed it in 1997, and PA President Yasser Arafat ratified it in 2002. Some amendments have occurred since.
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Abbas and the current PLC until elections can be held. This precedent could lead to PLO action in
selecting or attempting to select a successor to Abbas as PA president.
West Bank
The PA administers densely populated Palestinian areas in the West Bank subject to supervening
Israeli control under the Oslo agreements (see Figure 1 for map).139 Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
soldiers regularly mount arrest operations to apprehend wanted Palestinians or foil terrorist plots.
They maintain permanent posts throughout the West Bank and along the West Bank’s
administrative borders with Israel and Jordan to protect Jewish settlers and broader security
interests. The IDF sometimes takes measures that involve the expropriation of West Bank land or
dispossession of Palestinians from their homes and communities.
Coordination between Israeli and PA authorities generally takes place discreetly, given the
political sensitivity for PA leaders to be seen as collaborating with Israeli occupiers. In 2002, at
the height of the second intifada, Israel demonstrated its ability to reoccupy PA-controlled areas
of the West Bank in what it called Operation Defensive Shield. The IDF demolished many official
PA buildings, Palestinian neighborhoods, and other infrastructure.140
Since 2007, when the West Bank-Gaza split took place and Western efforts to bolster PA security
forces in the West Bank resumed, some observers have noted signs of progress with PA security
capabilities and West Bank economic development.141 It is less clear whether the progress they
cite can be self-sustaining absent a broader political solution with Israel.
Hamas’s security control of Gaza (see Figure 2 for map) presents a conundrum for the Abbas-led
PA, Israel, and the international community. They have been unable to establish a durable
political-security framework for Gaza that assists Gaza’s population without bolstering Hamas.
For more information, see “Gaza’s Challenges.”
Hamas’s preeminence in Gaza can be traced to 2006-2007. After victory in the 2006 PA
legislative elections, Hamas consolidated its power in Gaza—while losing it in the West Bank—
through violent struggle with Fatah in June 2007. Hamas’s security forces have maintained power
in Gaza ever since, even after its de facto government relinquished nominal responsibility to the
PA in June 2014.
Since Hamas’s 2007 takeover of Gaza, Israeli and Egyptian authorities have maintained strict
control over Gaza’s border crossings.142 Israel justifies the restrictions it imposes as a way to deny

139 The two agreements that define respective Israeli and PA zones of control are (1) the Israeli-Palestinian Interim
Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, dated September 28, 1995; and (2) the Protocol Concerning the
Redeployment in Hebron, dated January 17, 1997. East Jerusalem is excluded from these agreements, as Israel has
effectively annexed it.
140 Anna Ahronheim, “Fifteen years after Op. Defensive Shield, situation on the ground completely different,”, April 24, 2017.
141 See, for example, Neri Zilber and Ghaith al-Omari, State with No Army, Army with No State: Evolution of the
Palestinian Authority Security Forces: 1994-2018
, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 2018.
142 In November 2005, Israel and the PA signed an Agreement on Movement and Access, featuring U.S. and European
Union participation in the travel and commerce regime that was supposed to emerge post-Gaza disengagement, but this
agreement was never fully implemented. In September 2007, three months after Hamas’s takeover of Gaza, the closure
regime was further formalized when Israel declared Gaza to be a “hostile entity.” Depending on circumstances since
then, Israel has eased and re-tightened restrictions on various imports and exports. Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of
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Hamas materials to reconstitute its military capabilities. However, the restrictions also limit
commerce, affect the entire economy, and delay humanitarian assistance.143 For several years,
Hamas compensated somewhat for these restrictions by routinely smuggling goods into Gaza
from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula through a network of tunnels. However, after Egypt’s military
regained political control in July 2013, it disrupted the tunnel system.
Observers routinely voice concerns that if current arrangements continue, the dispiriting living
conditions that have persisted since Israel’s withdrawal in 2005 could feed radicalization within
Gaza and pressure its leaders to increase violence against Israel for political ends.144 Israel
disputes the level of legal responsibility for Gaza’s residents that some international actors claim
it retains—given its continued control of most of Gaza’s borders, airspace, maritime access, and
various buffer zones within the territory.
Within limited parameters amid Gaza’s political uncertainties and access restrictions, UNRWA
and other international organizations and nongovernmental organizations take care of many
Gazans’ day-to-day humanitarian needs. These groups play significant roles in providing various
forms of assistance and trying to facilitate reconstruction from previous conflicts. For more
information on Palestinian refugees, see Appendix A.

Movement, Gaza Up Close, September 1, 2020. Widespread unemployment and poverty persist.
143 World Bank, Economic Monitoring Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, June 2, 2020, p. 24.
144 U.N. OCHA-oPt, Humanitarian Needs Overview OPT 2021, December 2020.
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Appendix D. Palestinian Economy
The economy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip faces structural difficulties—with Gaza’s real per
capita income about half that of the West Bank’s.145 Palestinians’ livelihoods largely depend on
their ties to Israel’s relatively strong economy. Israel is the market for about 84% of West
Bank/Gaza exports, and the source for about 56% of West Bank/Gaza imports.146 Palestinians are
constrained from developing other external ties because of the layers of control that Israel has put
in place to enforce security. The Coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19) pandemic and its impact
on economic and social activity has exacerbated these difficulties for the West Bank and Gaza.147
Because the PA has been unable to become self-sufficient, it has been acutely dependent on
foreign assistance. Facing a regular annual budget deficit of over $1 billion (and more than
double that amount for 2020 given COVID-19), PA officials have traditionally sought aid from
international sources to meet the PA’s financial commitments (see Figure D-1).148 Part of the
problem is a PA payroll that has become increasingly bloated over the PA’s 27-year existence.
Domestic corruption and inefficiency also appear to pose difficulties.149 Absent fundamental
changes in revenue and expenses, the PA’s fiscal dependence on external sources is likely to

145 World Bank, Economic Monitoring Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, March 19, 2018, pp. 22-23.
146 Economist Intelligence Unit, Palestine Country Report (accessed March 12, 2021), based on 2019 figures.
147 World Bank, February 23, 2021.
148 Official PA financial statements available at
149 See, e.g., Elliott Abrams, “Corruption in the Palestinian Authority,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 5, 2018.
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Figure D-1. International Donor Funding to the Palestinian Authority

Source: Hugh Lovatt, “The end of Oslo: A new European strategy on Israel-Palestine,” European Council on
Foreign Relations, December 9, 2020.
Lacking sufficient private sector employment opportunities in the West Bank and Gaza, many
Palestinians have historically depended on easy entry into and exit out of Israel for their jobs and
goods. Yet, the second intifada that began in 2000 reduced this access considerably. Israel
constructed a West Bank separation barrier and increased security at crossing points, and
unilaterally “disengaged” (withdrew its settlements and official military contingent) from Gaza in
2005. Israel now issues permits to control access. Its security forces significantly limit the flow of
people and goods to flow between Israel and Gaza, while periodically halting these flows
between Israel and the West Bank.
The Palestinians’ alternatives to functional dependence on Israel’s economy include
 attracting investment and building a self-sufficient economy;
 looking to neighboring Egypt and Jordan (which struggle with their own political
and economic problems) for economic integration; or
 depending indefinitely on external assistance.
For the West Bank and Gaza to attract enough long-term investment to become more self-
sufficient, most observers agree that uncertainties regarding the political and security situation
and Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods, people, and capital would need to be
significantly reduced.150 Such changes may be untenable absent an overall resolution of Israeli-
Palestinian disputes. In the meantime, donors and lenders occasionally provide emergency
funding to stave off fiscal crisis.

150 World Bank, June 2, 2020.
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Appendix E. Palestinian Initiatives in International
The PLO has pursued a number of international initiatives—opposed by the United States and
Israel—that are part of a broader effort to obtain greater international recognition of Palestinian
statehood. Some 137 out of 193 U.N. member states reportedly have formally recognized the
state of Palestine that the PLO declared in 1988. These do not include the most politically and
economically influential Western countries.
The PLO’s international initiatives are centered on the United Nations. In September 2011, PLO
Chairman Abbas applied for Palestinian membership in the United Nations. Officially, the
application remains pending in the Security Council’s membership committee, whose members
did not achieve consensus during 2011 deliberations.151 The application for Palestinian
membership would likely face a U.S. veto if it came to a future vote in the Security Council. In
fall 2011, the Palestinians obtained membership in the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO).152
Under U.S. laws passed in 1990 and 1994,153 Palestinian admission to membership in UNESCO
in 2011 triggered the withholding of U.S. assessed and voluntary financial contributions to the
organization. If the Palestinians were to obtain membership in other U.N. entities, the 1990 and
1994 U.S. laws might trigger withholdings of U.S. financial contributions to these entities.154
Such withholdings could adversely affect these entities’ budgets and complicate the conduct of
U.S. foreign policy within the U.N. system and other multilateral settings.
The following are some other significant steps for the PLO in international fora:
 On November 29, 2012, the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution 67/19.
The resolution changed the permanent U.N. observer status of the PLO
(recognized before as “Palestine” and now as “State of Palestine” within the U.N.
system) from an “entity” to a “non-member state.”155

151 United Nations Security Council, “Report of the Committee on the Admission of New Members concerning the
application of Palestine for admission to membership in the United Nations,” S/2011/705, November 11, 2011.
Paragraph 19 of this report provides a summary of the varying views that committee members advanced regarding
Palestinian membership: “The view was expressed that the Committee should recommend to the Council that Palestine
be admitted to membership in the United Nations. A different view was expressed that the membership application
could not be supported at this time and an abstention was envisaged in the event of a vote. Yet another view expressed
was that there were serious questions about the application, that the applicant did not meet the requirements for
membership and that a favourable recommendation to the General Assembly would not be supported.”
152 For more information, see CRS Report R42999, The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO)
, by Luisa Blanchfield and Marjorie Ann Browne.
153 P.L. 101-246 (Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991) and P.L. 103-236 (Foreign
Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1994 and 1995).
154 In May 2018, the Palestinians obtained membership in the U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), but
there are no consequences under U.S. law because the United States is not a member of or donor to UNIDO.
155 The PLO has had permanent observer status at the United Nations since 1974. Following the adoption of Resolution
67/19, the “State of Palestine” maintains many of the capacities it had as an observer entity—including participation in
General Assembly debates and the ability to co-sponsor draft resolutions and decisions related to proceedings on
Palestinian and Middle East issues. Despite its designation as a state, the “State of Palestine” is not a member of the
United Nations, and therefore does not have the right to vote or to call for a vote in the General Assembly on
resolutions. However, in November 2013, the “State of Palestine” participated in the balloting for a judge for the
International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Article 13, Section 2(d) of the Statute for the Tribunal (Annex to
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 In 2016, the Palestinians acceded to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate
Change (UNFCCC).156 Some Members of Congress called for U.S. funding of
UNFCCC to be cut off under the 1994 law,157 but the State Department replied
that no cutoff was required because UNFCCC is a treaty and the Palestinians had
not joined an international organization.158
 In September 2017, the Palestinians obtained membership in Interpol.
In May 2018, the Palestinians applied to join the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD)159 and deposited an instrument of accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention
(CWC) with the U.N. Secretary General.160 A U.S. official was quoted as saying that the Trump
Administration would “review the application of US legislative restrictions related to Palestinian
membership in certain UN agencies and organizations,” presumably referring to both UNCTAD
and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (which implements the CWC).161
No specific U.S. action has been announced to date.

Author Information

Jim Zanotti

Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

U.N. Doc. S/25704, adopted pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 827 (1993), as subsequently amended)
includes “non-Member States maintaining permanent observer missions at United Nations Headquarters” in the
election of the tribunal’s judges.
156 UNFCCC website, State of Palestine Joins Convention, March 15, 2016.
157 Timothy Cama, “GOP targets UN climate agency funding over Palestine,” The Hill, April 18, 2016.
158 Letter from Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield, partially quoted in Patrick
Goodenough, “State Dept.--Ignoring Law--Won't Defund U.N. Climate Agency for Admitting ‘State of Palestine,’”
CNS News, April 28, 2016.
159 UNCTAD website, State of Palestine expresses intent to join UNCTAD, May 24, 2018.
160 Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) website, State of Palestine Accedes to the Chemical
Weapons Convention, May 23, 2018. The OPCW later announced that the “State of Palestine” had become a State
Party to the CWC and an OPCW Member State. OPCW website, State of Palestine Joins the Organisation for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, June 21, 2018.
161 “US weighs UN funding cuts after Palestinians join agencies,” Agence France Presse, May 23, 2018. Also in May,
the Palestinians acceded to the constitution of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), but because the
United States does not belong to or fund UNIDO, it does not present an issue under the 1990 or 1994 law.
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