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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Old Elites and the Formation of the First Palestinian National Authority

Arafat in East Germany

After July 1994, about 100,000 Palestinians returned from exile – from Tunis or elsewhere – to Palestine, together with PLO Chairman Arafat. These were predominantly members or loyalists of Fatah, Arafat’s party. Afterwards he allotted the most important positions within the new PNA administrative machinery to them – not just within the civil administration but also the various security forces. They also gained substantial economic influence. In this manner, Arafat hoped to establish a PNA which from the onset would be loyal to himself and to Fatah.

In Palestine, influential families and large clans also had vested interests in the administration and the economy, despite the Israeli occupation. Whereas the constituency voting system had not yielded the possibility to gain influence within the PLC, the allotment of ministerial posts and other positions within the PNA did offer these opportunities. The returning exiles– soon scoffed at as ‘the Tunisians’ – all had an interest in associating themselves with these powerful forces in society. This also applied to – although to a lesser extent – the leadership which had emerged during the First Intifada.

All in all, this form of clientism – giving away jobs and positions to political friends, allies and relatives – received a strong new impulse. As a result, there were many managing directors working at the Ministry of Health in the second half of the 1990s. However, proliferation of jobs also occurred lower down the ladder in ministries, police and security services (later, this also became a method for counterbalancing growing unemployment figures).